New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur has more important things to worry about than notching his first shutout of the season. After all, he's been there and done that.
While Brodeur came close to earning his first goose egg on Tuesday in a 5-1 victory against the Winnipeg Jets, the 39-year-old goalie admits he's focused on more important matters.
"Winning," Brodeur told the media following his 20-save performance against the Jets. "I've seen these guys committed to what coach [Peter DeBoer] wants, and doing it all together and has made it fun to come to the rink every day."
Ilya Kovalchuk scored a pair of goals and red-hot Patrik Elias had a goal and two assists to spark the Devils to their third straight victory and fifth in six games. Brodeur, who holds NHL goaltending records of 1,160 games played, 639 wins and 116 shutouts, lost his shutout bid when Winnipeg defenseman Tobias Enstrom blasted home a shot from the blue line 8:18 into the third period. But by that time, the Devils had built a 4-0 cushion.
"[Losing the shutout] doesn't matter, a win is a win," Brodeur said. "Guys did very well in front of me. A couple times, it got chaotic in the front and guys were taking the body and making plays for me. Shutouts are shutouts … I have plenty of those, so I just want to get wins. That's what is most important."
Elias scored his 17th of the season 11:31 into the third to help the Devils regain their four-goal advantage. Elias' three-point night enabled him to extend his point-scoring streak to six games. During his streak, Elias has four goals and 10 points; he's produced 24 points in his last 20 games.
"You could see they were a little tired [in the first] because they didn't have much jump," Elias said of the Jets. "We played an OK first period but didn't generate too much. In the second, we took advantage of our opportunities and got a four-goal lead. That was important.
The loss left Winnipeg 0-7-0 this season in the second game of back-to-backs. The Jets beat the Senators 2-0 in Ottawa on Monday, but New Jersey connected for three goals on just seven shots in a span of 6:06 in the second to open a 4-0 advantage and was never threatened.
Petr Sykora scored his first goal of 2012 off a slap shot from the left point to give the home team a 2-0 lead just 1:32 into the period. David Clarkson extended the lead to 3-0 at 4:48 when his hard wrist shot from low in the right circle beat goalie Chris Mason to the short side.
Kovalchuk then scored his second of the game at 7:38 when he took a pass from Clarkson and skated between the circles before snapping a shot that beat Mason high into the right corner with his team on the power play. Jets coach Claude Noel called his timeout after the goal to give goalie Ondrej Pavelec time to stretch before ultimately replacing Mason at 8:46.
Kovalchuk now has six goals and 10 points in eight games against his former employer, the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets. He's still in search of that elusive hat trick as a Devil, however. Kovalchuk's last hat trick was Feb. 15, 2009, when he connected for three against the Anaheim Ducks as a member of the Thrashers.
"Kovy is important player for us, and we need him to [score]," Elias said. "You know he's going to get his chances and he's putting the puck in again. He utilizes linemates and he's getting more opportunities and he's doing better defensively. He's still learning [defensively], but doing better than he did last year. It's amazing the way he changed and we're all happy about it."
Kovalchuk said there is no added motivation playing against his former team.
"It's different now because they're in Winnipeg and it's a new franchise," Kovalchuk said. "It just was a big game for us. Only five points separated us with them before the game and now it's seven; we want to separate ourselves."
Mason was making his second straight start for the first time this season following his 25-save shutout on Monday. The 35-year-old goalie is 2-4-0 on the road this season; he's 4-1-0 with a 1.64 GAA and a .938 save percentage in Winnipeg. He yielded four goals on 15 shots against the Devils before being lifted.
New Jersey grabbed a 1-0 lead with just 1:01 left in the first after Zach Parise stole the puck at his own blue line before leading Kovalchuk in the neutral zone. Kovalchuk barreled into the Jets' end before snapping a wrist shot between the legs of Mason.
"I just feel more relaxed and want to make plays but when you play with Zach and Adam [Henrique] and now with [Dainius Zubrus], it's so easier to play with the great players," Kovalchuk said. "I just feel [finishing plays] is what I have to do. Your top two lines have to score. You look at any good team in this league and the top two lines are scoring on consistent basis."
Kovalchuk said the chemistry he's established with Parise this season has also provided added motivation and confidence in his game.
"I know exactly what he's going to do and how he works," Kovalchuk said. "He makes it just so easy. I know he's going to get the puck 99 percent of the time, so you just got to support and be close and play little give and go's with him. When I got the puck, I'm looking for him and when he has it, he looks for me."
The Jets, who entered the game in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, were playing without forward Blake Wheeler (throat) and defensemen Dustin Byfuglien (knee) and Zach Bogosian (lower body). Wheeler, who leads the team in assists (23) and points (32), is expected to return on Thursday against Buffalo.
Next up for the Devils are the Boston Bruins, who routed them 6-1 at Prudential Center just 13 days ago.
"We've just got to stay in the game and stay disciplined, get pucks in on [Tim] Thomas and play solid defensively," Brodeur said. "They are a solid team and we need to play a little better than last time. We've been doing a lot of good stuff lately."
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