NEWARK, N.J. – Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils took a lot of grief considering his scored the first of his career-best three goals just 12 seconds into a crucial game against the Florida Panthers.
“He could have had a hat trick in the first 10 minutes, if he paid attention to the puck,” quipped linemate Jaromir Jagr, who added a goal and three assists in a wild 6-3 victory over the Panthers on Monday night. “He missed the net twice.
“He should not have had to wait until the third period. He could have celebrated after 10 minutes. He likes it the hard way, I guess.”
Veteran forward Dainius Zubrus yelled across the Devils locker room to Zajac that he probably should have had five goals. He then quickly pointed out that he once scored four in a game.
It was a rare fun night for the Devils, who are hoping a late-season rally can get them into the playoffs. New Jersey has seven games left.
“All we care about is wins at this point,” said Zajac, who added an assist in matching his career high with four points. “The wingers were on it. They were getting me the puck. I think I have more chances this game than I ever had.”
Besides right wing Jagr, Zajac’s left wing Ryane Clowe added a goal and two assists before leaving the game in the third period with an undisclosed injury.
Zajac opened the barrage against Dan Ellis and then netted his second of the night midway through New Jersey’s three-goal first period. He completed the hat trick by putting a rebound past Ellis at 9:37 of the third.
Jacob Josefson scored the other Devils goal, and Cory Schneider stopped all 13 Florida shots he faced after replacing Martin Brodeur in the second period when New Jersey’s lead was cut to 4-3.
Brodeur stopped only six of nine shots, but was credited with the win. Devils coach Pete DeBoer didn’t blame him.
“We needed a wake-up call, and I didn’t feel a timeout would be enough of a jolt for us,” he said.
Dmitry Kulikov, Brad Boyes and Brandon Pirri scored for Florida, which lost for the sixth time in seven games. Ellis faced 32 shots, including 18 in the first period.
“I expected 60 minutes, and we obviously were not ready to play,” Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. “The Zajac-Jagr line scored five of the six goals. I asked them to be aware of where they are on the ice and what was going on, and we turned pucks all over the ice and were not ready to play.
“Right from the beginning we put ourselves behind the 8 ball and it was 3-0. You’re not going to win too many games that way against a team fighting for the playoffs.”
The Devils started as if they were carrying a grudge from their last meeting in Florida, when they blew a 3-1 lead and lost 5-3 on three third-period goals. That led to losses in four of five games.
Zajac got the Devils going in this one right after the opening faceoff. Defenceman Mark Fayne took a shot from the point, and Zajac put in the rebound after Jagr touched it. The Devils record for fastest goal is 8 seconds by Kirk Muller and Alexander Semak.
Jagr made it 2-0 with a snap shot from the right circle for his 24th goal of the season and 705th of his career. His three assists gave him 1,047, two behind Gordie Howe for eighth in NHL history.
The blowout seemed on a little more than two minutes later when Zajac scored during a power play.
Things got worse for the Panthers when captain Ed Jovanovski was given a four-minute roughing penalty for taking out his frustration on Ryan Carter with 4:14 left in the period.
However, that woke up the Panthers. Kulikov scored a short-handed goal on a nice setup by Nick Bjugstad at 17:22.
Boyes cut the deficit to 3-2 early in the second by outfighting Fayne along the boards and beating Brodeur with a top-shelf backhander from the right circle.
Clowe restored the two-goal lead a little more than two minutes later by converting Zajac’s pass, but Pirri—standing high in the slot—deflected a shot by Dylan Olsen past a startled Brodeur to make it 4-3.
Devils coach Pete DeBoer then pulled Brodeur—who seemed blameless on the goals—in favour of Schneider. He stopped eight shots the rest of the period, including a power-play breakaway by Scottie Upshall.
Jacobson restored the Devils’ two goal lead with a short-handed goal at 4:02, and Zajac capped his big night with his 16th of the season.
NOTES: This is the Panthers’ final road trip of the season. They will play the New York Islanders on Tuesday and then return home for their final five games. … Florida G Roberto Luongo missed his second straight game because of an upper-body injury. … Devils rookie D Jon Merrill sat out after being hit in the cheek with a puck on Saturday. Adam Larsson was recalled from Albany (AHL) to replace him. Defencemen Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov sat out with lower-body injuries.