The 666th win for New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur could be one of the most costly.
The Devils goalie made 17 saves lead the Devils over the Florida Panthers, 2-1, at the Prudential Center. New Jersey paid a possibly huge price for the win. Ilya Kovalchuk left midway through the third period with an apparent right shoulder injury.
The right wing fell into the boards at 9:07 of the third period trying to curl around Colby Roback. He carried the puck down to the corner, but caught an edge. The 6-foot-3, 230 pound Russian fell into the end boards, his shoulder absorbing most of the collision. He remained down on the ice for a few seconds before skating off under his own power. He was not available to the media after the game.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer had no update on his condition, but said he expected Kovalchuk to be out for “a short time.”
“Injuries are a part of this,” he said. “Everybody is dealing with them. We have to be prepared for that. Coming into the season, we’re prepared that we’re going to have to lose key people and survive it. No one is feeling sorry for themselves.”
“He’s a huge part of our team,” Travis Zajac said. “Every part of the game, he’s dynamic. He makes our power play a lot better. Hopefully, it’s nothing major and we can get him back. We need him here.”
The Devils lost Tim Sestito less than a minute later. The center skated to the side boards for a loose puck when Robak slammed him into the boards. He stayed on the ice for a minute before heading off with Devils trainer Rich Stinziano. He also did not return and was unavailable to the media after the game.
David Clarkson scored the game-winning goal in the second period and Brodeur made that stand. The Devils goalie helped New Jersey win its second straight game and strengthen its hold on the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. They lead the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes by four points and trail the sixth-place Toronto Maple Leafs by one point.
“I think my brother is really excited about [win number 666],” Brodeur said after the game. “He already put in the call. He wants the stick; the whole thing. Maybe he’s the real Devil.”
Zajac had another strong game, finishing with two assists. It’s the first time this season he’s recorded multi-points in consecutive games.
New Jersey came out lifeless in the first period. They managed a season-low two shots on goal, both off the stick of Steve Bernier. Brodeur and the defense held them in the game, with Brodeur stopping all seven Panthers shots.
“We were standing still,” Patrik Elias said. “We just threw the pucks at each other with no speed. Once we got in their zone, we had no support, so we couldn’t get the pucks. We were just chasing.”
“In the first, we came out a little bit asleep,” Clarkson said. “We found a way to battle back. Marty held us in there, and in the second and third we came out and played hard.”
Elias woke up New Jersey in the second period, scoring the game’s first goal at the 1:24 mark.
Zajac took a loose puck at the Panthers blue line and skated into the right circle. He sent a pass to the Elias, crashing in the slot. The Devils left wing deflected it through the pads of Scott Clemmensen for his 10th goal of the season.
“We were fortunate to get the first goal, considering how we played in the first period,” DeBoer said. “I thought we deserved to be behind.”
Clarkson doubled the lead later in the period. Clemmensen stopped his initial shot from the left circle, but juggled the rebound. The puck fell in front of the crease, and Clarkson knocked it into the net for his 12th goal of the season.
“The rebound just sat in the part of the pad where it bends, and I kept digging and digging,” Clarkson said of his score. “A little grinders goal.”
Peter Mueller cut the lead to 2-1 with under ten seconds left in the period. Thomas Fleischmann stripped Brodeur behind the Devils net and found Mueller in front. The Panthers forward put it into the open net for his seventh goal of the season.
Brodeur started his second straight game after missing 13 with a pinched nerve in his neck/back.
“There wasn’t much time. I could have thrown it into the corner and not tried to make a play,” he said. “The more you play, the more you start adjusting to situations when you get the puck back there.”
It was the single blemish on an otherwise outstanding night for the Devils netminder. He had a strong second period, shutting down rookie Jonathan Huberdeau. The first stop came on a Florida power play. Mueller found Huberdeau in the slot with a pass from the side boards, and the rookie moved the puck to his backhand. Brodeur stopped his shot from the slot with his right pad.
He robbed another Panthers rookie later in the period, sliding across his crease to pad away a shot from Quinton Howden on a two-on-one opportunity.
Clemmensen made 23 saves in his first career loss against New Jersey. The former Devils draft pick, Clemmensen went 33-20-5 in 65 games with the Devils from 2001-2007.
“I was thinking of him a little bit at the other end,” Brodeur said. “It’s always fun to play against old teammates. He’s having a rough go in Florida, but tonight he looked pretty good.”
The injury to Kovalchuk put a damper on a solid performance from New Jersey.
“Anybody that goes down right now in this room is important to this team,” Clarkson said. “He’s played through a lot of things I’ve seen him play through. When he goes down like that it’s scary, but hopefully he’s alright.”
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Brodeur is the first goaltender in NHL history with 100 wins at two different arenas. He earned his 100th win at the Prudential Center last night and reached that mark at Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena.
New Jersey outshot its opponents for the 13th straight game.
Zajac has a season-high three game point streak. He has five points (1g, 4a) during the streak.