NEWARK, N.J. -- A classic goaltenders duel between two veterans in top form and preparing to represent their respective countries at the 2010 Winter Olympics took center stage on Wednesday night before 13,931 at the Prudential Center.
In the end, the NHL's reigning shutout king did it again.
New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur made 22 saves, including nine in the third period, en route to a 2-0 victory over the Florida Panthers. Brodeur, the possible starter for Team Canada at the Winter Games next month, notched his seventh shutout of the season to help the Devils snap a three-game losing streak.
"It was an important win -- coming back home from a weird road trip where we left and then came back to play half a game (to resume a postponed game against the Tampa Bay Lightning)," Brodeur said. "Playing three games in three nights took a toll on us, so it was nice to have (Tuesday) off and you could tell the guys were fresh. They were skating and playing well, but coming back on top was the most important thing. We played well and that's the bottom line."
So did Brodeur, who is now 34-13-7 all-time against Florida. His NHL-leading 30th victory came in his 27th straight start. Brodeur's already established records for regular-season games played (1,045), victories (587), shutouts (108) and minutes played (61,697).
"I just play the game, I don't play to shut anybody out," Brodeur said. "I play to win the game and sometimes (a shutout) happens, but things come in bunches -- like low-scoring games, but we'll take it."
At the other end, Florida's Tomas Vokoun, the likely starter for the Czech Republic, was equally sharp in defeat behind 31 saves but the Panthers had their three-game winning streak snapped.
"Vokoun's been good every time we play him -- he's such an athletic goalie and he controls and kicks away those rebounds," Brodeur said. "He's an exciting goalie to watch. He's going to try and lead the Czech Republic to a gold medal, so it's always fun when you match up against goalies you know you're going to have to face in February."
Vokoun entered the game having stopped 102 of 106 shots (.962 save percentage) during Florida's win streak, including a 27-save, 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday. At this point in the season, moral victories are not enough.
"I think we can build on what we did before this game -- I don't think you can build that much off a loss," Vokoun said. "Things are going pretty well and we're playing good hockey, so we just have to refocus and get ready for the Islanders (on Thursday). We need two points."
The Panthers, who allow a League-leading 34.4 shots per game, have yielded 30 or more shots in 36 of 50 games this season. Vokoun, who was making his 10th straight appearance between the pipes for Florida, saw his team outshot once again, 32-22, against the Devils.
The Devils opened a 1-0 lead at 18:30 of the second period when Travis Zajac fired home his 14th of the season from the top of the right circle. Nick Palmieri, who was making his NHL debut, earned an assist. The home team would ultimately kill a Florida power-play over the final 1:23 of the game to close out the contest but not before Dean McAmmond scored a shorthanded goal into an empty net at the 19:59 mark.
Palmieri was one of two players -- forward Patrick Davis the other -- making his season debut for the Devils on Wednesday. On top of that, the Devils were limited to just three centers after Rod Pelley was listed as a late scratch with a lower-body injury.
Incredibly, just when you think the Devils may have utilized all their resources from their American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell, in skates another youngster with something to prove. And on Wednesday, forwards Palmieri and Davis, both recalled on Tuesday, were on the clock. Palmieri was making his NHL debut, while Davis was making his second career start and first this season.
"The kids were good with the puck and they provided good energy," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "As a team, we need to improve the overall picture. Our intensity, our puck control, our scoring chances and our power-play all must get better."
The Devils' finished 0-for-2 on the power-play and are now 0-for-22 over their last seven games. Of course, Lemaire had no issues with his starting goaltender.
"I wish he would do this (earn a shutout) every night and make my job a lot easier," Lemaire smiled.
The Devils were presented plenty of opportunities to establish an early lead in the opening 20 minutes when they outshot the Panthers, 12-5. But Vokoun was splendid.
His best stop came off the stick of Palmieri, who led Lowell and was third among AHL rookies with 15 goals at the time of his recall. He retrieved a rebound between the circles that Vokoun turned aside. Palmieri, who finished the game with 5 shots, didn't appear to be overwhelmed despite earning 12:43 of ice time in his first NHL game.
"As the game went on, I felt a lot more comfortable," Palmieri said. "The first couple of shifts were obviously a bit of an adjustment at this level as compared to the AHL, but once I got into the flow of the game, I think I did pretty well."
He also took a feed from Zajac and released a nifty backhander while barreling down the slot that Vokoun knocked into the corner. Lemaire was so pleased with Palmieri's play that he promoted him to the top line alongside Zajac and Zach Parise in the second period -- a combination that would ultimately provide all the offense the Devils would need for their All-Star goalie.
"He was just playing better than the other guys," Lemaire praised. "It's his poise with the puck. Before the game, I asked him if he knew how we play when they have full control and he say, 'Yeah' and I asked him to explain and he told me the whole thing. I told him about defensive-zone coverage -- making sure he stopped and was in control (before making a play), and I thought he did that."