NEWARK, NJ -- The times were desperate: A six-game losing streak that sapped the New Jersey Devils' confidence as a team, dimmed their postseason buzz and had harried Coach Brent Sutter pulling out tricks like rearranging the locker room for a sudden spark.
They grew even more desperate on Friday night: Lackadaisical play against the Tampa Bay Lightning at home led to a 2-0 deficit that not even a stunning relief appearance by goalie Martin Brodeur (for the injured Kevin Weekes) could overcome.
Then, at 13:05 of the second period, Tampa goalie Karri Ramo's stick flew from his glove while defending his net and the Devils were given a penalty shot. The referees confirmed the five New Jersey players on the ice at the time of the infraction.
One of them was Brendan Shanahan
"Brent said that if they confirmed I was one of them, I was taking it," recalled Shanahan, the veteran winger in his second tour of duty with the Devils.
Standing at center ice, Shanahan didn't know Karri Ramo from Tony Romo; so he skated into the zone with good speed and let his instincts take over. Ramo showed five-hole, and Shanahan took it -- scoring, perhaps, one of the biggest goals of the Devils' season from a psychological standpoint.
"It was huge," said winger Zach Parise, who would score the game-winning goal in overtime to take two points against the Lightning, 5-4. "In tough times like this you need spark. You need something that's going to get us going. I think that definitely was it."
Shanahan was candid about what his penalty shot goal meant to his teammates during the team's worst losing skid since 2000.
"We just needed something to feel good about. The fans needed something to feel good about," he said. "We've worked hard, said all the right things and you come out and find yourself down 2-0. We just needed a little break."
They also needed a little leadership, which is why Shanahan was signed by the Devils back in January. A key goal or assist here or there helps; but most importantly, they needed the sort of sage wisdom that comes form a veteran that's been competing in the NHL since Ronald Reagan was President.
In other words, a guy that's been through this sort of downward spiral before. Like back in 2002 with the Detroit Red Wings, who stumbled to the finish line having gone seven games without a victory. All they did was eventually win the Stanley Cup.
"This happens to all teams, and it's the great teams that come out of it stronger and better," said Shanahan. "I look around the [Devils locker] room and I see warriors and gamers. Good people."
New Jersey will attempt to build on its positive momentum at the Buffalo Sabres tonight, facing a team fighting for its playoff life. What does Shanahan want to see out of his mates?
"Obviously a win," he said. "But there were still a couple of breakdowns defensively. Obviously, it's not for lack of effort. When you're pressing and trying so hard, sometimes you watch. Sometimes you're a spectator. And on a couple of their goals, we were spectators."
The Devils were all spectators when Shanahan prepared to take his penalty shot. After he converted, they mobbed him on the bench.
"The funniest thing he said was, 'Take everyone else off the ice, and by myself I'm a pretty good player,'" said Brodeur.