NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils forward Ryan Carter acknowledged there was little talk and plenty of heavy breathing on the bench during the third period of his team's 2-1 victory against the Washington Capitals at Prudential Center on Friday.
Injuries will do that, particularly when your team is down to eight forwards in the third period of a tie game in a must-win situation. It was a time when Carter and his teammates knew they had to dig deep.
After collecting a pass from Marek Zidlicky down the middle of the ice inside the Capitals' blue line, Carter did just that. He used defenseman Mike Green as a screen before firing a shot from between the circles under the left pad of Jaroslav Halak with 4:54 remaining to snap a 1-1 tie.
The Devils then held off a furious late charge by the Capitals to keep alive their hope of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are three points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, who hold the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"The guys dug deep; it was a real battle with the players going down and guys finishing the game," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said after his 100th victory with New Jersey, tying him with Doug Carpenter for second in franchise history. "They really emptied the tank; gave us everything they had."
The Devils opted to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen, but Patrik Elias was injured in the first period, Adam Henrique did not finish the second and Jacob Josefson played two shifts in the third.
"I think we all knew the importance of the game; it was more fatigue and recovery and just trying to get fresh bodies on the ice," DeBoer said. "Look at minutes that [Jaromir] Jagr and Travis Zajac logged. Those were hard minutes against a desperate team on the other side."
Defenseman Andy Greene led the Devils in ice time (28:35), followed by Jagr (25:28), Zajac (23:36) and Marek Zidlicky (20:40).
Throughout the final 20 minutes, there was little talking on the Devils bench except from their coach. It was a scene that will be remembered for quite some time if New Jersey qualifies for the playoffs.
"In the third there was just a lot of heavy breathing and listening because we're playing different positions," Carter said. "We had three centers go down, so guys were playing positions that were a little foreign to them. There was a high level of focus on the bench."
To compensate for the players lost to injury, DeBoer had defenseman Eric Gelinas playing left wing, shifted Carter to center and used Dainius Zubrus at center and on the wing. The only constant was the top line of Travis Zajac centering left wing Tuomo Ruutu and right wing Jagr. On Carter's winning goal, the Devils were actually playing with only seven forwards since Damien Brunner was forced to leave for some maintenance on his skates for a four-minute stretch.
"That was probably the toughest and best game we had so far," Jagr said. "I'm very proud of this team; this was a Game 7. If we lost, we'd have nothing to play for [Saturday]."
The Devils (33-28-16; 82 points), who have five games remaining, play the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Saturday. The Capitals (34-30-13; 81 points) also have five games left and play the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
Devils goalie Cory Schneider finished with 24 saves, including a glove stop against Marcus Johansson with 2:23 remaining.
"I got a glove on it and those are the saves you need to make in a game like this to keep the lead and get the win," Schneider said. "It was a great effort overall. I'm sure when you're running around for more than 45 or 50 seconds, you feel it a little quicker [when missing players], but those games are fun. It's hard to feel fatigued, tired or worried. You just go out and play the next shift. There's no time to be tired; we had good energy."
Halak made nine of his 29 saves in the third period.
"What did I see [on Carter's goal]?," Halak asked a reporter. "I saw the shot and it went in. Simple [as that]. I don't make the save. To me it was an easy shot and I let it in."
DeBoer had no update on the injured players and wouldn't reveal his starting goaltender against the Hurricanes during his post-game conference.
"That was a huge for us; it's unfortunate it didn't come in game 40," Carter said. "That'll go down as a character win with eight forwards. We didn't have the first period start we wanted but to gather ourselves and come out and have a good second and third was huge."
Schneider robbed Mikhail Grabovski in the slot while moving right to left 4:16 into the third to keep the game tied. It was one of 10 saves by Schneider (15-14-11) in the period.
"We needed that," DeBoer said of Schneider's performance. "We're going to need some great individual efforts whether it's someone scoring two or three goals or a first-star performance in net this time of the year."
New Jersey pulled into a 1-1 tie in the second when Ruutu deflected a hard wrist shot from the left point by Gelinas past Halak at 12:21. Ruutu gained position in the slot and Gelinas collected a pass from Zajac before firing from inside the blue line.
The Devils lost Elias with 8:13 remaining in the first after he was hit hard in the neutral zone by 6-foot-4, 210-pound rookie forward Tom Wilson.
Washington's Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring 10:12 into the first period on a quick snap shot from the left hash following a turnover. The play was set up when Nicklas Backstrom deflected an attempted pass by Devils defenseman Mark Fayne in the Devils' end. Ovechkin took control of the puck and appeared to have his pass stolen by Elias; instead, Grabovski controlled the puck and fed Ovechkin at the top of the left circle. He skated toward the net and drove home his 49th of the season; it was Ovechkin's first even-strength goal since Feb. 27, a span of 17 games.
"We had a good start," Ovechkin said. "We had good chances to get the lead for more than one goal, but [Schneider] played great and we missed good opportunities. I don't think we played a bad game, we just didn't score on great opportunities. They did."
Ovechkin, who was on a line with Backstrom for the first time since March 16, is trying for his fifth 50-goal season and first since 2009-10.
"It's all about the points," Backstrom said. "It's disappointing we couldn't pull it off, at least one point. I think it's important that we really dig down and make sure we get those two points [Saturday]. I mean, we have to."