Devils off the Slide

NEWARK, NJ – Martin Brodeur was supposed to observe the night honoring his record win total from the bench. Instead, he added win number 554 to the column in a 5-4 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning and snapped a six-game losing streak for the New Jersey Devils.

Fifty-six seconds into the second period, down 1-0, starting goalie Kevin Weekes stopped a routine dump-in shot. What wasn’t routine was Weekes not getting up and not lifting himself off the ice.

“When he got hurt, he was down. Usually you get hurt you’re able to see his face. I went back because I didn’t have my mask with me it was in the locker room. I told Matty to get my mask and after that I was like, ‘Did he get up?’ and ‘No he’s still down.’ So now I figure, let’s take the baseball cap off and put the work helmet on,” Brodeur said.

Weekes was helped off the ice by Dainius Zubrus and Mike Mottau, not moving his left leg at all as he headed to the locker room.

Brodeur stopped the first shot he saw from Lukas Krajicek, but the Lightning’s power play five minutes into the second proved to be more difficult to handle.

Steven Stamkos scored from the left faceoff hash marks after Martin St. Louis, Matt Lashoff and he executed text-book perfect puck cycling on the man advantage. In three passes, the Devils penalty kill unit was cleared out of the way for Stamkos to have a clear shot at Brodeur.

Being down 2-0, the recent incarnation of the Devils would have looked as flat as a sheet of Plexiglas. But the Devils stayed together, and the fate of luck started to return to their favor.

Brendan Shanahan had a wrist shot from the left circle that hit the crossbar and bounce off the back of Tampa goalie Karri Ramo. Ramo covered the puck behind him and swiped the puck out of the way. Play continued despite video replays looked like the puck crossed the goal line while it was under Ramo’s glove.

Tampa Bay’s effort to clear the shot out of their zone took a funny bounce off the boards and almost careened back into an empty net. Ramo threw his stick at the puck to knock it out of harm’s way, an automatic penalty shot.

At 13:05, the officials reviewed Shanahan’s first shot attempt, and if it were a goal there would have been no penalty shot awarded, but video was inconclusive. Coach Brent Sutter sent Shanahan to take the penalty shot.

Shanahan took the puck straight up the ice to a thunderous standing ovation, and without a tricky move or a slight of hand, he shot the puck straight between the legs of Ramo to get the Devils back in the game at 2-1.

“We’re just waiting for a break and something to feel good about. I was happy to be in that situation,” Shanahan said.

The other Devils were also happy the veteran was in that situation.

“Shanny’s goal really seemed to energize the bench and really take a little bit of weight off our shoulders,” Captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. “I think Shanny’s goal kind of brought us back together a little bit. When you’re struggling like we were, unfortunately it’s tough to be around each other a little bit. It’s hard for everybody. That goal got us really excited and back together and I think hopefully it’ll catapult us back in the right direction and we’ll roll from there.”

With new-found confidence and camaraderie, New Jersey continued to make detailed plays that set them up for success.

Less than two minute later, Tampa Bay turned the puck over in the neutral zone, and Jay Pandolfo, filling in for the injured Patrik Elias, skated in against two Lightning defenders but was unbothered. Pandolfo skated to the front of the crease and roofed a shot over Ramo to tie the game at two.

Pandolfo has only been seen in 12 of the last 33 games since the arrival of Shanahan to the club. The long-time Devil has stayed with team mentally and physically, preparing to help at any point.

“It was great. He’s been one of the best teammates a guy can have, a team could have. To see him get a little success in obviously a tough year for him, and the way he’s handled it is I guess what we can expect from Pando. Coming out of the line up but still working as hard as he does to keep himself ready and ready to go when he’s given a chance. He scored a huge goal and it was great to see,” Langenbrunner said with a smile.

The captain himself was ready to jump in the scoring, and with less than a minute and a half to go in the second, Langenbrunner found an open spot to Ramo’s right and fired a shot that deflected off the goaltender’s stick, giving New Jersey its first lead of the night.

The game would not be that easy for the home team, though.

With just under three minutes gone in the third period, Johnny Oduya whiffed on a one-timer opportunity, and Tampa’s Ryan Malone swiped the puck away and took the puck coast-to-coast. Malone took a backhand shot that went over Brodeur to tie the game up again.

“I just felt it wasn’t going to be easy. It couldn’t be. To get a win after a six game losing streak … We went in to the third period up 3-2, and you just had a feeling it wasn’t going to be 4-2, 5-2, 6-2. It was going to be one of those you have to earn,” Shanahan said.

The Devils kept working, putting in enough effort to outshoot the Lightning 27-10 in the second and third periods.

New Jersey took the advantage again at 10:35. With a faceoff in the offensive zone, Travis Zajac won the draw and pushed the puck back to Paul Martin at the point. Martin passed to Parise on the right wing, who fired a shot at the net. Zajac, screening Ramo, tipped the puck across the crease to Langenbrunner, who was ready to put the puck behind the goaltender.

Back and forth it went, and with six minute left in regulation, Tampa struck back when a shot from Matt Pettinger bounced off Brodeur and straight to Martins Karsums, who was ready for the rebound.

“They got a couple shots early and scored a goal. After that they didn’t get any shots, and then got a breakaway goal. I felt something bounce in front of me and they get an empty net goal. I couldn’t wait for that game to end,” Brodeur explained about his evening.

He didn’t have to wait much longer.

One minute, twenty one seconds into the overtime session, Zajac and Parise teamed up to win the game.

“I guess we caught them on a line change there, and Paul (Martin) got me the puck, and me and Zack, we sort of had a 2-on-1 there. He drove the net and I was able to slide it across to him and he was able to put it away,” Zajac said.

Parise had a little different take on his 43rd goal of the season.

“(Travis) yelled at me to go there. I came over to him and he yelled at me to go the net, and I did, and that was a great pass by him. It was unbelievable,” Parise said.

No matter who takes the credit, the goal revitalized a team that looked like it was repeating the late-season slide of last year that derailed any momentum going into the playoffs.

The Devils have four remaining games to continue the winning trends, including a game Saturday in Buffalo against a Sabres team fighting for the playoffs.

“You need something to get you going in the right direction hopefully tonight will be it. We have a tough game tomorrow against a team that needs every point they can get, so it’ll be a tough battle for us,” Langenbrunner said.

New Jersey proved on Friday that the battle isn’t out of them yet.

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