NEWARK, N.J. -- A four-goal explosion in the second period was just the boost goalie Martin Brodeur needed to reach yet another milestone on Tuesday night during a 6-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets before 14,202 at Prudential Center.
Perhaps most impressive was the fact the Devils, who entered the game 0-for-17 on the power-play in their last six games, finished 3-for-6 with the man advantage against the Blue Jackets. It marked the first time since a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 7 that New Jersey connected for three power-play goals.
"Finally!" said Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk. "Scoring on the power play was very important because we've been working on that the last couple of days in practice and we certainly have all the weapons to be successful at it. But, until (Tuesday), it was an area that just wasn't going our way. We worked hard and deserved to score those three goals."
The victory for Brodeur, who finished with 19 saves, was his League-leading 40th of the season. It marks the eighth time in 16 seasons that Brodeur has produced 40 wins -- no other goalie in NHL history comes close.
Travis Zajac and Zach Parise each scored twice, Patrik Elias had three assists and Kovalchuk, whose wife gave birth to their third child on Sunday, had a goal and three assists to lead the offense. The Devils, who moved into first place in the Atlantic Division with 90 points and 43 wins with one game in hand on the Pittsburgh Penguins, had totaled just one goal in their previous two games.
"We needed a game like this," Parise said. "We played pretty close to a full game and that's important for us right now. We just needed to feel good about ourselves and our special teams. It was a rewarding win."
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire agreed.
"I mentioned last game that we needed to work harder and gain more support and we did that (on Tuesday)," Lemaire said. "Travis scored twice and didn't get a shot on net. He scored because he was going to the net and when you go the net the pucks hit you and go in. A lot of guys went to the net like this and it paid off."
Brodeur already holds NHL career records for games played (1,066), victories (597), shutouts (108) and minutes played (62,926).
"It's like raising the bar for the other goalies coming up," Brodeur said. "It's a little different when you break your own record than it is beating someone else out. But they're nice to have. I play so much that I expect myself to at least get close (to 40 wins) every single year. With 10 games left, it'll be nice to be able to add to that."
Lemaire was happy that Brodeur earned his 40th triumph in his 67th game this season.
"He knows the game well and knows the shooters," Lemaire said. "He'll have games where he doesn't play well, but not for a lack of trying. When we play good in front of him, that helps and we did that (on Tuesday)."
Columbus pulled within 2-1 at 3:40 of the second when Antoine Vermette teed up a pass from Kristian Huselius and beat Brodeur high to the glove side off a blast from just inside the blue line. The Blue Jackets then got a two-man advantage for 54 seconds midway through the period, but Devils' penalty killers Martin Skoula, Paul Martin and Elias did a superb job keeping the Blue Jackets to the perimeter. Huselius was whistled for tripping Martin with 11 seconds remaining on the two-man edge, killing any momentum the visitors might have gained and giving the Devils their fifth power-play.
"Those are some of the management areas we have to deal with," Blue Jackets interim coach Claude Noel said. "(Derick) Brassard took two penalties that weren't great and Huselius took two penalties that weren't great, but it's all part of managing the game. You can't play against a team like New Jersey and not have it come back and bite you; that's why they're going to get 100 points and that's the difference. I want us to learn at warp speed but it takes time. That's the thing we're trying to grasp as quickly as we can -- we just don't have a lot of time to grasp it."
New Jersey opened a 3-1 lead as Kovalchuk unleashed a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot that beat Columbus goalie Steve Mason to the short side at 12:32. Zajac helped blow the game open when he scored on tip-ins at 15:40 and 19:07 to extend the lead to 5-1 before Jakub Voracek stopped the barrage on a goal with 19.2 seconds remaining in the period.
Columbus pulled to within 5-3 six minutes into the third when Huselius slipped home his 21st of the season from the left circle off a feed from Vermette. Parise then ended any doubt about the outcome, making it 6-3 with his second of the game and 35th of the season at 12:52.
The Devils connected for their second power-play goal of the game just 1:14 into the second to open a 2-0 lead when Martin pinched in deep to slam home a rebound of Elias' shot from the left circle. Kovalchuk fed Elias at the left point and, with captain Jamie Langenbrunner providing the screen, delivered a slap shot that Mason couldn't control.
The Devils broke a scoreless tie at 13:01 of the first with their first power-play goal in seven games when Columbus captain Rick Nash was sent to the box for roughing Langenbrunner at 11:26. After Columbus defenseman Kris Russell lost the puck behind his own net, Elias fed Langenbrunner, who fired a wrist shot from the left circle that Mason stopped. Parise knocked in the rebound.
"It was nice to get that first one (on the power-play)," Parise said. "Even when we didn't get them, we had great movement and I think the biggest difference was everyone was moving, not standing still and making good plays. We were more relaxed tonight."
"We've been playing better on power-play, moving the puck and going to net," Lemaire said. "It was a matter of time that you're going to get a goal and then the confidence comes back quick."
Mason, who was facing his boyhood idol in Brodeur, didn't receive much help in front as the Devils were able to gain easy screens and deflections throughout. He'd finish his first career start against Brodeur with 24 saves. Noel never thought twice about replacing Mason.
"He was battling and he wasn't the problem," Noel said. "He was part of the team and the team needed to deal with issues. He was only part of it. I wasn't going to make him the sole reason, let's put it that way."