Zajac’s shootout goal gives Devils 2-1 victory
Tuesday, 08.16.2011 / 5:07 AMNEWARK, N.J.
– New Jersey Devils
goalie Johan Hedberg
knows his place on the roster.
At a time when his team has been beset with injuries, including that to starter Martin Brodeur
, Hedberg's primary concern has been to provide his team the best opportunity to succeed when coach John MacLean calls his number.
The veteran goalie has done just that.
Hedberg was the primary reason the Devils were able to give the Philadelphia Flyers
all they could handle on Saturday on the way to a 2-1 shootout victory before 17,625 at Prudential Center.
He'd finish with a season-high 40 saves and then deny three players in the shootout before Travis Zajac
sealed the deal in the fourth round, giving the Devils their fourth straight victory on home ice. The loss was the second straight shootout setback for the Flyers in as many days.
In four starts this week, Hedberg has yielded just four goals on 117 shots, sporting a 1.00 goals-against average in the process. He admits replacing a future Hall of Fame goalie is unlike any situation he's been in during his nine NHL seasons -- and first with the Devils.
"I've been in situations where I've replaced goalies, but never where I was the man to replace the best goalie to ever play the game," Hedberg said. "The standards are set pretty high but I can only go out and try to be me and do as good as I can. The guys have been phenomenal around me. They're doing everything they can to help me out, so it makes my job way easier."
Neither team scored in the first two rounds of the tiebreaker, but Philadelphia's Nikolay Zherdev beat Hedberg between the legs in the third round. Prior to that, Hedberg had stops on Claude Giroux
and Danny Briere
"I got (Briere's shot) with my pad," Hedberg said. "He's a skilled player so you have to be patient and stay with him as long as you can."
Jason Arnott's wrist shot past Brian Boucher extended the shootout, and after Flyers captain Mike Richards drilled the post to Hedberg's left, Zajac notched the winner over Boucher's left glove.
"I wanted to fake and then try to go upstairs, so I was trying to get him to bite and he did," Zajac said. "I wish those goals counted on the score sheet because it's been a struggle (offensively) the last couple of games. We haven't gotten as many opportunities as we would have liked, but our defense has been solid. It'll be tough to win games scoring one every game but, luckily for us, Heddy has kept us in it."
The victory came 24 hours after the Devils had suffered a 2-0 loss to the Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Philadelphia, meanwhile, dropped a 3-2 shootout to the Calgary Flames on Friday. The club completed a stretch of 10 games in 17 days with six wins and 15 points. The Devils are 3-1-0 in their last four.
"It's all about us and not about them," Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen
said. "If we play our game, we're hard to beat. Our first period (against New Jersey) wasn't very good, but in the final 35 minutes of the game, I thought there was only one team on the ice. Hedberg was playing good, but that's New Jersey hockey. They play tight defense in front of their goalie and they did a good job. We have to learn to play a full 60 minutes."
Adam Mair's first-period goal was the only scoring through two periods. But the Flyers got even 8:38 into the third on a power-play goal by Danny Briere
, who took a pass from Scott Hartnell
and banked an attempted jam-in at the left post off the back leg of Hedberg into the net. It was the first power-play goal for the Flyers in four games.
"Hedberg was pretty good in there but (Boucher) was good too," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "He didn't get as many shots, but the one's we gave up, they were good, and Boosh was there. Their guy made a lot of saves."
Hedberg was the busiest man in the third period, being tested often as the Flyers outshot the home team, 14-5. Briere's goal, in fact, was the 34th shot taken on the veteran goalie. Hedberg's best save came when Ville Leino took a wrist shot from the slot that was turned away with the glove while sprawled on the ice at 4:50. Three seconds later, Leino hit the right post after taking a feed from Timonen.
"Heddy is playing tremendous … you can't say enough good things about him," Devils coach John MacLean said. "He's square to the puck and playing confident right now. He's under control. He's a great person, great teammate and things are going well for him."
MacLean also feels Hedberg's stellar play is allowing the team's confidence to grow with each start.
"Marty (bruised right elbow) will be the No. 1 again when he's healthy, but the confidence that Heddy's gained for himself, and the team, has made it easier. When we need to rest Marty, the guys will have that confidence in him."
Hedberg feels he's in a much more comfortable frame of mind these days.
"It's a new situation for me, a new team, so you try to feel the team out and see how it goes and how I'm supposed to play," Hedberg said. "It took me a little bit to find my spot. Not that the guys didn't welcome me, they absolutely did. But I tried to find where I fit in to help this team and it's a long season. People ask you when are you going to play and there are circumstances when things happen and you have to be ready to play and, in the last five games, that opportunity has come for me and Mike (McKenna)."
Zajac feels Hedberg has stepped up big at a time when the Devils needed him most.
"He's been a huge reason why we've been in these games," he said. "He kept us in the game (against the Flyers) and gave us some momentum. It's been key for us."
Boucher was also on his game, particularly against an inspired Ilya Kovalchuk
(eight shots in 26:31 of ice time). Kovalchuk, who had just four shots in two previous games for the Devils, was playing alongside Zajac and right wing Mattias Tedenby
. MacLean didn't really have the luxury of matching lines all game since his team was without nine injured players and Patrik Elias
, who was reportedly with his expectant wife, Petra.
"With Kovy out, everybody had to contribute in different ways and everybody upped their game," MacLean said. "Kovy was strong and (Brian Rolston) played strong. We made mistakes, but guys were there to support each other."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale