Devils Thankful for Brodeur after Topping Columbus in OT

Devils 2           Columbus 1    — shootout

Over his 17-year NHL career, Martin Brodeur has given the New Jersey Devils franchise and its fans a lot of reasons to be thankful — three Stanley Cups, the most wins and shutouts in NHL history would be a good place to start. But on Wednesday night at Prudential Center, everyone was thankful that Brodeur was in net, stopping 35 of 36 Columbus Blue Jackets’ shots — and then two more in the shootout — as New Jersey rebounded from a tough loss in Florida on Monday night and skated to a 2-1 victory on Thanksgiving eve.

After a scoreless first period, Brodeur would make one of his biggest saves in the game when he stared down two Blue Jackets coming at him with no defenders of his to slow them down. On the play Vinny Prospal attempted to hit Rick Nash with a backhand pass across the mouth of the crease, but Brodeur alertly poked the puck away with his goal stick to avert what seemed to be a sure goal.

About forty-one seconds later Dainius Zubrus gave the Devils a 1-0 lead when he collected a loose rebound in the slot and swatted it past Jackets’ goalie Curtis Sanford for his seventh goal of the season. “Our defenseman got a shot on the net and Zubie was in the right spot and he got that second chance,” said Patrik Elias who now has 20 points in 20 games. “He’s been in those right spots lately.”

The score remained the same until Jared Boll tied it 6:01 into the third when Marc Methot’s long shot deflected off his skate and past Brodeur.Columbus seemed determined to score in the third period as they out-shot New Jersey 17-3 over the final twenty minutes, but other than Boll’s goal they were unable to solve Brodeur.

The Devils gave the Blue Jackets six power plays throughout the game and were able to kill them all off, something that has become the norm at home –New Jerseyhas yet to surrender a power play goal at the Rock this season (36-for-36) and ranks first in the NHL on the penalty kill (94%). “Some nights it’s all about luck,” said Elias of his team’s PK, “the puck is bouncing around there and they had a couple of great opportunities. Marty makes the save or it gets blocked; sometimes it’s not about X’s and O’s, you have to get lucky.”

After a scoreless overtime, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise each scored on their shootout attempts, while Brodeur denied Nash and Mark Letestu — improving the Devils’ record to 5-1 in the tie-breaker. “It’s nice going second (in the shootout),” said Parise. “I can watch a little bit, I was able to watch when Kovy came in and watch the replay to see what their goalie was doing.”

The Devils captain was also very thankful that Brodeur was backstopping the team on this night as the team continues to pile up points early in the season. “He played very well, made great saves when we needed him to; we kind of got the play taken to us at certain points of this game,” explained Parise. “He’s a big reason why we got to overtime and the shootout.”

Game Notes: Adam Larsson assisted on Zubrus’ goal, giving him an assist in three consecutive games; Elias had the other assist and now has points in four straight games. Kovalchuk is 4-for-4 this season in shootouts; Columbus has never won a game in New Jersey (0-3-1). Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski led all skaters in ice-time with 28:56 while Kovalchuk led the Devils with 23:17. Parise led all players with seven shots on goal; Nash and Jeff Carter led Columbus with six apiece. Ex-Ranger defenseman Fedor Tyutin led all players with three blocked shots and New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov led all players with three hits. New Jersey (11-8-1) is back in action on Friday afternoon when they play against the NY Islanders (5-10-4) and Columbus (5-13-3) is on the ice again also on Friday when they host Buffalo (12-8-1).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 35 saves, win (5)

#2 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – assist (12)

#3 – Curtis Sanford (Cbj) – 23 saves, ot loss (2)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Humble Kessel Key to Toronto’s Resurgence

It would be acceptable to suggest that Phil Kessel’s career would have been a success after he survived a bout with testicular cancer and returned to play in the NHL. But the soft-spoken Kessel forced Boston to trade him, inevitably to Toronto, has a burning desire to win the Stanley Cup and after the first month of this season the 24-year-old just may lead the Leafs to their first championship since 1967. “No hard feelings,” he said when asked if he was jealous. “They had a great year last year, I’m happy for them and hopefully one day we win one here (in Toronto).” Then he added with a grin, “Preferably this year.”

He currently leads the league in goals (10) and points (21), while helping Torontoto a hot start this season (9-4-1) good enough for second place in the Eastern Conference behind Pittsburgh. Brian Burke, the Leafs’ GM, paid a hefty ransom to acquire Kessel from Boston — sending two first round picks and a second round pick — and although the Bruins were able to obtain the uber-talented Tyler Seguin in the 2010 NHL draft (with the Maple Leafs second overall pick) and win a Stanley Cup last season, Toronto should be better in the long run if Kessel continues to evolve into a consistent sniper.

