NEWARK, N.J. -- Not until the fifth round of the shootout did New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer opt for his secret weapon -- Travis Zajac.
Why go with Zajac, a player who has been sidelined much of the season with a sore left Achilles tendon?
"I know they wouldn't have film on him," DeBoer said.
Whether DeBoer was being honest remains to be seen, but he got the result he was looking for when Zajac ripped his attempt into the top corner of the cage. After Martin Brodeur stopped rookie Andrew Shaw on the ensuing shot, the Devils skated away with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center.
"I had that move planned," Zajac said. "I used it before and it worked, so I guess I'll keep using it until someone figures it out."
Patrik Elias had scored the opening goal in the third round of the tiebreaker but Chicago's Patrick Sharp matched it with a low liner that beat Brodeur on the long side. Brodeur, who finished with 37 saves in regulation and overtime, then denied Marian Hossa before Zajac's heroics.
Zajac, who has been limited to 10 games this season after undergoing offseason surgery on his Achilles tendon, admits he's still not 100 percent but is gradually regaining his strength.
"I have high expectations for myself, and you have to," Zajac said. "I can't be satisfied just going out there and playing. You have to be hungry and want to help. I'm getting there; I'm still a ways away but I'm feeling better every day. It's still a little frustrating; I don't feel 100 percent but it's going to come. I have to keep working in practice and focus in on the games and improve."
Zajac underwent Achilles surgery in August, missed training camp and didn't play until Dec. 16. He played eight straight games before being sidelined another 37 games after playing against Ottawa on Jan. 2.
"It's nice to contribute any way possible," Zajac said. "I'm just working on trying to get better every game and preparing for playoffs. These guys have been working hard all year and playing well, and I'm just trying to help."
Brodeur, who also stopped Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg in the shootout, made 22 saves in the second and third periods when Chicago really began to find its offensive groove.
"I felt good and on top of my game … controlling rebounds and I was seeing the puck well," Brodeur said. "I think it's good for us [that Zajac scored], but better for him. It's a struggle to miss so much time and it's not easy, mentally. To contribute in any way is a big positive. It's out of him to finally score a big goal like that."
The victory was the second in six games for the Devils, who hold the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference with five games remaining. The Devils' magic number for clinching a playoff berth was reduced to three points after the Washington Capitals lost to the Buffalo Sabres.
"I'd probably rather call it a goalie win," DeBoer said. "Our goalie was our best player."
Both teams had their chances in the final period. Late in the third, Devils rookie Adam Henrique skated in on a 2-on-1, but Johnny Oduya denied an attempt on Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (21 saves). A few moments later, Henrique returned the favor when he blocked a shot in the slot off the stick of Sharp.
"I was there, but it hit [Henrique's] skate and went wide," Brodeur said. "That's playoff hockey. You need that desperation. We didn't play great and it seemed we were recovering hard from mistakes and back-checking them hard."
The Blackhawks pulled into a 1-1 tie when defenseman Brent Seabrook blasted a shot from the top of the right circle that flew past a screened Brodeur 8:34 into the third following an offensive-zone draw.
Brodeur had a pair of splendid stops early in the second, when the Blackhawks outshot the Devils 10-4. After stopping a shot from the left point by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brodeur quickly closed the pads to deny Stalberg off a rebound in the slot at the 2:18 mark.
"I know the Devils have a great record in shootouts (12-4), but I thought Brodeur had a remarkable game tonight," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
The Blackhawks missed a golden opportunity with less than six minutes remaining in the second after Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador was whistled for hooking, giving the visitors a two-man advantage for 1:08 -- Ilya Kovalchuk was already off the ice for tripping. New Jersey penalty-killers Dainius Zubrus, Elias and Mark Fayne did a marvelous job keeping much of the action to perimeter while allowing Brodeur full view of the shooting lanes during the 5-on-3.
"I thought we were really aggressive and didn't let Hossa or Kane control the half wall, and when the puck was loose, we were jumping on it," Brodeur said. "On the 5-on-3 we did a great job. Our mobility helped in getting in shooting lanes and closing in when guys were coming."
The Blackhawks entered the game having scored just three power-play goals in their last 30 opportunities spanning nine games and were ranked 24th in the League with the man advantage. They finished 0-for-4 on Tuesday.
"We probably could have taken more shots … we're trying and getting pucks through, but they're either getting blocked or deflected," Kane said. "On the 5-on-3, we probably could have had more movement."
The Devils opened a 1-0 lead in the first when Petr Sykora connected for a power-play goal off a tip-in from the slot at 15:42. After taking a pass from Fayne, Henrique skated to the top of the right circle before threading the needle to Sykora, who made no mistake during an ill-advised line change by the Blackhawks.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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