newjerseydevils.com (Feb. 18) – The Ottawa Senators had led the Eastern Conference since the second night of the regular season.
They were joined by Montreal over the weekend. On Monday, it was the Devils' turn.
Travis Zajac notched a goal and an assist, while Brian Gionta and Dainius Zubrus each delivered a pair of helpers to lead New Jersey to a 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at Prudential Center.
Five different players scored for the Devils (34-21-5), who regained a two-point lead over Pittsburgh for first place in the Atlantic Division and tied Ottawa and Montreal for the top seed in the East.
New Jersey snapped Carolina's three-game winning streak, and improved to 3-0 this season against the Southeast Division leaders, outscoring them 15-3.
In doing so, the Devils remained unbeaten in regulation for a fourth straight home game, and have gained at least a point in eight of their last nine overall.
"We're not satisfied," head coach Brent Sutter said. "We have to plug away here, every game is a big game. We need to be focused on the task at hand. The standings will take care of themselves as long as we stay focused as a team."
The Senators had paced the rest of the conference for 136 consecutive days but have slipped to just two wins in their last eight, including two losses to the Devils last week.
Montreal's win in Philly on Sunday drew them even with Ottawa in points, and New Jersey's victory over Carolina made it a three-way tie. Both the Devils and Senators have 34 wins, while the Canadiens have 32.
The Devils continue the three-game homestand Wednesday against San Jose, and host a matinee next Saturday against the Islanders. New Jersey heads out on the road to face Washington and Carolina before wrapping up the February schedule in Newark against the Capitals.
Martin Brodeur needed 21 saves for his league-leading 32nd victory, and 526th of his career. The three-time Vezina Trophy winner has started all but one of New Jersey's games since Jan. 2, going 13-6-2.
Zach Parise scored his 23rd of the season to extend his goal streak to three games, and the Devils continued their dominance of the 'Canes by breaking out to a 3-0 lead early in the second period.
Zajac struck for the first lead of the contest.
The Winnipeg native took a pass in the neutral zone from Zubrus and put a wrister from the right circle through defenseman Casey Borer. Zajac's shot beat John Grahame to the blocker side for his 13th of the season at 2:02.
The Devils' second goal came on their only power-play chance of the afternoon. Zajac collected Gionta's pass from the left corner, and walked out in front of Grahame from the left side of the net.
Grahame stuffed Zajac's attempt, but couldn't control the rebound. Mottau, who had dropped down from the right point, buried his fourth of the year and first on the power play at 7:18.
Pandolfo and John Madden combined to make it a three-goal advantage for the Devils early in the second. Madden muscled past defenseman Frantisek Kaberle, who had lost his stick, and skated in with Pandolfo on what became a 2-on-1 down low against Borer.
Madden slid a pass from the right side past Grahame's right pad, and Pandolfo tapped in his 11th of the season at 1:02.
Jeff Hamilton answered with his sixth to bring the Hurricanes within two at 6:17, but Johnny Oduya soon restored the three-goal cushion.
Oduya's blast from the point redirected off of the skate of Joe Corvo in front for his fourth of the season at 9:38. The Devils blueliner has four goals and nine assists for 13 points in his last 21 games.
In the final seconds of regulation, Andy Greene's point shot deflected off traffic to Patrik Elias in the right corner. Elias spun a backhand pass in front to Parise, who beat Grahame with 2.2 seconds left on the clock.
NJD NOTES A scuffle broke out midway through the first, with Arron Asham meeting up with Tim Conboy and Wade Brookbank getting together with David Clarkson... Colin White took seven shifts for 5:17 of ice time, but left the bench and did not play after the first period... Sheldon Brookbank returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 29 and faced brother Wade for the first time in three meetings this season between the teams... Monday's scratches were Karel Rachunek and Vitaly Vishnevski.