"We left the L.A. Kings and the Stanley Cup Final really disappointed, but we had a great taste about success, what we achieved," Brodeur said after stopping 26 shots in a 3-2 overtime win against the Washington Capitals on Friday at Prudential Center. "I think we're jumping right back in it. It feels like it. The guys, the conversations we have, it's like we never left each other."
Even without former captain Zach Parise, who left for Minnesota as a free agent, the Devils are playing like the team that slid past the Florida Panthers in seven games, blew away the Philadelphia Flyers in five, and confidently took down the New York Rangers in six to reach the Final last spring.
That much was evident on Friday, when New Jersey let a 2-0 lead slip away only to finish off the Capitals with 20.5 seconds left in overtime thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk's laser-quick one-timer from below the left circle off a diagonal feed from defenseman Marek Zidlicky.
Kovalchuk's angle was poor and he didn't have much of the net to shoot at, but he went high as Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth guessed low.
New Jersey is 3-0-0 heading into a Sunday night game at Montreal. Washington fell to 0-3-1 and is winless through four games for the first time since 1993-94, when it started the season 0-6.
"There's a trust in that dressing room amongst the guys that if they do their jobs and stick to the system, and if we get the kind of goaltending we've got we have a chance to win every night," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said.
"Really, how hard our veteran players worked during the offseason, the extended offseason, has really led to the start we've had," he added. "[Patrik] Elias is in great shape. Brodeur is in great shape. [Dainius] Zubrus is in great shape. Kovy is in great shape. [Bryce] Salvador. That helps."
The Devils are perfect through three games because they've allowed only three goals, including just one even-strength goal, in more than 184 minutes so far this season.
Brodeur, who is 40 years old, has a 0.98 goals-against average and .958 save percentage to go along with one shutout.
Kovalchuk has a pair of goals and four points. Elias and Stephen Gionta got on the board Friday with regulation-time goals. Travis Zajac and David Clarkson already had two goals apiece coming into the game.
New Jersey's power play, a work-in-progress according to DeBoer, connected for a 5-on-3 goal against the Capitals.
The Devils' overused penalty kill was also solid as Washington needed a tic-tac-toe passing sequence from Mike Green to Joel Ward to Mike Ribeiro to score a 5-on-3 goal with 7:15 left in regulation. The Capitals were just 1-for-8 on the power play.
Green scored the first even-strength goal the Devils have allowed this season just over four minutes later to send the game into overtime.
However, the Devils drew a power-play chance 1:05 into overtime, when Green was called for interference on Elias. They didn't score during the two-minute 4-on-3 advantage, but they peppered Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth with five shots on goal and carried the momentum they gained through the rest of the OT up until Kovalchuk scored.
"If we didn't have the opportunities we had [on the power play in overtime] it would have been a different story," Zajac said. "One thing we wanted to look to this season was create momentum off our power plays and we were able to do that, and keep it rolling."
Washington got a superb effort from Neuvirth (32 saves) to stay in the game when it appeared the Devils were going to cruise to a win.
He stoned Jacob Josefson and Zubrus on shorthanded breakaways. He was spectacular during the Devils' power play in overtime. And, that's only a sampling of what Neuvirth was able to do despite playing for the second straight night.
"He played great," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "Michal gave us a chance."
Even though the Capitals are winless through four games, their late comeback did earn them their first point of the season and provided their first bit of optimism as well. It came roughly 24 hours after they finished off a lifeless 4-1 loss to Montreal with less than half of a sellout crowd still left inside Verizon Center.
"Everybody worked for 60 minutes and played a much better hockey game," Oates said.
Oates got the late push out of his team after shaking up his lineup following Thursday's loss.
Alex Ovechkin, who is still searching for his first goal of the season, started on a line with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb; he was eventually moved to a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer. John Erskine and Jeff Schultz stepped in on defense for Tom Poti and Roman Hamrlik. Eric Fehr played in place of Mathieu Perreault.
"Trying to find balance and chemistry," Oates said, explaining the lineup changes.
The Devils still jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to Gionta's goal off the rush in the first period and Elias' 5-on-3 goal in the second.
However, the Devils' gave Washington an opportunity to come back in the third period thanks to penalties.
Ribeiro scored on a 5-on-3 after the Devils were called for a pair of bench minors (too many men on the ice, abuse of officials) at 11:52. Andy Greene was already in the box for tripping.
New Jersey was able to kill off the remaining power-play time, including an extended 5-on-3, after Ribeiro's goal, but Green's low shot from inside the right point with 2:56 left in regulation got under Brodeur to tie the game.
"We stuck with it," Oates said. "That's an important thing. And, we got a point out of it."
They didn't get two because the Devils also stuck with it, showing a familiar resiliency after blowing a third-period lead.
They were a stick-with-it type of team last season, too. Nothing has changed.
"We learned a lot last year," Kovalchuk said. "We didn't win, but we were really close and it made us better."
It's showing now.
|Stephen Gionta (1) ASST: Jacob Josefson (1), Mark Fayne (1)|
1 - 0 NJD
|PPG - Patrik Elias (1) ASST: David Clarkson (1), Marek Zidlicky (2)|
2 - 0 NJD
|PPG - Mike Ribeiro (1) ASST: Joel Ward (1), Mike Green (1)|
2 - 1 NJD
|Mike Green (1) ASST: NONE|
2 - 2 Tie
|Ilya Kovalchuk (2) ASST: Marek Zidlicky (3), Patrik Elias (2)|
3 - 2 NJD
|Jay Beagle Holding against Henrik Tallinder|
|Ilya Kovalchuk Hooking against Troy Brouwer|
|Wojtek Wolski Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Ryan Carter Tripping against Joey Crabb|
|John Carlson Interference against Steve Bernier|
|Nicklas Backstrom Tripping against Andy Greene|
|Jay Beagle Tripping against Travis Zajac|
|Patrik Elias Interference on goalkeeper against Michal Neuvirth|
|Mattias Tedenby Too many men/ice - bench|
|Marek Zidlicky Hi-sticking against Jason Chimera|
|Andy Greene Tripping against Nicklas Backstrom|
|Mattias Tedenby Too many men/ice - bench|
|Steve Bernier Abuse of officials - bench|
|Mike Green Interference against Patrik Elias|