Lately, Jacques Lemaire has tinkered with his lines hoping to find a combination that can put the puck in the net.
On Friday, the head coach unveiled a threesome that helped bury the Toronto Maple Leafs at Prudential Center.
The trio of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus combined for the Devils’ first three goals, then capped the evening by securing a 5-4 triumph in overtime. Zajac won it on a power-play marker with 45.5 seconds to go in the extra session.
In OT, Zajac drew a hooking call on Luke Schenn on a two-on-one with Parise. On the ensuing four-on-three, Parise fed Zajac for a one-timer from the right circle that beat Vesa Toskala at 4:14. Zubrus created traffic by camping his 6-5 frame in front of the net.
"It looked like there were a lot of bodies in front," Zajac said, describing his 15th goal of the season. "I just wanted to get it through everyone and see if it could squeak through, and it did."
Zajac added three assists, while Parise had two goals and two assists. Zubrus chipped in with a goal and two helpers, as the line totalled four goals and seven assists. The Devils blew a 4-2 lead in the final five minutes of regulation, but prevailed in their first meeting with Toronto this season.
For Zubrus, it was his first goal since returning Tuesday from a leg injury. He set up both tallies for Parise, who now leads the Devils with 25. Rookie Patrick Davis scored his first NHL goal.
Lemaire said he decided five minutes before the game to insert Zubrus on the right side of Parise and Zajac. The move paid off with his club scoring three or more goals for just the third time in their last 12 games.
"It was fun," Zubrus said. "You get to find out right before the game that you're playing with those two guys, and they make things happen. Once that puck's on their stick, they're going to make something happen. They don't just get rid of it. They try to make plays, and you have to be ready."
Parise had several close encounters with his second career hat trick. Instead, he settled for his fifth two-goal game of the season and sixth-career four-point outing. So how many goals could he have had Friday night?
"I felt like about six," Parise said. "That third one just didn't want to go in."
It looked like Parise would get his third during a power play five minutes into the second period. Zajac slipped a circle-to-circle pass through the slot only to have Toronto's Jonas Gustavsson snare Parise's one-timer from the right circle with his catching glove.
"I was just trying to get it off quickly and tried to lift it a little bit, but he got over there really fast," Parise said.
Martin Brodeur recorded 25 saves for his League-leading 32nd win of the season. His 32nd consecutive start matched the third-longest streak of his Hall-of Fame career. (Dec. 16, 2006-Feb, 24, 2007)
Brodeur leads the NHL with seven shutouts this season and got plenty of goal support on a rare off-night.
"It's definitely nice, especially when you allow four of them," he said. "It's pretty rare I'm going to win a game with four goals against, so we'll take it. It's not the way we want to play it, but for now, it's a big two points that can hopefully give us some momentum."
Brodeur came up big on a Toronto odd-man rush at the halfway point of overtime. Phil Kessel found Carl Gunnarsson in the slot for a shot that Brodeur paddled away at 2:13.
"I saw Kessel and I knew he was looking to pass somewhere," Brodeur said. "Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone was open, so I just went across and tried to get my position. He shot it and it hit my stick, went under my blocker. It was a really good shot."
Three goals on 19 shots was enough to chase Gustavsson, who was relieved midway through the second by Toskala. Toskala allowed two goals on 12 shots.
New Jersey (35-16-2) snapped a two-game winless streak to pick up a much-needed victory. Their third win in the last nine contests gave them a five-point cushion over second-place Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division race.
Gunnarsson gave Toronto a 1-0 lead in the first, before Parise potted the next two to make it 2-1, Devils.
Gunnarsson’s first NHL goal was a spinning blast from the left point. The shot looked like it caught a piece of Rod Pelley’s stick before finding the top right corner of the net at 6:11.
Parise tied it just 59 seconds later. After Parise missed a shot wide from the slot, Zubrus corralled the rebound and spun it back to the front of the net. Parise easily tapped his 24th into the open net at 7:10.
Parise’s second of the period gave the Devils the lead with 6:20 to go. Zajac got a stick on Ian White’s pass near the front of the Toronto net, and Zubrus jumped on the loose puck. He touched a pass over to the slot for Parise, who buried his 25th past Gustavsson at 13:40.
Zubrus got in on the scoring in the second period, staking the Devils to a 3-1 lead with third of the season, and first in 12 appearances. His first tally in exactly three months came in his third game back after missing 30 with a leg injury suffered Nov. 19 at Nashville.
He received a cross-slot pass from Zajac on a two-on-one and rifled it top-shelf on Gustavsson, rattling the water bottle. Zubrus last scored on Oct. 29 at Boston.
Colton Orr’s breakaway goal cut the Devils’ lead to 3-2 at 14:41. Davis’ first NHL marker restored the Devils' two-goal advantage. Colin White partially fanned on a shot from the point, and Davis picked up his own rebound to slide the puck through Toskala’s five-hole at 17:19.
"When I scored to put us ahead by two goals, I really didn't think it was going to that important of a goal," Davis said. "When they scored the third one, I thought, 'I've got the game-winning goal right now with just five minutes left.' Unfortunately they did tie it up, but this was a great win for this team. The guys came through big when they needed to."
Davis with the lucky puck.
Davis, a native of Sterling, Mich., got his first goal in only his seventh career game.
"I couldn't stop smiling," he said. "It was a dream come true and I just can't put into words how it felt."
Toronto closed to within a goal, 4-3, late in the third. Tyler Bozak pressured Bryce Salvador into a turnover deep in Devils territory, and Alexei Ponikarovsky pounced to shovel home his 19th at 14:59.
"That gave them some life, definitely," Lemaire said. "But still, we should have been more intense on the puck and skate a little bit more. You look at our game there, we had six or seven guys up front playing as well as they could."
Later, Matt Stajan tied the game with his 16th. He popped Tomas Kaberle’s rebound into the open right side from the doorstep at 18:29.
"I tried to make another line better," Lemaire said. "After how many goals was I going to change it? Two was too many."
He was looking for offensive balance with his pregame decision to stick Zubrus on the top line.
"I wanted to have at least two lines that would be able to score," he said. "I looked at them and they have two lines that are scoring. I felt that I would put Jamie with Rolie (Brian Rolston) that would maybe give us some offense. Zubrus, he was on the fourth line and I was looking at their first line and I felt they had a pretty good first line. Palmieri, I said, 'He doesn't have enough experience to play against them.' I was looking for a guy that had experience."
• Parise earned high marks from the coach: "Zach is Zach," he said. "He's our top player. I thought he could've had 10 goals. He worked well, very well. Travis, too. Two very nice hockey players."
• The Devils host Los Angeles on Sunday before facing the Maple Leafs at Toronto on Tuesday, then again at Prudential Center next Friday.
"Maybe because I didn't see Toronto play that much, I learned that they can score goals," Lemaire said. "They don't quit, they keep coming, they play exactly the same way from the start to the end. At the end, I felt that they looked better because we slowed down and just tried to stand in the neutral zone instead of getting on the puck."
Later, he added: "I think we'll know each other very well after the three game."