NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Travis Zajac set up two goals, and the New Jersey Devils rode another solid performance by Martin Brodeur to a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
Patrik Elias and David Clarkson scored for New Jersey, and Brodeur finished with 17 saves as the Devils won their second straight since the 40-year-old goalie returned to the lineup after being sidelined a month with a pinched nerve in his neck.
The victory might have been costly for New Jersey as star forward Ilya Kovalchuk missed the final 10 minutes after crashing into the boards.
Peter Mueller scored for Florida, which had a two-game winning streak snapped. Scott Clemmensen made 23 saves for the Panthers, who are on a season-high, five-game road trip.
This was the first meeting between the teams since the Devils eliminated the Panthers in double overtime in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series last season.
There was some chippiness at the end of the game when Scottie Upshall hit Devils captain Bryce Salvador behind the net after the final buzzer.
New Jersey’s Adam Henrique, who scored the series winner last year, exchanged shoves with Tomas Fleischmann before order was restored.
After being held to two shots in the first period, the Devils got two goals in the second. Zajac took advantage of Panthers turnovers in center ice to set up both goals.
The first mistake came early in the period. Filip Kuba banked the puck off the boards to center ice, but one of his teammates inadvertently nudged it back toward the Florida blue line. Zajac gathered the puck at the right point, skated into the zone, and sent a cross-ice pass to Elias, who came down the middle for a redirection through Clemmensen’s pads at 1:24.
It was Elias’ 10th goal, the 15th straight season he has scored in double figures.
Another bad clearing pass led to Clarkson’s team-high 12th goal, but only his second in 18 games.
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov sent a pass off the sideboards in his zone into center ice. Zajac got the puck in stride and skated into the Panthers’ end and found Clarkson between the circles.
Clemmensen stopped the shot but couldn’t control it. When the puck fell to his feet, Clarkson swatted it home.
Brodeur, who got credit for a gift goal on Thursday when a Hurricanes player put the puck into his own net, handed Florida its only goal with 10 seconds left in the second period.
One of the best puck-handling goalies of all time, Brodeur had the puck slide off his stick behind the net when pressured. Tomas Fleishmann took the puck and sent it in front to Mueller for a tap-in, his seventh goal of the season.
The Devils had a great chance to expand the lead in the third period when Florida defenseman Colby Robak was given a five-major for cross-checking Tim Sestito. However, with Kovalchuk off the ice, the power play was horrible and Clemmensen was barely tested.
While he didn’t face many quality shots, Brodeur came up big twice in close against Jonathan Huberdeau and once against Quinton Howden on a 2-on-1.
NOTES: This game was the first of three between the clubs in the final five weeks of the season. — Panthers D Dmitry Kulikov returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a wrist injury. He replaced Erik Gudbranson, who was ill. — Panthers C Shawn Matthias was cut on his left forehead when hit by a shot by Kulikov. He returned for the third period.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)