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Zajac's shootout goal leads Devils past Flyers

Sunday, 12.21.2008 / 7:37 PM / Game of the Night

By Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

Fans deciding to take in one of the two remaining regular season games this season between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers should be aware of the likelihood they will be seeing some bonus hockey.

The Atlantic Division rivals went into overtime for the third straight meeting and when 65 minutes still wasn't enough to decide a winner, it was on to the shootout. Travis Zajac beat Antero Niittymaki in the fifth round to lift the Devils to a 3-2 win at Prudential Center on Sunday afternoon, after the Flyers had rallied from a 2-0 deficit in regulation.

Mike Richards put Philadelphia ahead in the second round with a shot past Scott Clemmensen. New Jersey had its back to the wall when Jamie Langenbrunner evened things in the third round, then Zajac connected on the winner to draw the Devils to within two points of the Flyers for second place in the division.

"I was thinking going glove side the whole way," Zajac said. "I watched Jamie before me and I noticed him (Niittymaki) far back in the goal, so I thought I could get it over him."

"It looked pretty," Devils coach Brent Sutter said of Zajac's goal. "It was a great shot. He made a great fake and put it top shelf."

Clemmensen ended up stopping four of five Flyers in the shootout, including saves on Jeff Carter and Joffrey Lupul. Carter had earlier claimed the NHL lead in goals with his 25th, while Lupul scored with 4:44 remaining in the third period to force the extra period. The teams had split a pair of overtime decisions in Philadelphia earlier this season.

"It's definitely a challenge going to the shootout," Clemmensen said. "You're facing the best players on each team. It's fun for the fans and it's entertaining and it's definitely a big challenge to come up with saves. I guess it's a fun challenge. I'm still learning how to play in all kinds of situations."

Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston scored 1:06 apart in the second period to stake the Devils to the lead.

After the Flyers successfully killed off three penalties in the first, the Devils connected on the power play at 7:30 when Elias knocked in the rebound of a Zajac slap shot after skating in on the left side unguarded. Elias recorded his 16th of the season and now has 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) during a 10-game point streak.

Rolston added his third off assists from David Clarkson and Bobby Holik. It was his second in three games.

Carter got one back for the Flyers before the end of the period, converting their only power-play opportunity of the game. The goal with 2:42 left in the second gave him one more than Thomas Vanek of Buffalo.

The Devils protected the 2-1 lead into the latter stages of the third before Carter set up Lupul on a nice play for the tying goal. From the corner, Carter sent a backhand pass in front where Lupul was able to slide it past Clemmensen to ensure the Flyers didn't leave empty-handed.

"A good point for us," Lupul said. "We were able to salvage a point, but it's always nice to have two points, against these guys especially."

Flyers coach John Stevens agreed, saying, "To be down 2-0 to them and come back is not easily done, but I thought that was an important point. It leaves kind of a bad taste losing in a shootout, but we certainly like the way we progressed through the hockey game and the way we came out in the third period and overtime."

Clemmensen, now 11-1-1 in his last 13 starts, made an important stop in overtime by denying Carter on a point-blank chance with 1:54 remaining.

"He now has the confidence he can do it and we have the confidence in him," Sutter said. "Clemmer made some big saves in the shootout and did a good job."

 
 
Clemmensen stopped 27 shots through overtime, while Niittymaki made 24 saves in continuing to spell Martin Biron, who is recovering from the flu.

"Every time I take the ice, I feel like I have to prove that I can handle anything thrown my way," Clemmensen said. "I just have to be consistent. I think I'm showing that I belong."

Material from wire services and team online media was used in this report.


Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres