Hedberg spent four seasons in Atlanta before signing with the Devils as a free agent this summer.
Things have rarely gone the Devils’ way this season, even on nights when they’ve played well enough to win.
But there was plenty cause for celebration in their New Year’s Eve matchup with visiting Atlanta. The Devils took an early lead, built a two-goal cushion and captured a year-ending 3-1 victory on Friday.
Ilya Kovalchuk’s breakaway goal with 6:20 left in regulation gave the Devils breathing room after Dustin Byfuglien had scored to cut their lead to 2-1.
“That was huge. It gives you comfort,” Jacques Lemaire said after his first win in four games since taking over behind the bench.
The Devils (10-25-2) snapped a six-game losing skid and look to end a nine-game road swoon Saturday in Carolina.
Lemaire’s club-record 248th victory was also the 589th of his career.
“It felt like my first win ever,” Lemaire joked.
Kovalchuk pounced on a loose puck after Brent Sopel mishandled it at the right point. He raced in alone on Chris Mason, cradling the puck across the front of the net before tucking his ninth of the year around Mason’s left pad.
“I saw (Mason) was so far out, so I decided to wait a little bit and shoot,” Kovalchuk said.
It was Kovalchuk’s first goal since the Devils’ last meeting with his former club in Atlanta on Dec. 18.
“It’s a good win,” he said. “We needed that win. Six (losses) in a row is too much. I think we played better, we deserved better in the last couple of games. If we keep playing like that, we can turn this thing around.”
We needed that win. Six (losses) in a row is too much. I think we played better, we deserved better in the last couple of games. If we keep playing like that, we can turn this thing around.- Ilya Kovalchuk
Another ex-Thrasher – Johan Hedberg – delivered a strong performance in goal. He made 28 saves to notch his fifth win and carried a shutout into the third period. That’s when Byfuglien was left alone in front for a redirection that put Atlanta on the board with 7:46 to go.
“It’s huge,” said Hedberg, who got his first start since Dec. 6. “After a while, you start thinking, ‘Are we ever going to win again and what’s it going to take?’”
The Devils outshot the Rangers 44-26 on Wednesday and have put together solid efforts in consecutive games. For Hedberg, beating his former club was something special, especially considering the 7-1 thumping they took less than two weeks ago.
Hedberg made a relief appearance in that one, allowing three goals on seven shots.
“Last game there in Atlanta was a very emotional game for me when I came in there,” Hedberg said. “It turned out with a sour taste in my mouth the way the game ended. So coming back and being in tonight felt way better than losing, for sure. It just gives you a boost and hopefully we can put some games together here to give us some confidence."
Hedberg’s efforts were supported by a rare offensive surge from the Devils, who scored more than one goal in a game for the first time since their last win – a 3-0 blanking of Phoenix on Dec. 15.
Langenbrunner fired a game-high eight shots and was a plus-2.
“We got that great bounce on the first goal, a great shot by Fayner, a big screen and that’s the kind of break we needed to get out of this,” Hedberg said. “We been getting them against us for I don’t know how many games, but if you work hard and do the little things right, sooner or later you’re going to get rewarded by getting the bounces. I think we did tonight.”
Fayne opened the scoring 1:18 into the game. After Arnott won a draw at the left circle, Fayne wristed a floater that went off of traffic in front.
Arnott’s hard work helped the Devils strike early in the second. He pressured Freddy Meyer behind the net, stripped the puck then fed Langenbrunner for a one-timer from the right circle at 1:01.
Two-goal leads have been a rare luxury for Devils netminders this season. But the 2-0 advantage gave Hedberg some peace of mind.
“More or less, I tell myself I want to have fun,” Hedberg said. “It hasn’t been a lot of fun (losing) here lately. I want to go out and enjoy what I do, and that’s start playing this game because we love it.”
This was a great way to close out 2010.
“That wasn’t the best year for our team, so (Saturday) it’s a new year and a good thing,” Kovalchuk said.
Now the page turns to 2011.
"Hopefully, we'll start on the right track," Lemaire said. "We still have a long ways to go, I'm telling you, a long ways to go."
Lemaire called timeout right after Byfuglien’s goal to settle his team down. They were outshot by Atlanta 29-28, including a 16-5 count in the third. Kovalchuk’s goal 1:16 later was just the lift the Devils needed.
“We started to throw the puck away, maybe feel the pressure a little more,” Lemaire said. “At that time, you do have to control the puck, skate with the puck and be even more intense. That’s what we talked about. Players, they know. They know about all of it, but it’s good to just remind them.”
- Fayne got a taste of his first NHL fight when he dropped gloves with Chris Thorburn in the second period. The rookie took his lumps in a scrap that was over quickly.
“It happened pretty quick, I was just trying to hold my own,” Fayne said. “It was definitely pretty fast.”
Fayne replaced Colin White (ill) in the lineup. White will not travel to Carolina for Saturday’s game. Martin Brodeur will be back in net against the Hurricanes.
- The Devils improved to 7-0-1 when leading after two periods. They finished 0-for-2 on the power play, 2-for-2 on the penalty kill.
1 - 0 NJD
2 - 0 NJD
2 - 1 NJD
3 - 1 NJD
Interference on goalkeeper