NEWARK -- After 41 games of inept offense, shoddy goaltending and a plethora of bad bounces, the New Jersey Devils opened the second half of the season Sunday with a performance that contradicted virtually every second of their nightmarish season.
David Clarkson scored twice, Martin Brodeur made 33 saves, and the go-ahead goal came courtesy of a fortunate deflection off the pants of Jason Arnott as the Devils rallied to take care of the Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 6-3 at the Prudential Center.
The Devils entered the third period facing a 2-1 deficit but scored five times in the final 20 minutes to snap a four-game losing streak. Considering the Devils had only scored 5 goals in a game twice before Sunday, the third-period onslaught that included two empty-netters was about as unexpected as the season itself.
"It's nice to get some goals," said Brodeur, who hadn't started since New Year's Day and hadn't won since Dec. 15. "We played with a lot of emotion in the third period. That's something we've been lacking and it paid off.
The Devils have an uphill climb of Mount Everest proportions if they want to make the playoffs. They are 25 points behind the eighth-place Montreal Canadiens, which means a 12-game winning streak wouldn't be enough to catch the Canadiens even if they ceased operations today.
Do the players consider a postseason berth a realistic goal?
"Moving forward, you can't think about the whole picture because you get down and discouraged," said Dainius Zubrus, who had one of the Devils' five third-period goals. "If we play like we did tonight, who knows? We'll make a push and see what happens."
Brodeur was brilliant after allowing a pair of first-period goals to Teddy Purcell and Ryan Malone. Among his highlight-reel saves included a two-pad stack on Steven Stamkos in the second period and a glove save against Martin St. Louis on the power play in the third period with the Devils still trailing 2-1.
Dominic Moore tacked on a meaningless goal in the final minute of what was an otherwise outstanding final 40 minutes for Brodeur.
"He was great," said Zubrus, who was part of group of players that knocked off Brodeur's mask in the final minutes. "When they were leaning on us a bit and we turned a few pucks over in the second, they're D were jumping so they were getting some good looks, some good chances. But he was stopping them all. I'm sure it helps his confidence too and everyone else's. It was nice to feel that way again."
"I made some good saves. I'd like to get two out of the three back," Brodeur said. "I think I made the saves that made a big difference in this hockey game. When you get some offense support, the mistakes are not showing as much."
Clarkson is one of the many Devils who have underwhelmed offensively this season, but his breakaway goal in the first period and rocket of a slapper early in the third period brought the team back into a tie. He has three goals in his past three games and seven for the season. When things are going that baldy, Clarkson doesn't get too picky about how they go in.
"They're both satisfying when the puck finally goes in for you," Clarkson said. "I've had so many chances this year that it's been frustrating. So it's nice when it finally starts going in."
Arnott's goal at 7:52 of the third period won't go in the books as the game-winner because of Moore's late goal, but it put the Devils ahead to stay. The goal will be remembered more for its timeliness and less for its artistry.
With the teams skating 4-on-4, Vladimir Zharkov slipped a pass from behind the net to the slot. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder flubbed a shot that was heading wide of the net, but it bounced off the thigh of Arnott and behind goaltender Dan Ellis to put the Devils ahead 3-2.
Tallinder could only laugh about his effort on the goal and bask in the glow of a bounce that actually when the Devils' way.
"I was just trying to fire it but misfired it," Tallinder said. "Just a lucky bounce that finally went our way this time.
"The whole year has been tough. If you play well, you usually get the bounces. If you don't play well, you get the bounces against you. Tonight, we were a little bit lucky."
Lightning coach Guy Boucher was unhappy with the way his team played in the third period after a solid opening 40 minutes.
"Their third goal was really the guy fans on the shot, hits their guy and goes in," Boucher said. "So, that's a little hard to defend. It's very disappointing. I thought we played two periods that looked pretty good. It's too bad."
After Zubrus made it 4-2, Patrik Elias capped a three-point night with an empty-net goal with 1:15 remaining. Moore's goal brought the Lightning to within 5-3, but it also opened the door for Brodeur to show off his stickhandling skills.
Well, sort of.
Boucher opted to pull Ellis a second time while facing a two-goal deficit. A long shot from Mattias Ohlund went directly into Brodeur's glove. He placed the puck on the ice and attempted to the score the third goal of his career and second where he shoots the puck in himself.
Instead, the puck came crashing down at center ice. Brodeur admitted after the game he was a little embarrassed by his empty-net effort, but he ended up getting an assist on Nick Palmieri's empty-net goal, the first goal of his NHL career.
"I barely got it to the red line. I was trying (to score), that's the worst part," Brodeur said. "It was Nick's first goal. I'm sure he didn’t really (imagine) it like that, but hey, a goal's a goal."
The Devils played without defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who missed the game due to the death of his father.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie
Martin St. Louis
2 - 1 TBL
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 NJD
4 - 2 NJD
5 - 2 NJD
5 - 3 NJD
6 - 3 NJD
Hi stick - double minor