RALEIGH, N.C. -- The New Jersey Devils were just 20 minutes away from their fourth straight loss.
Then the offense kicked in.
Trailing the Carolina Hurricanes by a goal after two periods, the Devils scored four goals in the third period to earn a 5-2 win, salvaging a split in a home-and-home series. Carolina won 4-3 at New Jersey on Wednesday.
The Devils (10-11-5) were playing well, with a 20-13 advantage in shots through 40 minutes and the majority of quality scoring chances. New Jersey just needed the final period to breakthrough.
"I liked our game from the drop of the puck tonight," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We had good energy and good legs. I thought we could have been up 2-0 or 3-0 at the end of the first. To their credit, they pushed back in the second period and I thought we were a little sloppy. But we found our game again in the third."
New Jersey had earned a 1-0 lead on Mark Fayne's first-period goal, but the Hurricanes got the upper hand in the second on goals by Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal. At that point, it looked like goaltender Cory Schneider was destined for another hard-luck decision. In his eight losses this season, the Devils have scored six goals.
"Personally, I want to contribute and help this team win, and winning is so much better than the alternative," said Schneider, who stopped 16 shots to raise his record to 3-5-3. "It doesn't matter how you're playing, you want to win."
The victory for Schneider came at a critical time, after the Devils had lost three straight with Martin Brodeur in the net.
"[Schneider] finally got some support," DeBoer said. "The guys know they haven't put the puck in the back of the net when he's been in, and I think everyone feels good about getting him some goals tonight."
With Carolina protecting a 2-1 lead in the third period, a shot by Devils forward Andrei Loktionov from the slot at 8:43 appeared to be stopped by Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, but the puck leaked through and crossed the goal line. Adam Henrique put New Jersey ahead 3-2 on the power play at 12:02, scoring from the slot.
Dainius Zubrus extend the lead to two goals at 13:52 on a hard shot from between
the circles, and Jaromir Jagr followed his rebound for his 11th goal of the season with less than five minutes remaining.
For Jagr, it was a second straight game with a milestone goal. After passing Mario Lemieux for ninth place on the all-time list, Jagr struck for the 692nd of his NHL career, tying Steve Yzerman in eighth place.
After the game, Jagr sat uninterrupted in his locker, talking with a trainer. If he felt any particular satisfaction in nudging his way further up the top ten, there was no hint in his voice.
"I don't really think about it, so I don't really chase anything," said Jagr, who flashed a quick stick to follow his shot in close quarters for his 11th of the season.
Jagr responds deliberately to most questions, as he did when asked if he felt any appreciation for the latter stages of his career at age 41.
"That's a great question," he said. "You look at the age, I don't concern myself. I'm still a kid inside. I like to have fun, and I like to joke around with the 20-year-olds. That's what keeps me younger."
With a goal and two assists against Carolina, Jagr has 22 points in 26 games, easily the Devils leading scorer. With New Jersey trailing 2-1 after two periods, he didn't anticipate his team's four-goal comeback, but his 1,417 games of experience gave him a little perspective.
"You have to keep the faith," Jagr said. "Ward was making so many great saves today. We just had to battle through it and hope Ward is not going to make all the saves. That's the only hope you've got actually."
For the Hurricanes, their 18-shot effort was their lowest output of the season. Carolina had some momentum when Skinner fired a wrister to the far post at 1:53 of the second period, then the Hurricanes took the lead on a beautiful pass from Justin Faulk to Jordan Staal for a breakaway goal at 14:53.
After that, everything came unraveled in the third period. The Hurricanes seemed to have found their game after consecutive wins over the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey. The wins, however, came on the heels of an 0-3-1 stretch. The inconsistency left coach Kirk Muller to some blunt assessments after the game.
"We're no different than the majority of the teams in the league," Muller said. "When we have 20 guys playing, four lines going and six defenseman and we have a high compete level, we're going to win hockey games. But if you're not going to go out and play 60 [minutes] and there's just a couple guys that are passengers, you're not going to win a majority of hockey games. We didn't have enough from a few guys and you get a chain reaction that costs you."
In the visitor's locker room, there was reason to feel good again. In Jagr's case, it wasn't about the goal that drew him even with another NHL legend, or even the win that called for "a few lucky bounces."
Instead, it was a chance to play the game like a kid, where he could poke a little fun at everyone involved.
"I could have 20 goals right now if I could be a better player - or if my linemates would pass me the puck," he said with a sly smile. "You'd have to ask [Zubrus]. He's just kicking the puck."
Jagr paused, then figured Zubrus was fair game for a little more.
"It's fine with me. I have to have patience with him."
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