Josefson (l.) celebrates his go-ahead goal with Tedenby. GETTY IMAGES
Even an early two-goal deficit wasn’t enough to derail the Devils' miracle run.
The visiting Atlanta Thrashers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but the Devils came back with four unanswered goals to take a 4-2 victory at Prudential Center on Tuesday.
Jacob Josefson’s go-ahead goal broke a 2-2 tie in the third period, and helped lift New Jersey to its third straight win.
Josefson, who scored his first NHL goal on Saturday, showcased the instincts of a seasoned sniper. He buried a Mattias Tedenby pass from the left circle, beating Ondrej Pavelec at 4:14.
“Obviously, it’s fun to score goals,” Josefson said. “It doesn’t really matter who scores, but as long as we win, I’m happy. It was a great feeling to see it go in today, too.”
Josefson’s line with Tedenby and David Clarkson has been together for just two games, but has produced three goals and five assists. Ten different Devils recorded points on Tuesday.
We’ve talked about it for a few weeks now: it’s pretty amazing what we’ve accomplished. I think we got ourselves in a fun situation that every game counts now.- Martin Brodeur
“It was a really good pass,” Josefson said of the Tedenby set-up. “We forechecked really, really good there and came up with the puck. I saw that he saw me, it was a great pass and all I had to do was get it on net and it went in.”
Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored as the Devils (33-32-4) reached a winning record for the first time this season. With a 23-3-2 mark in their last 28, they sit just six points behind eighth-place Buffalo, who lost at home to Carolina.
Zajac appeared in his 388th consecutive game, tying Ken Daneyko for the longest ironman streak in Devils’ history. Kovalchuk sealed the win on an empty-netter with 16.6 seconds to go for his team-leading 26th of the season.
New Jersey, which managed just 22 points over the season’s first half, has now collected 48 of a possible 56 to tie Atlanta and Toronto with 70. But with more wins than either club, the Devils leapfrogged their way into 10th place with 13 games remaining.
Elias and Rolston combined to tie the game at 2-2. GETTY IMAGES
"We did tonight? Good," said Jacques Lemaire. "That's good. We're moving up. You can't be disappointed with that. Us, we don't look at it that much because even though there's less and less points [from the playoffs], it's still hard."
Playoffs? Lemaire won't look beyond Thursday's game in Ottawa. His squad returns to host Washington on Friday.
"This one is over, and then you start to look at tomorrow and the other game and you go on like that," Lemaire said. "You don't sit down and look and say, 'Hey we did good so far.' We know. It's in the back of our minds, but we don't want to stay there and think about that or maybe try something else or take it easy or not work as hard. I'd rather try to focus on what's coming, the days ahead of us and do the best there."
Evander Kane appeared to have tied the game, 3-3, with 37.4 seconds to go, but the goal was waved off after it was ruled that Kane had tipped Tobias Enstrom’s shot with a high stick. A video review upheld the call.
Martin Brodeur made 18 saves, including a key poke check of Blake Wheeler’s breakaway with 1:14 to go in regulation. Zajac and Henrik Tallinder bumped into one another at the Devils' blue line, leaving Wheeler alone with the puck.
"I saw my two players collide, the puck kind of jumped out," Brodeur said. "He was coming and I know he picked up the puck with one hand and was coming really fast. I was trying to just stay in his face and I decided to pokecheck him. He got by my stick and he shot it, but it was so close that he shot it right into my chest."
The Devils hadn't won a game in which they trailed 2-0 since since Nov. 12.
“We’ve talked about it for a few weeks now: it’s pretty amazing what we’ve accomplished,” Brodeur said. “I think we got ourselves in a fun situation that every game counts now.”
There came a point where the Devils decided this could be much more than a lost season. Their 24-10-2 turnaround under Lemaire has become the biggest NHL story of the year and may yet go down as the biggest comeback in history.
“Thirty, 40 games ago, we were like, ‘How are we going to play the second half? Are we going to just kill time and finish the season?’” Brodeur said. “We were able to turn it around. We’re definitely a long way from where we want to be, but at least now, every game counts and it’s fun.
“We come to the rink and we’re getting ourselves prepared. The next two weeks are big for us. We want to go out and win our games and see what other teams are doing. From there, we might have a shot at making the playoffs. We’re still a little bit away, but we’re definitely happy about the situation that we put ourselves in."
Tim Stapleton and Chris Thorburn scored 1:05 apart in the first period to stake Atlanta to a 2-0 lead. Kane made a great no-look pass to set up Stapleton’s goal at 15:24, before Thorburn drove down the left side to make it a two-goal cushion at 16:29.
But Zajac’s marker with 1:08 left in the period got the Devils on the board at 2-1. His a slot redirection of Mark Fayne’s shot-pass beat Pavelec for his 13th of the season.
"No one really panicked," Zajac said. "You can tell because we came out in the second, we played our game and got back in it pretty quick. From there, we came out in the third and got a big goal."
Zajac's goal was the first step in the comeback.
"Mentally, you think you're only down one and you haven't played your best," he said. "You can look at that and say that's a positive, that there's still two periods left to be able to tie it up."
It sparked another impressive outcome.
“It’s nice the way we’re playing right now to get these wins and to battle back the way we have,” he said. “For us, it’s some sense of achievement that the way we’re playing right now we’re getting to where we want to be. I think if we continue that, we’ll still be able to make it interesting here in the end.”
Elias knotted the game 5:10 into the second. When Wheeler’s pass misconnected with Andrew Ladd on an Atlanta rush, the Devils quickly turned up ice on a 3-on-2. Elias got a pass back from Brian Rolston and blasted a one-timer from the right circle for his 16th at 5:10.
"It's not really looking ahead or that this is a season-breaker or something like that," Elias said. "We have the right approach, just take it a game at a time and it's been working for us."
On the road
The Devils will play five of their next six on the road, including stops in Boston, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Don't think Lemaire isn't already aware of the challenge that poses.
"It'll be tough," he said. "I'm sure the other teams are thinking the exact same thing. Because if you look at your board, and you look at all the teams you have to play, all the teams that are close – in or out of the playoffs – they look at this and they say, 'How are we going to go through this?' It's something that you don't imagine you can go through and, at the end, be satisfied, be pleased with the result. Because you hit so many good teams and it's not only us, it's everyone, because the League is like that now."
Brodeur said that at first, he couldn't tell if Kane had touched the puck with a high stick on the disallowed goal.
"I was looking at the puck, I was trying to make a save," he said. "I didn’t really pay attention to how high the shot was. I saw [the ref] right away and he called it off. Usually that’s a good sign. He was pretty far out. I knew [the shot] was going to miss the net high, there’s no doubt about that. But where he touched it, I didn’t know if that was over or below [the crossbar]. But we’ll take the call."
Lemaire thought it was obvious.
"You could see the replay. Everyone would agree that it was," he said.
1 - 0 ATL
2 - 0 ATL
2 - 1 ATL
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 NJD