Drafted by Boston fifth overall in 2006, Kessel was two months into his NHL career when he was diagnosed with cancer. “By far, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to go through,” he admitted. “It made me stronger.” Remarkably, he missed only 11 regular season games and was back in the Bruins’ lineup by January of 2007. “Obviously it changes you,” he said. “You live life to its fullest and you never take anything for granted.” His final season (2008-09) in Beantown is where his talent really began to show as he netted 36 goals in 70 games, beginning a stretch of three consecutive 30-goal seasons.

In 2010 Kessel enjoyed one of the highlights of his career to date — representing the United States at the Winter Olympics, where the squad earned a silver medal after losing to Canada in overtime. “It was a great experience, I had a great time,” Kessel recalled with a smile. “It’s too bad we didn’t win that last game, but it was great to be a part of.”

Last season he was selected to play in his first All-Star game and this season his hot play in October earned him NHL player-of-the-month. “I’m playing with a good team here,” Kessel said, spurning the spotlight. “I have good linemates; we’ve been clicking really well this year so far. But it’s a long year; hopefully we can keep it up.”

It appears the sky is the limit for Kessel who has already appeared in 388 NHL games, scoring 266 points (138g-128a), and his continued development will most likely determine if Toronto ends the league’s longest championship drought.

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

A Star Is Born As Henrique’s 2 Goals Sink Jets

Devils 3           Winnipeg 2 — overtime

Rookie Adam Henrique has played all of his 10 NHL games in relative anonymity. After notching his first career goal on Thursday in Philadelphia, he struck for two more goals Saturday night at Prudential Center — including the overtime winner — as the New Jersey Devils skated past the Winnipeg Jets 3-2, making him, at least for one night, a folk hero in Newark.

The home fans were already chanting ‘Hen-Rique’ after his goal that pushed his Devils lead to 2-0 in the second period, and they cheered even louder after his nifty goal on a breakaway during the five-minute overtime period gave the team their second consecutive win and pushed their record to 6-5-1.

New Jersey’s most consistent player this season has been Patrik Elias and he continued that trend early in the 2nd period, giving the team a 1-0 lead. Dainius Zubrus raced into the offensive zone along the left wing wall and found a streaking Elias wide-open in the slot; Elias hammered a one-timer into the top right hand corner over the Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec’s glove hand for his 6th goal of the season.

Henrique doubled the lead almost nine minutes later when on a semi-breakaway he flipped a backhand shot past the Jets’ goalie, while being hooked at from behind by 2 defenders. “It felt good,” said Henrique, “especially at the time of the game when we were up 1-0. I didn’t know if there was going to be a penalty (when they hooked me) or what, and the puck didn’t seem to sit down (for me) either.”

Martin Brodeur and the Devils held onto the 2-0 lead until Mark Flood netted his 1st career goal 6:43 into the third period on a long shot. Jim Slater evened the score for Winnipeg when he took advantage of a no-call that neutralized Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov, allowing him to get a shot past Brodeur uncontested with 2:45 left in regulation.

Evander Kane took a hooking penalty with 48 seconds left in regulation but New Jersey was unable to capitalize on the power play that carried over into overtime. Henrique jumped on the ice to replace Elias during the extra session after the man-advantage had expired and found himself on a breakaway again after a perfect pass from Zach Parise. “He scored some awesome goals tonight for us,” said the Devils captain, who added that “he played really well. He’s getting better and better every game. It’s fun to play on a line with him.”

Henrique very calmly skated in towards Pavelec and snapped a wrist shot low to the glove side that found the back of the net, sending home a bunch of happy humans from the Rock. When asked about the winning goal after the game, the 21-year-old Henrique’s face lit up, “Oh my God, my heart started racing from the blue-line in again (like on the previous goal),” he said with a smile from ear-to-ear. “I got in there and tried to keep it simple, I didn’t want to go to the same move again.”

Strangely, the win was the first of the season for Brodeur (in his fourth game played out of 12, with the calendar reading November. “It was a good win for us, back-to-back wins after losing what, four in a row,” said Brodeur afterwards. “It definitely weighs on you, the way you approach a game when you haven’t helped the team get any points in the standings yet.”

