RALEIGH -- In the moments after New Jersey's win over Carolina Saturday night, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur was busy texting at his locker.
He was sending out a good word to his son, a goaltender at Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Minnesota. Sixteen-year-old Anthony Brodeur was playing in a national tournament.
"They're in the semifinals. They're winning, 4-2," Brodeur said enthusiastically.
Good news for Anthony, but on this night Dad deserved top billing.
By making 22 saves in a 5-0 victory at PNC Arena, Martin Brodeur helped New Jersey clinch a playoff berth, lifting the Devils back into the postseason after missing out last season following a disastrous start. The Devils can now return to a level of hockey that almost seems their rightful place: This will be their 20th playoff appearance in the past 22 seasons.
"I didn't think [missing the playoffs] was going to bother me because we were out for so long early in the season with the tough start we had," Brodeur said. "But when I started watching a little hockey in the second or third round, I was like, 'wow, I'm really missing this atmosphere.'"
While it may not have been a postseason feel in the New Jersey dressing room after the win, there were plenty of good vibes to go around. Devils coach Peter DeBoer will make his first playoff trip just one year after being dismissed as the Florida Panthers coach. All three seasons in South Florida ended after 82 games.
"It feels good. It's been a long road," DeBoer said. "A lot of people didn't pick us for a playoff spot this year. We had some adversity and had contributions from a lot of people."
DeBoer was speaking about season-long contributions, but he could have been referring to the win over Carolina. In a thoroughly dominant performance, the Devils got goals from David Clarkson, Ilya Kovalchuk, Ryan Carter, Petr Sykora and Zach Parise. All of them came on skill plays, but Clarkson's goal -- the game-winner in the first period -- had a special feel for everyone in the room.
Clarkson, undrafted after his junior career, reached the 30-goal mark for the first time. While that distinction is special enough on its own, it left an impression on his teammates because goal scoring is not his primary role. Through five full seasons with New Jersey, Clarkson has made his living doing the hard work of winning pucks and standing up for teammates.
"It puts him in elite company," said DeBoer, who coached Clarkson for three seasons with Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League. "It's not even the best part of his game. For me, it's his physical play and the way he agitates and how hard he is on the puck. When you have a guy like that who can also put 30 goals on the board, it's a nice bonus."
For Clarkson, his entire NHL career feels like a bonus.
"I never even thought I'd get a chance to play in the NHL," he said. "To score 30 goals means quite a bit.
"Being undrafted was tough, but it was also one of the best things ever to happen to me. I had a GM like Mr. Lamoriello who believed in me and gave me a chance to play in this league. I'm just thankful I've had good people around me to support me through the ups and downs."
Kovalchuk may have overshadowed Clarkson with a three-point night, but he was quick to mention the significance of the 30-goal season.
"He deserved it. He's one of the hardest-working guys on the ice," said Kovalchuk, who ripped a one-timer from the high slot past Brian Boucher for the Devils' second goal of the game. "I think everybody hates him on other teams, but it's nice to have that kind of player on your roster. He will go in the dirty areas and get those rebounds."
After killing a pair of first-period penalties, the Devils took over the game. Clarkson's goal came with Jeff Skinner serving an interference penalty, but Skinner put his team in a deeper hole by earning an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he left the box. The second penalty carried into the second period. The Hurricanes killed rest of the advantage, but Kovalchuk scored against the weary Carolina penalty-killers six seconds after Skinner returned.
For Carolina, the sloppy game came at a predictable time -- one night after being eliminated from playoff contention in a 4-3 overtime loss to Winnipeg.
"It's disappointing," coach Kirk Muller said. "I think it shows how important competitive level is. Our guys have been pushing hard and obviously it's an emotional letdown not making the playoffs."
As deflated as the Hurricanes were, the Devils seemed to get a lift from all the good story lines surrounding their big night.
For Brodeur, the thought of returning to the playoffs comes with a little perspective. On the night he earned his 119th career shutout, the 39-year-old goalie reflected on the reality of pushing 40 as an NHL player.
"You never know [how many] chances you're going to have," he said. "You have to be really happy to get into the playoffs. It's a great opportunity to do something great."
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