Devils 2, Panthers 1

Jim Hague, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEWARK, N.J. -- Patrik Elias and David Clarkson scored second-period goals and goaltender Martin Brodeur won his second straight game since returning from a back injury as the New Jersey Devils held off the injury-riddled Florida Panthers 2-1 on Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
The victory was the 666th for Brodeur in his career and helped the Devils improve to 15-11-6. Their 34 points are one shy of Toronto for sixth place in the NHL Eastern Conference standings. The Panthers dropped to 9-17-6 overall.
Travis Zajac had assists on both Devils goals.
The Devils lost top scorer Ilya Kovalchuk to injury early in the third period. Kovalchuk lost his balance and slid headfirst into the boards. He was down for more than a minute but skated off on his own straight to the locker room. He did not return to the bench.
Elias scored early in the second period, and Clarkson added his goal seven minutes later.
Peter Mueller scored for the Panthers late in the second period.
The Devils had a huge chance in the third period, but the Panthers killed off a five-minute major penalty to stay in the game.
Brodeur made 17 saves for his 10th win of the season. His former backup, Scott Clemmensen, had 23 saves for Florida.
The first period was rather uneventful -- until the closing minute.
First, Panthers defenseman Dmitri Kulikov, returning to action after missing the past 10 games with a wrist injury, unleashed a slap shot with 46.7 seconds remaining that Brodeur snared with his catching glove.
Then, with 23 seconds left, Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique broke out on a two-on-one and Kovalchuk made a perfect pass to Henrique in front, but Henrique's backhand trickled wide right of Clemmensen with an open net.
The Panthers had four shots on goal in the first period and the Devils only two.
The Devils broke through in the opening minutes of the second period on a great play by Zajac.
Zajac stole a bad pass from Kulikov at the blue line, carried the puck toward the goal, then hit the streaking Elias with a pass. Elias slid the puck between Clemmensen's pads and landed on the seat of his pants. Elias' 10th goal of the season came just 1:24 into the second period.
It was only the second time in the last 13 games that New Jersey scored first. But the Devils owned an 11-1-4 record this when scoring the first goal.
The already injury-riddled Panthers suffered another blow when Shawn Matthias was struck in the left eye on a wrist shot by Kulikov. Matthias remained on the ice for a few minutes before skating off. The extent of his injury was not immediately known, but Matthias returned to start the third period.
The Devils pushed the lead to 2-0 on a hustle play by Clarkson, who fired a shot at Clemmensen that the goalie stopped but couldn't secure. Clarkson jumped on the loose puck in front and tucked it past Clemmensen for his 12th goal of the season.
The game appeared to be headed into the second intermission with the Devils holding a commanding two-goal lead, but Brodeur made a mistake, fielding the puck behind his goal. Tomas Fleischmann stole it from Brodeur and passed the puck to Mueller, who scored his seventh goal of the season with just 9.8 seconds left in the second period.
Less than a minute later after Kovalchuk's injury in the third period, Panthers defenseman Colby Robak took Tim Sestito hard into the boards for a five-minute crosscheck and a game misconduct. The Panthers received a huge lift when they successfully killed off Robak's five-minute major.
NOTES: Matt D'Agostini didn't expect to become a member of the New Jersey Devils. "I'm surprised and obviously a little shocked," said the 26-year-old winger, who was acquired from the St. Louis Blues along with seventh-round draft pick in 2015 for the Devils' fifth-round pick in the same draft. "It was tough to say goodbyes to my teammates, but at the same time, I was excited to become part of this organization. It's a fresh start for me. I hope to establish my game and get some chances. At my best, I'm quick going to the net and can create havoc on the forecheck." The Devils are taking a chance on D'Agostini, hopeful that he can regain the form of 2010-11, when he collected 21 goals and 25 assists for St. Louis. Ravaged by two concussions last season, limiting him to nine goals and nine assists in 55 games, D'Agostini had just one goal and one assist in 16 games this season. ... The Devils scratched Alexei Ponikarovsky, who suffered an upper-body injury in the Devils' win over the Rangers Tuesday night. ... Defenseman Mark Fayne was a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game for New Jersey. ... The Panthers scratched veteran and team captain Ed Jovanovski (lower body injury) and George Parros (healthy). The Panthers also were without winger Kris Versteeg (upper body), goalie Jose Theodore, center Stephen Weiss (lower body) and defenseman Michael Caruso (upper body). ... The Panthers activated Dmitry Kulikov (wrist) before the game. The veteran defenseman was on the injured list for 10 games. ... The Panthers do not have a player with a plus total in the plus/minus category.

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