Brodeur and Salmela celebrate another victory. GETTY IMAGES
Not even Jacques Lemaire thought he could get these Devils to the .500 mark.
“Never,” Lemaire said after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win over the visiting New York Islanders. “It’s the teams you’re playing against and the League that is so strong. You can get a ride winning some games in a row and quite a few, but never enough to get to .500. The hill was too high to even think about it.”
But the Devils (32-32-4), looking more and more like a team of destiny, have not only clawed their way to .500 for the first time this season, but have also forced their way into the playoff conversation courtesy of a 22-3-2 mark in their last 27 games.
Anssi Salmela’s winner at 3:09 of the extra session clinched the Devils’ second overtime victory in as many nights. They moved within six points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 14 games to go.
Salmela got a pass from Mattias Tedenby and rushed into the Islanders’ zone, snapping his first goal of the season over the catching glove of Al Montoya.
It felt great. It’s something you dream about. It was a good feeling to see it go in.- Jacob Josefson on his first goal
“I just started skating and saw that Teddy got the puck,” Salmela said. “He’s a gifted passer, so I just found an open spot there and kept going. You have more room on 4-on-4. You try a little more on 4-on-4 because you have more space.”
This year has been a tough one for Salmela, who missed the first 27 games after offseason knee surgery. He knew he'd eventually crack the scoresheet.
“It’s big,” he said of the goal. “Now it’s kind of a relief. I’ve had so many chances, and now I feel like I have been wasting a lot of opportunities to score. You feel bad when you’re not scoring so it’s really good.”
Martin Brodeur made 13 saves, none bigger than his stop on Michael Grabner’s shorthanded breakaway in the third. With the Devils trailing 2-1, Grabner intercepted a Mark Fayne pass but couldn’t beat Brodeur’s blocker at 5:08.
Brodeur stops Grabner's breakaway in the third. GETTY IMAGES
"All game long on our power play, we weren't really successful offensively and we were pretty bad defensively – we allowed a lot of chances," Brodeur said. "I needed to come up big especially with the score and make a good save there. You never know what's going to happen. I think that gave a boost to our team, that's for sure."
It looked every bit like Grabner’s breakaway last Sunday, when he hit the post. The Devils went on to a shootout win at the Nassau Coliseum.
“He made the same move,” Brodeur said. “He just got it up higher the first time and it hit the post. This one, he got in close. He was going really fast and kind of looked back. When he looked back at me he was closer than he thought and he just kind of pulled it to one side and went to his forehand."
Moments later, David Clarkson’s goal tied the game at 2-2. Mattias Tedenby fed Clarkson for a one-timer in front, and Clarkson jammed his own rebound past Montoya at 5:42.
“We have to just keep playing the way we’re playing,” Clarkson said after notching his 10th. “I think you always have something that you’re dreaming or that you believe you can do. I believe this team can keep rolling the way we’re rolling. We’ll let everything fall where it may, but we’ve got to continue playing this way.”
Jacob Josefson opened the scoring in the first period with his first NHL goal. The newly-formed line of Josefson, Clarkson and Tedenby had an impressive debut with two goals and four assists, including Tedenby’s two helpers. Josefson and Clarkson each had a goal and an assist. For Josefson, it was his first multi-point outing.
“It felt great,” said Josefson, whose first three points have come versus the Islanders. “It’s something you dream about. It was a good feeling to see it go in.”
Their chemistry only improved as the game went on. The trio combined for eight shots, led by Clarkson’s five.
“They’re very easy to play with, the two of them,” Clarkson said. “They swing beside you, they move their feet. It made it simple on me because I can just get in there and bang, hold the puck low and get it to them. It was great, exciting to to play with the two of them”
Seventeen of the Devils’ last 19 games have been decided by one goal, including 12 of their last 14 victories. They beat the Thrashers 3-2 in overtime Friday in Atlanta.
Lemaire has encouraged defensemen to move up in plays when they see an opportunity.
“Like you’ve seen in our games, they’re only 3-2 or 2-1, so we’re defense-first,” Salmela said. “We don’t try to do much, but we can. If you see open ice, you can go. It’s good to know that, but you shouldn’t try it too much, though.”
Josefson’s goal gave the Devils the lead in the opening frame, snapping their streak of eight straight 0-0 first periods. They held the Islanders scoreless, extending their modern NHL record to 16 consecutive first periods without allowing a goal.
Josefson slipped by Bruno Gervais to retrieve Clarkson’s dump-in behind the net. He flipped the puck off the back of Montoya’s left skate and into the net at 1:57.
“I got the puck behind the net and I just tried to get it on goal and maybe go for the rebound, but it went in,” Josefson said. “It went in and that’s a great feeling.”
Josefson recorded his first NHL point with an assist against the Islanders last Sunday.
The Islanders stormed back with two in the second, starting with Blake Comeau’s shorthanded tally.
Jack Hillen blocked an Ilya Kovalchuk shot from the left point and raced up ice with Comeau on a 2-on-1 against Brian Rolston. Comeau’s pass for Hillen went off Rolston’s skates, and Comeau got to the loose puck and deked Brodeur for his 20th at 1:13.
John Tavares gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead. He won an offensive zone draw, then got to the front of the net to deflect Andrew MacDonald’s slap shot for his 25th at 6:46.
Brodeur was excellent in the second and kept Grabner off the scoresheet. He flashed his glove on Grabner’s wrister through traffic at 6:46, then stoned the rookie’s deflection at 12:57.
Notes Travis Zajac played in his 387th consecutive game and can tie Ken Daneyko (388) for the longest ironman streak in team history when Atlanta visits Prudential Center on Tuesday.
1 - 0 NJD
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NYI
2 - 2 Tie