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Devils win, keep slim chances glimmering

The SportsXchange

NEWARK, N.J. -- Although still perilously close to the edge, the New Jersey Devils are keeping themselves alive in the late push to reach the playoffs.

The Devils responded from a slow start against the slumping Florida Panthers by scoring six straight goals in a 6-2 victory Saturday, keeping New Jersey's slim postseason chances possible.

"We're in a tough position here," said David Clarkson, whose goal with 9:15 left in the second period put the Devils up, 3-2, and New Jersey continued to add to the lead.

Patrik Elias scored twice to tie it after Florida took an early 2-0 lead, then Clarkson, Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Dainius Zubrus added goals for the Devils.

Martin Brodeur had an assist to go along with his 11 saves as New Jersey limited Florida to six shots over the final two periods, extending the Panthers' losing streak to five straight.

Devils' winger Ilya Kovalchuk returned to the lineup after missing 11 games because of a shoulder injury. Although he didn't score, plenty of his teammates did, as the Devils regrouped after a sloppy start.

"There are no excuses this time of year for poor starts," Devils' coach Peter DeBoer said. "To our players' credit, they responded the right way and got the job done."

The Devils are trying to avoid going from reaching Stanley Cup finals a year ago to missing the playoffs this season. New Jersey's chances remain slim, but the Devils stayed alive with their second straight victory following a 10-game winless streak.

New Jersey entered the game eight points behind the Rangers for No. 8 in the Eastern Conference standings and have two games remaining against their rivals from across the river.

New York hosts New Jersey on Sunday and the clubs finish the regular season with another game at Madison Square Garden.

"They've got an opportunity to close us out and I'm sure they're going to relish that," DeBoer said. "We'll have to get off the bus and be ready to compete."

The Panthers (13-25-6) hold the worst record in the NHL and continued a woeful four-game trip, which ends Sunday in Boston. Florida has been outscored, 17-5, in losses to the Islanders, Rangers and Devils.

"As this season is working toward Game 48, our commitment to defense has waned and hasn't been strong," coach Kevin Dineen said. "We're too easy to play against."

Marcel Goc gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal 6:11 into the first period. The play came 28 seconds after Ryan Carter was called for slashing, and Florida added to the lead barely a minute later when Brian Campbell beat Brodeur on a wrist shot 7:05 into the period.

Florida's 2-0 lead was short-lived as the Devils got one within one before the end of the period, then pulled away in the second with four goals and took a 5-2 lead into the third.

Elias scored for New Jersey on a power-play goal with 5:38 left in the first period on a play started by Brodeur, who got an assist. Elias struck again for his 13th goal of the season to tie it, 2-2, only 2:09 into the second period.

NOTES: Florida's two goals in the first period were twice as many as Martin Brodeur had allowed in his last two starts. ... Even after missing 11 consecutive games, Ilya Kovalchuk entered Saturday still ranked second on the Devils in scoring with 27 points, with 10 goals and 17 assists in 32 games. ... The Panthers allowed 11 goals in their previous two games, losses to the Islanders and Rangers to kick off a four-game trip.
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