Clarkson scoring the first of two in the Devils' first win of 2011.
This one had Jacques Lemaire smiling.
“I don’t have a smile every day,” the coach said after watching the Devils rout visiting Tampa Bay, 6-3, on Sunday. “It’s like Christmas, it’s not every day.”
There were plenty of reasons to be excited. David Clarkson had his first two-goal game in nearly two years. Martin Brodeur was excellent in his first start in more than a week. Nick Palmieri potted his first NHL goal.
The Devils (11-29-2) erased deficits of 1-0 and 2-1, snapping a four-game losing streak and winning for just the second time in 27 games that they have trailed after the second period.
Lemaire, who has talked up the team’s improved play even after tough losses, finally had something to savor.
“I think we’re getting better as a club,” he said. “In the last few games, I saw some improvement. I just felt that we’ll have to win games at a time. We got a couple of breaks. They got their chances, but Martin was good in net and he gave us a chance to win.”
Clarkson’s seventh of the year, a power-play blast over the glove of Dan Ellis, was the comeback catalyst. It tied the game, 2-2, sparking the Devils’ five-goal eruption in the third period. Clarkson’s breakaway tally in the first period knotted the contest at 1-1.
Marty set the tone tonight. He stood on his head and played unbelievable for us to keep us in it at times and we just kind of weathered the storm there for a bit and came back hard. It’s a great feeling in here and we have to build off it.- David Clarkson
“I think they’re both satisfying when the puck finally goes in for you,” said Clarkson, who had his first two-goal outing since Feb. 15, 2009. “I’ve had so many chances this year that it’s been frustrating, so it’s nice when it finally starts going in.”
Brodeur celebrated a successful return with 33 saves in his first start since New Year’s Day. It was evident that extra practice helped relieve his recent struggles as he posted his first win since Dec. 15.
“I made some good saves,” Brodeur said. “I’d like to get maybe two of the three goals back. One was a bad rebound, the other the guy just stuffed it in, the other one was a little lucky early on. But I think I made the saves that made a big difference in this hockey game and when you get some offensive support, mistakes don’t show as much.”
Brodeur’s teammates applauded his efforts as he extended his NHL-record wins total to 608. He had a solid tune-up outing Saturday in Philadelphia, when he stopped 19 of 19 in relief of Johan Hedberg.
“Marty set the tone tonight,” Clarkson said. “He stood on his head and played unbelievable for us to keep us in it at times and we just kind of weathered the storm there for a bit and came back hard. It’s a great feeling in here and we have to build off it.”
The Devils can finally exhale after an exhausting stretch of four games in six days. They return to action Friday in Tampa Bay.
Brodeur celebrates the victory with Kovalchuk, who had two assists.
“We’ve played a lot of hockey,” Brodeur said. “It’s tough when you’re trying to get out of something and it’s game after game after game. We had a positive stuff within games but we had a hard time putting it together. Today was a little bit better.”
Jason Arnott’s 10th of the season – his first goal since Dec. 2 – broke the 2-2 stalemate, and sent the Devils on their way. With the teams playing 4-on-4, Henrik Tallinder chopped a shot from the left circle that caromed off Arnott and past Ellis at 7:52. The goal came during Andy Greene's double-minor for high-sticking Ryan Malone.
"I misfired it and hit Arnie," Tallinder said. "Just a lucky bounce. Finally, it went our way."
Dainius Zubrus’ game-winner was the first of four goals scored in the final 5:46 of regulation. He whacked a loose puck inside the right post at 14:06 to give New Jersey a 4-2 lead with his sixth of the season.
Patrik Elias had two assists and scored an empty-netter with 1:15 to go. Later, Brodeur was trying to score an empty-net goal of his own, but wound up assisting on Palmieri’s first NHL goal with 13.3 seconds left.
“It’s embarrassing,” Brodeur joked. “I barely got it to the red line. I was trying, that’s the worst part.”
Teddy Purcell opened the scoring on Tampa Bay’s first shot of the game. Steve Downie carried down the left side, tossing a centering feed to the front of the net that pinballed off traffic and found an unguarded Purcell. He tallied into the open right side at 2:36.
The Devils answered on Clarkson’s sixth of the year at 5:55. A pass from Tim Sestito sent Clarkson in alone from the red line. When Ellis went for the poke check, Clarkson curled the puck to his backhand to bury his sixth. The assist was Sestito’s first point in 22 games this year, and his second assist in 32 career NHL contests.
Malone restored the Lightning lead on a power play with 3:59 left in the first. Vincent Lecavalier hit Malone on the goal line to Brodeur’s left, and Malone turned for a shot between Brodeur’s pads that made it 2-1.
Dominic Moore added the Lightning’s third goal during a 6-on-5 advantage with 51.4 seconds remaining in regulation.
Coach's quotes Lemaire on Clarkson, who had five shots, five hits on Sunday:
"He's been doing well. He's skating, he's quicker. This is one thing that I asked him to do, try to be a little quicker on the puck. He's always been strong with the puck. Now that he's a little quicker, he makes things happen. That line (Rod Pelley, Sestito, Clarkson) has been good. They were upset to have the goal against because they're a plus line, which is really good because they don't score a lot of goals. But it tells you they're doing a great job defensively."
On the differences in Brodeur's recent play:
"He's more alert. He's a lot quicker and probably knows what the defensemen will do. Prior to the last few games, he didn't know how the defensemen would react in front of him and it made his job tougher."
(Lemaire added that he will "probably" start Brodeur Friday in Tampa Bay.)
On the team's comeback:
"Maybe they believed a little bit more that they have to work together to have a chance to win. They're not as down, as depressed, as negative as they were. If you're playing, you're negative about the result all the time because you're losing, it's hard to come back. You don't come back. You have to get some positives there. They feel better and they're more positive, that's for sure."
On coming away with a win after a strong effort:
"I felt (Saturday in Philadelphia) we played really well. Even myself, I was not as upbeat as I've been because we didn't get anything. We played good, guys they worked hard and we didn't even get a point. You're wondering, 'What is it going to take?' But all that, to me, is because this team was so low. So low."
Palmieri pleased Brodeur’s assist on Palmieri’s goal was the 36th of his career. He leads all active goalies.
“Nick’s first goal, I’m sure he didn’t really see it like that,” Brodeur said. “But hey, a goal is a goal.”
Palmieri wasn’t going to be picky about it. The 21-year-old needed just 15 games to score the first of his career.
“I think it was just one of those plays where it’s there, you might as well put it in,” Palmieri said.
Ilya Kovalchuk had the other assist. Not a bad way to see your first goal go into the books.
“I’m just fortunate to be where I was at that time and it’s pretty easy to score when there’s no goalie in,” Palmieri said.
NOTES Anton Volchenkov missed Sunday’s game due to the death of his father. Mark Fayne was recalled from Albany and was added to the lineup. Matt Corrente dressed after being scratched from the last three games, replacing Anssi Salmela, who was a healthy scratch. … Devils return home to host Pittsburgh on Jan. 20.