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Ponikorovsky's return sparks Devils past Flyers

The SportsXchange

NEWARK, N.J. -- How much was Alexei Ponikorovsky welcomed back to the New Jersey Devils' locker room?

The once-and-current Devils forward, who was re-acquired Thursday after just a 12-game stint with the Winnipeg Jets, had his name over his locker covered with tape and the name "Dainius Zubrus" written in marker on the tape.

All in jest, the Devils were glad to have their hard-working winger back in the fold Friday night -- and he responded in his first game with a key goal, helping the Devils come back from a two-goal first period deficit to defeat the rival Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 Friday night at the Prudential Center.

Ponikorovsky, a key player in the Devils' run to the Stanley Cup Finals last June, was acquired for two draft picks, a deal that was essential to make when the Devils learned they lost Zubrus for up to six weeks after wrist surgery.

Friday night, Ponikorovsky scored a goal in the opening seconds of the second period that keyed the Devils' comeback.

"It's nice to be back and start off with a win after being down 3-1," said Ponikorovsky, who had his third goal of the season, slicing the Flyers' early lead to 3-2. "I'm pretty happy to be here. I was surprised and excited at the same time. I missed 12 games, but it's like I never left. I started right back where I left off."

Ponikorovsky's goal came when goalkeeper Martin Brodeur made a deep pass to Ilya Kovalchuk beyond the center ice line.

"I got the opportunity to play the puck a lot tonight," said Brodeur, who made 25 saves in collecting the seventh win of the season and the 663rd of his career while recording the 41st assist of his career on the play. "It's always nice to get a helper. When we started in the second, I knew we had a chance to break out, so I got it out there to Kovy, who was wide open, so I sort of threw him the Hail Mary.

"It was nice to see Pony score a goal in his first game back. I was able to make a few plays to help us tonight."

It was Brodeur's first since Feb. 5, 2012, against Pittsburgh.

Kovalchuk recorded his second assist of three on the night, giving him multiple points in three of the last five games.

"We showed a lot of character in coming back," Kovalchuk said. "We never gave up. That was the key. Marty made some great saves to keep us in the game and we scored some great goals after being down. Pony was a great part of the team last year and I'm glad to have him back. I was really disappointed when we didn't sign him, but he's a good fit here."

Ironically, Ponikorovsky scored a goal against the Flyers in his first game with the Devils last season after being acquired in trade with Carolina. Ponikorovsky had the lone goal in the Devils' 4-1 loss to Philadelphia on Jan. 20, 2012.

With the game tied at 3-3 in the final period, David Clarkson redirected an Adam Larsson shot with 9:17 remaining for his 10th goal of the season, giving the Devils the lead for good.

Clarkson has taken up the scoring load since Zach Parise left when he signed with the Minnesota Wild after last season's Stanley Cup finals.

"I don't know what it is, but I just keep going to the goal and eventually I'm going to get a chance to score," said Clarkson, who had a breakout season last year, scoring 30 goals. "A lot of it is just being in the right area. The biggest thing is that we're winning and we're getting the scoring spread out."

Steve Bernier scored an empty-net goal with 1:36 remaining to cap the scoring. The Devils had only three shots on goal in the third period, yet scored on two of them.

The win was the sixth in seven games for the Devils (9-2-3), who had a five-game win streak snapped Tuesday night by Carolina. The Flyers (6-8-1), who are in the middle of a six-game road trip, had won four out of six. It was also the sixth straight win for the Devils over the Flyers, dating to last season's playoffs.

Philadelphia took a 3-1 lead after scoring three times in a span of 2:36 in the first period. Wayne Simmonds, Mike Knuble and Matt Read all scored goals in that short stint in the second period.

"We came out and played a good first period," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "The second and third, we weren't as strong. I think they had only one scoring chance in the third period and they made the most of it. We were on the attack offensively and just couldn't score."

Travis Zajac scored a goal for the Devils 40 seconds into the game and Patrik Elias scored a second period goal that tied the game for New Jersey.

Claude Giroux had two assists for the Flyers.

"We had a 3-1 lead and lost," Giroux said. "That's unacceptable. We have to find a way to get it done with a lead like that."

Clarkson believed it was just a matter of getting back to what has made the Devils the top team in the Eastern Conference standings with 21 points, the second NHL team to reach 20 points this season.

"After we were down, we just had to get back to play the way the Devils play," Clarkson said. "We never hit the panic button as a team. We did a lot of good things in the second and third periods when we needed it. We had to come on like that after being down. Marty made some saves that gave us the chance to come back."

NOTES: The Flyers lost defenseman Kimmo Timonen to a lower body injury in the second period and did not return. His status remains in question. Timonen is tied for second on the Flyers with just nine points. Read, Giroux and Jakub Voracek are tied for the team lead with just 10 points. ... Ponikarovsky is the 23rd player to be re-acquired by the Devils after playing elsewhere. ... The Devils scratched rookie Stefan Matteau, as well as defenseman Henrik Tallinder for the eighth straight game. ... The Flyers scratched forward Tom Sestito, the brother of Devils farmhand Tim Sestito, currently with Albany of the AHL. ... The Flyers have a 1-5-1 record after surrendering the first goal.
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