ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The New Jersey Devils needed a win in the worst way Friday night. Little did they know a rookie suiting up for his second NHL game would make the most important play.
Early in the third period with the game tied, Alexander Vasyunov intercepted a pass by Ducks defenseman Danny Syvret in the neutral zone. The 22-year-old from Yaroslavl, Russia, calmly skated into the zone, allowed linemate Ilya Kovalchuk to drive the net, then feathered a soft pass to Patrik Elias in the slot.
Elias made no mistake, one-timing Vasyunov's feed past the catching glove of Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller to give the Devils a 2-1 victory at the Honda Center. The win snapped New Jersey's three-game losing streak and was just its second win in regulation this season.
"He played a great game," Devils coach John MacLean said of Vasyunov, who was only in the lineup because fellow rookie Jacob Josefson was out with a hand injury. "I thought that line played really well and he deserved to be out there. He contributed all night. He had a lot of speed in our lineup and he's a big kid who competes hard and if he keeps doing that, he'll be fine."
"It's a big game, but I feel good. I feel like I played two years in the NHL," Vasyunov said jokingly about how calm he felt. "For sure, I'm nervous a little bit, but I don't know, it feels great."
After a scoreless first period, the Devils had their fourth unsuccessful power play of the game wiped away by Jamie Langenbrunner's offensive zone hooking penalty at 6:26 of the second period. After going 0-for-4 with the man-advantage, the Ducks capitalized on their first power play.
Ducks forward Jason Blake took a pass at the side of the net from Saku Koivu. With no one defending, Blake wheeled in front and had his first shot stopped by Brodeur, but Blake pounded the rebound into the far side of the net to put the Ducks up 1-0 at 8:07 of the second period.
It was the kind of moment this season that often resulted in the Devils crumbling. Instead, Langenbrunner redeemed himself 2:32 later by tying the score. It wasn't pretty, but his bad-angle shot from almost along the goal line found its way through the pads of Hiller.
"They kept coming," Blake said. "There is a ton of offensive ability over there. They are not going to want to sit back and play defense. One of the best defenses is playing in the other team's zone."
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur also makes a defense seem more imposing. He bounced back from a rough outing in San Jose on Wednesday, when he allowed five goals on 29 shots. Brodeur made 27 saves and held the fort in the final seconds as the Ducks pressed for the tying goal with an extra attacker.
"All of the bodies were pulling toward me," Brodeur said, "so for me to hold that post and try to reach out my glove to dig it out of harm's way, even though it wasn't really a shot, it was just trying to get my glove through everybody's skates and sticks. That was a good one to cover at that time of the game."
The Devils looked good during the first period, dominating much of the play and finishing with a 14-7 advantage in shots. Their best opportunity to break through came on a play where the puck never got on goal. Kovalchuk tried to thread a pass to Vasyunov on a 2-on-1, but it was broken up.
Kovalchuk said the reason he passed up the shot was because he really wanted to get the rookie his first goal. He also said while the victory was a relief, the Devils need to score more than two goals if they want to win on a consistent basis.
"These points are important to us right now," Kovalchuk said. "We wanted to score more goals because Marty always keeps us in the game. The forwards need to score more goals -- two goals is not enough. We played well defensively and we didn't give up much, but we have to score more."
Ducks forward Aaron Voros, playing on the team's top line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, nearly banked home a shot off Brodeur late in the first period. The puck ricocheted off his stick, but he was able to squeeze the pads in the nick of time.
The Ducks, who now sit at 4-6-1 and 14th in the Western Conference, lamented the lost opportunity.
"Every time you think we're going to get it going, we play a game like tonight and lose again," said Hiller, who made 25 saves. "It starts all over again. We have to find a way to win tomorrow."
Both New Jersey and Anaheim will be back in action Saturday night. The Devils travel to Los Angeles to face the Kings; the Ducks head to San Jose to face the Sharks.
"It's a huge win for us -- hopefully it will get us on the right track," Devils center Jason Arnott said. "Everybody played solid, from Marty on out. Everybody contributed in one way or another. We've got to keep it going. We can't just sit on one good game and have four bad games. We've got to keep it rolling."
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