Game Notes: Ilya Kovalchuk (groin) and Andy Greene (lower body) were scratches for New Jersey. Henrique has 5 points (3g-2a) in the last three games; Elias now has a point in four straight games (2g-2a). Parise had two assists in the game and has 21 points in 21 career games against the Thrashers/Jets. After not registering a point in his first ten games, rookie Adam Larsson now has an assist in each of his last two. Jets defensemen Zach Bogosian led all skaters in ice time with 26:25, and Henrik Tallinder led NJ with 24:58. Petr Sykora led all players with six shots on goal; three players led Winnipeg with three each. Volchenkov blocked a game-high three shots. New Jersey (6-5-1) is off until Tuesday when they host Carolina (5-5-3) and Winnipeg (5-6-2) plays at MSG against New York (6-3-3) on Sunday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Adam Henrique (NJ) – 2 goals, gw (3)

#2 – Zach Parise (NJ) – 2 assists (3)

#3 – Mark Flood (Wpg) – goal (1), assist (1)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Lupul Tricks Devils with 3 Goals in 5-3 Leafs Win

Toronto 5               Devils 3

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul was a few days late but he enjoyed a bunch of treats as he scored a natural hat trick in the second period of his squad’s 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night at Prudential Center. In 17 previous contests against New Jersey Lupul had managed just four goals, but on this night he notched his third career hat trick; his first since December 12, 2007. “This is a game we really wanted to have,” said Lupul, “we have another road game tomorrow night. We wanted to start this (road trip) off on the right note.”

Martin Brodeur, making his first start in seven games for the Devils, was a bit rusty and the opportunistic Leafs took advantage, never trailing when the game was a back-and-forth contest. “It was a big test for me to go through this game. I felt good later on (in the game), there’s just that kind of spark, knowing I’m able to go full out,” Brodeur said afterwards.

Joey Crabb (who entered the game with seven goals in 77 career games) started the scoring bonanza 8:37 into the match with his first of this season when he whacked the puck out of midair past Brodeur’s stick side. Dainius Zubrus evened the score on the power play less than four minutes later when he punched a rebound past Toronto’s Jonas Gustavsson for his third of the season. Mikhail Grabovski gave Toronto a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission when he converted a diagonal slap-pass from defenseman Jake Gardiner that Brodeur had no chance of stopping.

When Gustavsson took an interference penalty behind his cage early in the second period, the Devils made him pay as Patrik Elias whipped a one-timer past the goalie for his fifth of the season; the power play goal was the 93rd of his career, replacing John MacLean as the franchise’s all-time leader in that category. (elias quote)

Lupul began his dominance three minutes after Elias’ tying goal when he was Johnny-on-the-spot at 6:31– he was wide open in the slot as Mike Komisarek’s rebounded popped off of Brodeur and onto his stick. David Clarkson slipped a backhander past Gustavsson on a breakaway at 8:15 to even the score yet again, but Lupul was just about to seal the deal.

Ninety seconds later he stick-handled around three defenders and snapped a wicked wrist shot past Brodeur’s glove hand for what turned out to be a highlight-reel game-winning goal. Just over three minutes later he completed the trick when Grabovski found him wide open at the side of the net after a crazy sequence that left Brodeur totally out of position.

When asked if the hat trick meant anything more because it was against Brodeur (the league’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts), Lupul wasn’t shy, “It does mean a little bit more,” he explained. “I played a ton against this guy when I was in Philly, it seems like he always had my number. Tonight, the second one was a bit of a lucky one; it’s pretty cool to do it against him.”

Brodeur admitted he was rusty, but was happy this first game back from injury was behind him. “Definitely I would have loved a different result,” he said after surrendering five goals on 23 shots. “I didn’t play well at all. We scored three goals, two on the power play; that should have been enough to at least have a better chance in this game.”

Game Notes: Adam Larsson had his first career point for New Jersey, assisting on Elias’ goal; Brad Mills registered his first career assist on Clarkson’s goal. Phil Kessel (two assists) continues to lead the NHL in scoring with 20 points (10g-10a) in 12 games. Ilya Kovalchuk also assisted on Elias’ goal and has 36 points in 36 career games against the Maple Leafs; he also led all skaters in ice-time with 24:52. Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf led his team in ice-time with 24:44 and all players with four blocked shots. Lupul and Kovalchuk led everyone with five shots on goal each. New Jersey (4-5-1) next plays at Philadelphia (7-4-1) andToronto (8-3-1) will play their next match at Columbus (2-9-1), both games are Thursday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Joffrey Lupul (Tor) – 3 goals, gw (8)

#2 – Mikhail Grabovski (Tor) – goal (5), assist (4)

#3 – Phil Kessel (Tor) – 2 assists (10)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.