CHICAGO - A fortunate bounce for a 27-year old rookie gave the New Jersey Devils something to smile about at the end of a grueling road trip.
Bradley Mills swatted a rebound out of midair and into the net with just 3:51 to play Wednesday night to break a 2-2 tie, and New Jersey added a pair of empty-net goals for a 5-3 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Devils won despite losing goaltender Martin Brodeur to an injured right elbow early in the second period. He left after being hit by a shot from Chicago's Patrick Kane and did not return.
"Finally we showed a little bit of resiliency and battled back," said Jamie Langenbrunner, whose empty-net goal with 50 seconds left wound up being the game-winner after Chicago's Victor Stalberg scored with 34 seconds to play. "We got a lucky goal there by (Mills), but we're always preaching just throw the puck at the net and good things can happen."
New Jersey improved to 4-9-1 and finished a brutal six-game trip with a 2-4-0 mark by winning its first game without star forward Zach Parise -- who underwent knee surgery on Tuesday and will be out for three months.
"It's real important for us," Langenbrunner said of the win. "It hasn't been a perfect start for us by any means. It's not an easy building to come in and get two points out of, especially on your sixth game in nine nights or whatever's it's been -- and with all the guys we've had go down. So, it was a big win."
Brodeur met with reporters after the game and said his arm isn't seriously injured. Calling it a "stinger," Brodeur said he removed himself from the game only because he lost strength in his hand and couldn't hold his stick well enough to continue. He played 21 seconds after the injury, then left the ice and headed for the locker room.
Backup Johan Hedberg played the rest of the game, making 21 saves on 24 shots, and picked up his first win of the season.
"Usually you get hit and it hurts and it goes away," Brodeur said. "It went away, but when I grabbed my stick I went to go make a play behind the net and I just didn't have the strength to hold my stick. I just thought it was better off to get (Hedberg) in there."
Chicago, which got off to a lethargic start, trailed 2-0 when Brodeur left. The Hawks tied it 2-2 on goals by Brian Campbell in the second and Fernando Pisani in the third on a power play. Mills then put the Devils back in front when his shot deflected off Turco into the net, proving that not all of New Jersey's luck is bad.
Langenbrunner and Andy Greene sandwiched empty-net goals around a sixth-attacker goal by Stalberg to send the Devils home with a win. It was also a big goal for Mills for another reason -- it was his first in the League.
After Langenbrunner got him the puck to the right of Turco, Mills took a couple of whacks at it -- catching the puck clean on the second swipe.
"The first shot kind of bobbled it up and it kept going forward," Mills said. "I just stayed hard on it and got lucky. I've been told that the harder you work, the better your luck gets - so I'll chalk it up to that."
He may also alter the way the goal was scored in recollections as the years pass.
"That will probably get embellished a little bit along the way," Mills said, smiling. "Each retelling will become a little more grandiose. It's not how I necessarily envisioned it, but I'll take it."
During yet another sluggish start at home for the Hawks, New Jersey struck first with 4:29 left in the first. Patrick Elias threw a puck from below the goal into the blue paint for Jason Arnott, who one-timed it past Turco for the only goal of the period. It also ended the Devils' streak of six straight games in which they allowed the first goal.
The Devils pushed it to 2-0 on Travis Zajac's goal 4:14 into the second. Duncan Keith couldn't control a loose puck in front of Turco, Zajac got to it and buried it into the net for his second tally of the season.
Brodeur stopped all eight shots he faced before leaving less than three minutes after Zajac's goal. The Hawks picked up the tempo after the goalie change, and Campbell's first goal of the season cut it to 2-1 at 15:58. Playing just his second game since returning from a knee injury, Campbell flicked a puck that bounced off the boards toward the goal; it deflected off Colin White's stick and got past Hedberg.
The Hawks really turned the heat up offensively in the second and third, outshooting the Devils 27-16 in the two periods and drawing three straight penalties between the end of the second and start of the third.
Pisani tied the game 2-2 at 3:42 of the third by jamming a rebound past Hedberg from the right of the goal for his first goal of the season, but a late third-period goal allowed led to another close home loss - dropping the Hawks to just 4-5-0 at the United Center and just 2-5-0 in their last seven games.
The loss left the Hawks trying to explain away another lethargic start.
"I don't know why it's like that," Stalberg said. "You've got to take pride in getting better starts. It doesn't matter who's out there. Especially on home ice, we've got to take advantage of our crowd. We've got probably the best fans in the League, and we've got to get them involved in the game. We've got to have better starts to do that."