RALEIGH, N.C. -- In the big picture of this 48-game season, the New Jersey Devils needed their 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night.
But never mind that the two points pushed them over the eighth-place playoff line in the Eastern Conference. On a night when the Devils snapped a three-game skid, they were celebrating goaltender Martin Brodeur for any number of reasons: for coming back strong from an injury, for saving the team in a fast-and-furious first period -- but most of all, for scoring a goal.
In the midst of a scoreless first period, the Devils took a delayed penalty. When New Jersey defenseman Marek Zidlicky was whistled for hooking, Carolina goaltender Dan Ellis headed to the bench for the extra attacker.
In the meantime, Brodeur swept Patrick Dwyer's shot to the corner, where it was retrieved by Carolina's Jordan Staal. But Staal's diagonal pass to Tim Gleason at the left point careened off the boards and all the way into the opposite net.
With Hurricanes forward Alex Semin already in the box, Brodeur earned a power-play goal as the last New Jersey player to touch the puck. And there was a degree of absurdity about all of it as the game wore on: Until Jeff Skinner broke up the shutout with 8:33 remaining, everyone thought Brodeur might have another feather in his cap.
"It could have been a game-winner," Brodeur said with a laugh, "but I got scored on."
As with most goals own-goals, there was some confusion trying to sort everything out.
"As you can see, we didn't really know what to do," said Adam Henrique, who scored the second New Jersey goal. "We didn't know who to go celebrate with."
In the aftermath of the goal, Brodeur found it amusing that Ilya Kovalchuk figured it all out quickly.
"He right away knew," said Brodeur, who was playing his first game after missing the past 13 with a pinched nerve in his neck. "I wasn't sure what happened. I kind of made a poke check on Dwyer coming in. I got tangled up and I looked at Staal.
"He made a pass and I wasn't sure if there was a guy there, so I went for the pass. After that, when it cleared the zone, I kind of looked behind me. I wasn't really looking (at the puck). When the puck went in the net, I was like, 'What happened there?' I didn't know we had a delayed penalty or anything. So it was kind of a surprise. Kovy said, 'You scored the goal!' With the Russian accent too."
There also were conventional goals. With the Devils shutting down the Hurricanes in the second period, Henrique knocked in a rebound at 12:52. Peter Harrold followed his own shot 48 seconds later with a backhander that beat Ellis. Andrei Loktionov scored from the slot with 3:06 left in the third.
Taking a 3-0 lead into the third period, the Devils had the game in hand, in part because they limited the Hurricanes to three shots in the second period.
As amused as the Devils were after their convincing win, the mood was grim in the other locker room. The Hurricanes have lost five in a row (0-4-1), outscored 17-6 over that stretch.
Coach Kirk Muller was visibly upset with his team.
"We've got some things to fix, but I don't think it's systematic at all," Muller said. "You know what, we're not going to accept this. You've got to work, and if you do, you get your ice time. You've got to help the guys who have been going every night. That's the bottom line."
Muller was referring, in part, to the Hurricanes' lack of scoring punch outside of the top line of Jiri Tlusty-Eric Staal-Alex Semin. Muller has said many times he is waiting for contributions from some of his depth players. His patience is beginning to wear thin.
"I'm disappointed tonight," Muller said. "It's time we don't piggy-back off of some of the guys that have been playing well all year. We need more effort from some guys. We got outworked in the second. They took over and that's not going to work.
"Some guys need to look in the mirror and get their work boots on and get their game going. This is playoff hockey now. Everything is cranked up, everything is harder, and you have to earn your space."
For all the tension generated by the Hurricanes' loss, the Devils were basking in glow of a win -- and a little bit of levity, the kind of moment that takes the pressure off during a Stanley Cup Playoff chase.
At the same time, no one lost sight of Brodeur's real contribution. The goal was nice, but it was about the way the 40-year-old played in his 1,205th regular-season game, his 665th win.
"They had a big push in about a three or four minutes span, so it was critical that he made some big saves there and allowed us to get our composure back," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's a big lift for us. Marty's our starting goaltender and he's the best of all time. It's a luxury to have him back there for a lot of different reasons."
Henrique said, "It was all him in the first period. They were putting a ton of pressure on us. He scores a power-play goal. There's not much else you can ask from a goalie. He didn't miss a beat out there."
If there was an intersection Tuesday night where Brodeur's greatness crossed with his simple turn of fortune, Kovalchuk found a way to say it simply.
"The good players always have good luck -- and he did on that goal for sure. He deserved that one."
1 - 0 NJD
2 - 0 NJD
3 - 0 NJD
3 - 1 NJD
4 - 1 NJD