Brodeur stopped five of six in the shootout to lead Devils to their fourth straight win and a 3-1 mark in shootouts this season. GETTY IMAGES
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The soaring Devils have been manufacturing victories with the calm efficiency of an assembly line.
Sunday’s game stuck with the recent script in every way but one: Jacques Lemaire’s group won another one-goal contest, only this time it was a 3-2 shootout decision over the New York Islanders.
Brian Rolston clinched it in the sixth round, deking and outwaiting Al Montoya before scooping a forehand into the net for the deciding tally. Ilya Kovalchuk had the Devils’ other shootout goal, and also had a goal and an assist in regulation.
Rolston, whose power-play goal broke a scoreless tie in the second period, converted on his first shootout attempt of the season. It was just his second shootout attempt since returning to New Jersey in 2008.
“Of course I want to go,” Rolston said. “I used to go all the time. I haven’t been used too much since I’ve been here, but I was ready and I wanted to go, absolutely.”
Lemaire got that memo without Rolston having to say a word.
I used to go all the time. I haven’t been used too much since I’ve been here, but I was ready and I wanted to go, absolutely.- Brian Rolston on the shootout
“Rollie was standing up, he wasn’t sitting,” Lemaire said. “He was looking at me a lot; I knew he wanted to go. I’m glad that when he went, he scored.”
Known for his blistering shot, Rolston considered using a slapper.
“I did,” he said. “I gave it a bit of a thought, but he was moving really well to the backhand side, so I thought I’d deke and go forehand on him. I just froze him enough and it was a good one to get. Marty was awesome to put us in that position.”
After freezing Montoya with the deke, Rolston had time to think about the next move. What was going through his mind?
“Nothing,” he joked. “That’s the key. Nothing is going through your head. I actually watched the replay and I made a quick move. I was happy with my move. After you know you’ve got him beat, maybe be a little more patient once you get around him. A little patient, wait him out a little bit more just in case he can get an arm or a leg back in there. Everybody plays best when they’re not thinking.”
Kovalchuk had a goal, an assist and a goal in the shootout. GETTY IMAGES
Martin Brodeur allowed Frans Nielsen’s goal on the first attempt of the shootout, then slammed the door on New York’s final five shooters. He made 20 saves through 65 minutes, including key stops on John Tavares and Jack Hillen slapshots in overtime.
Brodeur and the Devils (30-31-4, 64 pts) have won four in a row and moved within eight points of the Sabres for the final playoff spot with 17 games to play. New Jersey improved to an astounding 20-2-2 in its last 24 outings to continue its improbable playoff push.
Buffalo beat Minnesota in overtime on Sunday to leapfrog the Hurricanes and move into eighth place with 72 points.
“It’s all about getting points at this stage for us,” Brodeur said. “They played pretty hard. They didn’t get much all game but they made it count on the good opportunities that they had. That’s kind of nice to be able to come through again.”
Brodeur’s 35 shootout wins are tops in NHL history, but he had to shake off some rust in his first shootout since April 2.
“I don’t even remember the last one, it’s been so long,” he said. “It took me one, I saw the replay, I knew what I did wrong and I was able to read better the next five that I saw.”
Fourteen of New Jersey's last 16 games have been decided by one goal, including 10 of their last 12 victories. They entered the afternoon with three straight 2-1 wins.
Strong execution on the defensive end has required contributions from up and down the lineup.
“When you’re good defensively I think it’s all six guys that do it, it’s not only the defensemen or the goaltender,” Lemaire said.
Early on, the game had a familiar feel. The Devils played their sixth straight scoreless opening period and were knotted, 1-1, after 40 minutes for the third straight game.
In the third, it looked like Kovalchuk would be the hero again after snapping a 1-1 tie at 2:52 of the third.
He took a pass from Josefson in Islanders territory and stepped to the right circle before beating Montoya. Kovalchuk’s 24th of the year lifted him ahead of Elias for the team points lead with 48. He has 10 goals and nine helpers in his last 16 games. Josefson's assist was his first NHL point.
Blake Comeau would capitalize on a Mark Fayne miscue to tie the game, 2-2, with 3:42 left in regulation. Fayne was in front of his own net trying to pass to Vladimir Zharkov when his stick blade broke. Comeau got to the loose puck to score from the slot.
“They tied it up and it was another challenge for us,” Kovalchuk said. “We responded pretty well.”
Rolston opened the scoring on the Devils’ first power play. With Bruno Gervais off for hooking Dainius Zubrus, Zajac won a draw back to Kovalchuk. He moved to the left point and passed to Rolston, who stepped to the middle of the ice for a blast inside the right post at 4:09 of the second.
The assists on Rolston’s 12th of the year extended the points streaks of Kovalchuk and Zajac to three games.
Josh Bailey's power-play goal tied the game 1-1 at 17:06 of the second.
As hot as Kovalchuk's been, he talked up the importance of the team’s effort as they keep making the unthinkable seem more and more possible by the day.
“It’s not an individual sport,” he said. “When I scored that goal, Jacob made a great pass and [Mattias] Tedenby drove to the net to bring their D with him. On the power play, Trav won the face-off and gave it to Rollie. Totally a team effort.”
Mission: Possible? Lemaire might be starting to believe in his team’s chances to make the playoffs. With the deficit down to eight points he said, “Maybe I’ll look at [the standings] tomorrow.”
But the coach is still taking things one game at a time.
“It doesn’t change,” he said. “You get teams that have been four points out of the playoffs, and they’re still four points. They can’t move ahead and they’re playing well. Just look at the next game and go from there.”
Brodeur echoed that.
“For us, it’s game by game,” he said. “I think we’re happy about the results, but we need to play a little better. We’re in this stretch where teams are there for us to win games, and we have to bear down and play them and try to make it a little easier on ourselves. We’ll take any win right now.”
Good times for JJ
Josefson was all smiles after his first NHL point. The first-round pick in 2009 recorded the milestone in his 11th game.
“It’s a good feeling,” Josefson said. “Kovy did most of the work there.”
Kovalchuk has been impressed.
“He’s going to get a lot of points in this League,” he said. “With his talent and the way those kids work on the ice and off the ice every day, it’s impressive.”
But it's Lemaire who might be Josefson’s biggest fan.
“I love the way he plays, I just love the way he plays,” said the coach. “He’s in good position, he’s strong with the puck, he makes good passes, he skates with it. He’s aggressive.”
The Devils caught a break early in the third, when Michael Grabner hit the left post on a breakaway 31 seconds in.
“I couldn’t believe he got through that quick to get himself on a breakaway,” Brodeur said. “Everybody says he’s one of the fastest skaters and he showed it on that sequence. I just wanted to make sure the puck didn’t hit me in the back and go in the net. That was more the case there.”
Notes Adam Mair played in his 600th career game. … The season series with the Isles concludes with two games at Prudential Center: March 13 and 30. … The Devils return home to host Ottawa on Tuesday. … New Jersey's last shootout was Nov. 27.