Devils' Brodeur posts 666th win

Jim Hague, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEWARK, N.J. -- For Martin Brodeur, reaching career victory No. 666 wasn't that big of a deal.
Just don't try to sell that to his brother, Denis, in Montreal.
"My brother is definitely happy about it because he pointed out that 666 is the number of the Devil and he said I'm the Jersey Devil, so he said that the number was fitting," said Brodeur, who reached the career number by making 17 saves in a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night at the Prudential Center to collect his second straight win after returning from a back injury.
"Now, I'm going to have to give him my stick and everything from this game. It's nice, another little number, but in reality, I have to just keep moving forward. It's that kind of thing more than anything else. I know a lot of people are going to want to talk about the number."
Victory No. 666 came for the NHL's career win leader after Patrik Elias and David Clarkson scored second-period goals, then held off the injury-riddled Panthers.
The win 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. There was no further information released about Kovalchuk, but he was spotted outside the locker room with his left arm in a sling.
Elias scored early in the second period, and Clarkson added his goal seven minutes later.
"We found a way to play good hockey," said Elias, who scored his 10th goal of the season, then slid on the seat of his pants for about 10 feet. "I made a soccer celebration. I watched too much MLS and acted like a soccer player sliding. I love their celebrations. Honestly, I don't even know how it happened. I just ended up sliding on the ice. We found a way to win. We shut the door and didn't give them a lot of chances."
Clarkson, who had a 13-game scoreless streak snap last week in a loss to Philadelphia, saw his persistence pay off when he followed his own shot.
"I don't know what happened," said Clarkson, who scored his 12th goal of the season. "The rebound kicked back to me and I was digging and digging. It was a coal miner's goal, a grinder's goal. I just kept working at it."
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's former backup, Scott Clemmensen, had 23 saves for Florida. He thought his team played well.
"As of late, we're playing pretty good," Clemmensen said. "As a result, we're in every game and that gives us a chance to win. I thought it was a well-played game and the score was a result of that. It's tough to win on the road. We played a pretty good hockey game, but it was tough to lose."
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.
"We wanted to get off to a good start, but they got the first goal," Kulikov said. "I made a bad play with the puck and gave it away. But even if the team scores first, we can't get down on ourselves. It shouldn't break us if we stick to the system.
"This was big for us. We know it's going to be tough every game. We played them last year in the playoffs, so we know that they're a good team. We played as hard as we could. Every game now is huge for us. We can't keep giving up points. We're going to keep going until the end."
It was only the second time in the last 13 games that New Jersey scored first. But the Devils own a 12-1-4 record this season when scoring the first goal.
The Devils pushed the lead to 2-0 on Clarkson's play and 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.
"I thought the second period was the best we've played in a long while," Brodeur said. "I gave up the puck at the end and those things happen. I'm sure it will happen again. Sometimes, you get surprised like that. It's part of the game. I'm just lucky it wasn't the game-tying goal."
The score remained that way. Brodeur made six saves in the third period to keep the Panthers at bay.
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 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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