NEWARK, N.J. -- A three-goal barrage in the opening period was just the support goalie Martin Brodeur needed in leading the New Jersey Devils to a 3-2 victory over the struggling Boston Bruins on Monday before 15,801 at Prudential Center.
The victory by the Devils, 9-13-2 in their last 24 games, moved them within two points of the Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils will play host to the Pens for the second time in six days on Wednesday at Prudential Center with the second seed in the Eastern Conference at stake.
"Jacques (Lemaire) addressed our position in the standings today and that this game (against Boston) was a big one," Brodeur said. "This was a big game and we had a great start. That made a big difference in this hockey game."
Brodeur stopped 34 shots, including 14 in the third period, in earning his 38th victory of the season. He also notched his third assist of the season on David Clarkson's breakaway goal at 17:23 of the first that gave the home team a 2-0 lead.
The Devils jumped all over the Bruins in the opening period, connecting for three goals on 12 shots against goalie Tim Thomas.
Rob Niedermayer opened the scoring at the 9:58 mark when he won a right-circle draw, charged the net and ultimately tipped home an attempt by Clarkson. Clarkson then notched his eighth of the season after collecting a splendid outlet pass from Brodeur at center ice and breaking in one-on-one against Thomas before lifting a backhand over the fallen goalie for a 2-0 advantage.
The goal was Clarkson's first since Nov. 16. He missed a total of 36 games this season with a lower-body injury and a non-displaced fracture of the bone above his ankle before returning to the lineup for good on March 2. His original injury occurred after blocking a shot by Boston's Zdeno Chara on Nov. 27.
Clarkson was amazed with Brodeur's outlet pass that hit him in stride and knew he had to make it count.
"To be honest, I can't believe he made it and I knew if I didn't score he'd make fun of me so when I got the puck, I saw the opening and took off," Clarkson said. "I was all alone. I thought someone was close to me but it was just an unbelievable play by (Brodeur). He's probably the only guy who can make that play. I was impressed with how nice a pass it was. I don't even know if he saw me."
As it turns out, Brodeur did see Clarkson.
"(Zdeno) Chara just misfired and tried to dump it into the corner and I stepped out," Brodeur explained. "I was going to go down the glass at first -- the safe way. But I turned around and there was just a big lane and I saw David kind of curl and said, 'Oh my God, I'm going to try it,' and made a good pass.
And what if Clarkson missed?
"I would have given him grief," Brodeur said. "I don't feed a guy on a breakaway too often; so it better work."
Zach Parise then extended the lead to 3-0 at 18:08 when he scored his 32nd of the season off a backhand through traffic. Thomas had lost his stick on an initial shot by Mike Mottau in the slot before Parise knocked in the rebound.
Julien pulled Thomas -- for the fifth time this season -- to open the second and replaced him with Tuukka Rask. The Bruins responded well, too, as Blake Wheeler connected for his 17th of the season and fourth in five games just 43 seconds into the period. Rask stopped all 16 shots he faced over the remaining two periods of the game.
"We dug ourselves a hole and, unfortunately, just couldn't get ourselves out of it," Julien told NHL.com. "They're a pretty good team and they play well defensively. They have a great goaltender and when you're down 3-0 after a period, it's not easy to come back against a team like that."
The Bruins made the game interesting with 1:03 left in the third when Patrice Bergeron deflected home a point shot to pull the visitors within 3-2. The Bruins maintained the pressure with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker over the final 50 seconds of the game but couldn't connect for the equalizer.
"We didn't do anything crazy and stayed within our limits without giving up much," Brodeur said. "I thought the quality of shots were reasonable for what I was able to handle and see out there. We didn't need to score more goals. I thought we just had a hiccup at the end there."
Boston's loss potentially opens the door for the Rangers to claim the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with a victory over the Montreal Canadiens at home on Tuesday. The Bruins, currently one point ahead of the Rangers in the East, fell to 2-3-1 on their current seven-game road swing that concludes Tuesday in Carolina.
"I thought we played really well in the first and third periods," Lemaire said. "They were a desperate team. They have to win games too, and I felt we came out in the third and played to win. If we didn't come out like that, they would have probably tied it."
The Devils have owned the Penguins this season -- they're 5-0 in the season series while outscoring the defending Stanley Cup champion by a combined 17-3. The most recent Devils' victory, a 3-1 decision last Friday, was a physical, end-to-end, battle royal. The referees assessed a combined 73 penalty minutes, including 49 during a hotly-contested second period.
Brodeur will enter Wednesday's clash having scored two shutouts over the Penguins in three previous meetings.
"It's a big game Wednesday but we just have to come out and play the same way we did (against Boston)," Clarkson said. "We have to play with that same intensity and physical style. It's another game for us, but we have to play playoff hockey right now -- hard nosed."