Elias had an assist in the Devils' first game back from the Olympic break.
The Devils looked every bit rested and reinvigorated for the first 48 minutes. Then the high-powered San Jose Sharks went on the attack.
Leading 4-0 in the third period, the Devils saw the Western Conference leaders strike for three straight goals in a span of 2:46 midway through the final frame. But they succeeded in protecting that one-goal cushion for the final eight minutes of regulation and escaped San Jose with a 4-3 win on Tuesday.
Goals by Dainius Zubrus, Mark Fraser and Ilya Kovalchuk gave the Devils a 3-0 lead in the second before Travis Zajac added one to break the game open in the third. Few could have guessed that Zajac’s goal would turn out to be the game-winner.
Devin Setoguchi would score twice in a span of 1:49, including a power-play goal, and Joe Pavelski would cash in a Devils turnover to make it a one-goal game.
In the end, the Devils held on for the win. Martin Brodeur posted 17 saves to capture his 35th victory.
"A week from now, we'll just say we won in San Jose," said head coach Jacques Lemaire, who served as an assistant for Team Canada at the Olympics. "We won't say that they were coming back; that it was tough at the time. We got two points. It's like the Olympics. They won't say a year from now, 'Oh, they won in overtime.' We won it. That's it. Thank you."
The Devils had talked about shaking off the fatigue that contributed to a 5-10-2 mark over their final 17 games leading into the break. They managed to do exactly that for two and a half periods against one of the League’s powerhouses.
There were no signs of a letdown from the returning Olympians, each of whom cracked the scoresheet. Kovalchuk added an assist for a two-point night. Zach Parise recorded two assists. Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner contributed an assist apiece.
Zajac also chipped in with an assist for a two-point night as his ZZ Pops line with Langenbrunner and Parise combined for five points and seven shots on goal.
"I think we played really good," Lemaire said. "I think there are a lot of positives that we had in our game tonight that we have to carry through the next one and the last 20 games that we have."
David Clarkson rejoined the lineup after missing 36 of the previous 38 games with a leg injury, and assisted on Fraser’s goal for his first point since Nov. 16. Skating on a trio with Brian Rolston and Rob Niedermayer, Clarkson finished with two shots and six hits in 18:31 of ice time.
The Devils (38-21-3) secured two very important points in their lone meeting of the season with the Sharks. They regained a one-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division following the Penguins’ 3-2 home win over Buffalo on Tuesday.
The western road trip continues Friday at Calgary, where the Devils will face former head coach Brent Sutter, then concludes Sunday in Edmonton.
Zubrus opened the scoring at 11:13 of the second period with his sixth of the season. He poked home the loose puck after Elias’ rebound trickled behind Evgeni Nabokov. Kovalchuk made the play happen, scooping up a Dan Boyle turnover inside the Devils’ blueline for a rush up ice that ended with a drop pass for Elias in the slot.
Fraser’s third made it 2-0 just 35 seconds later. Clarkson set it up by driving 1-on-1 into the San Jose zone and finding Fraser for a blast from the right point. Clarkson was then rudely received by Brad Staubitz, who bloodied Clarkson’s chin with a hard hit just after the pass. Fraser snapped a 26-game drought with his first marker since Dec. 21.
New Jersey took a commanding lead with Manny Malhotra in the box for hooking with 24 seconds left in the second. A Kovalchuk wrist shot from the left point sneaked through traffic in front and beat Nabokov’s blocker with 17.3 seconds to go. Kovalchuk’s 33rd of the season was his second as a Devil and second in the last three games, extending his points streak to three games (2g-3a).
In the third, Parise fed Zajac for his 20th of the season. Zajac ripped a shot from the slot past Nabokov’s blocker for a 4-0 Devils lead at 5:44. He has three goals and four assists over his current five-game points streak.
The Sharks chipped away with the next three. Joe Thornton set up Setoguchi’s first of the night, a shot from the slot for his 15th at 8:46. With Dean McAmmond off for the Devils’ only penalty of the night, Setoguchi collected a Rob Blake carom to bury his 16th at 10:35. Malhotra pressured Andy Greene behind the Devils’ net and Pavelski controlled the loose puck to net his 17th at 11:32.
Nabokov stopped Kovalchuk’s breakaway with 7:51 to go in regulation to foil his bid for a two-goal game. The two were teammates with Russia at the Olympics.