Zajac ices big win with his first shootout attempt of the season.
How’s this for a turnaround: The Devils picked up six of a possible eight points this week and extended their home winning streak to four games by beating the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Not bad for a squad that couldn’t buy a win in its first seven home games.
“Yes, it’s something we have to dwell on for us,” said head coach John MacLean. “That was a good week for us, to play those games.”
Travis Zajac was Saturday’s hero, scoring in the fourth round of the shootout to lift the Devils to a 2-1 victory over the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.
With the game on his stick in the fourth round, Zajac skated in from center and powered a wrist shot up high on Brian Boucher. Zajac’s first shootout attempt of the season clinched New Jersey’s first win in five tries against Atlantic Division opponents.
“I just kind of had in the back of my mind that if I get a chance to go fake shot and try to shoot it upstairs,” Zajac said. “Luckily enough, I was able to get it by him.”
Nikolay Zherdev opened the scoring in the third round, going five-hole on Johan Hedberg. Jason Arnott snapped his attempt past Boucher to keep the Devils alive. Mike Richards hit the right post to open the fourth round, and Zajac finished it.
He’s really playing confident now and he’s under control. It’s great for him. He’s a great person and a great teammate. We’re happy to see it.- John MacLean on Johan Hedberg
Adam Mair scored his first goal as a Devil as his team erased the bitter taste left by Friday’s 2-0 loss on Long Island. New Jersey (8-14-2) played without Patrik Elias, who missed the game due to personal/family reasons.
“It’s a big win,” Zajac said. “Obviously to bounce back from yesterday and play shorthanded tonight. That’s a good hockey team and for us to come together and get those points, it’s pretty important.”
Hedberg was sensational in net and was named the game’s First Star. He made 37 saves in regulation, another three in overtime, then turned away Flyers snipers Claude Giroux and Danny Briere in the shootout.
He has allowed four goals over his last four starts, including a 5-0 shutout of Washington.
“I’m glad we’ve turned this thing around,” Hedberg said. “Obviously, we’re not there yet, but we’ve shown a lot of life and we’ve shown a lot of emotion that we want to do this. That builds the team spirit and builds the guys around it. We’re fighting for each other, we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get a win.”
Briere’s power-play goal at 8:38 of the third period spoiled Hedberg’s bid for his second shutout in four games. Briere banked a shot off Hedberg from behind the goal line, and it trickled shortside behind the left post.
Hedberg was that close to perfect.
Mair celebrates after giving Devils a 1-0 lead.
“It went from the side of the net, bounced up and hit my thigh,” he said. “It’s one of those.”
MacLean couldn’t have asked for more from his backup while Martin Brodeur recovers from a bruised right elbow.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” said the coach. “He’s really playing confident now and he’s under control. It’s great for him. He’s a great person and a great teammate. We’re happy to see it.”
The Devils went 0-5-2 at home to start the year, but have now earned points in five straight at the Rock. All three of their shootouts have come in their last five home games, with Hedberg guiding them to a 2-1 mark.
“Sometimes you don’t see them for 30 games, and sometimes when you see them, you see four in five nights,” Hedberg said. “Once we get into overtime, it looked like we were a little bit out of gas. You can tell we’ve been playing a lot of games lately. We were able to take it to a shootout where Arnie and Trav made some great plays for us.”
Hedberg was tested often. The Devils got the first seven shots of the game and held a 10-4 lead in shots with 4:17 to go in the first. The Flyers outshot them 37-15 the rest of the way.
Following a missed chance on Scott Hartnell’s four-minute penalty for high-sticking Brian Rolston, the Devils would get on the board in the first. Mair beat Boucher with a laser from the right circle that went off the left post for his first point of the season at 11:49.
“It feels good to contribute offensively and help the team win,” Mair said. “I think as a whole, we really gathered together and played well. Down shorthanded, third game in three-and-a-half nights, it was a good effort.”
The goal was just the icing on a vital win.
“It feels great,” Mair said. “It’s not necessarily what’s expected of certain players on the team, but as a hockey player, you always like to score, you always like to help contribute offensively.”
MacLean shuffled the lines in Elias’ absence. One of the changes put Mair between Rolston and David Clarkson. They would assist on his goal, and he later returned the favor by setting them up for breakaway chances in the second period. Clarkson was stopped by Boucher with 3:49 to go, and Rolston hit the right post with 43 seconds left.
“It’s nice to get offensive opportunities, especially since tonight we only had one goal, but I think there were more opportunities to score,” said Mair. “Eventually with the talent, you’d like to hope the goals will come. You kind of scratch your head when you’re not getting chances as a team, but we did get chances tonight.”
Zajac was 1-for-5 on shootouts last season. Arnott was 0-for-1 entering today’s game. … With Elias out of the lineup, starting combinations were Kovalchuk-Zajac-Tedenby, Zubrus-Arnott-Vasyunov, Rolston-Mair-Clarkson, with a left wing rolling through the fourth line with Pelley-Gionta. … Kovalchuk led the Devils with eight shots on goal. … The Devils will practice at 9 a.m. Monday, then travel to Montreal to attend memorial services for Pat Burns.
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