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Devils get a boost from Zubrus

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK, N.J. -- Devils coach Jacques Lemaire didn't decide to use Dainius Zubrus on the top line until just before Friday's game began.

"About five minutes before the game," Lemaire said.

Nobody was happier than Zubrus, who was playing on his third game since missing 30 in a row with a fractured right kneecap. Skating with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, Zubrus finished Friday's 5-4 overtime win with a pair of assists and his first goal since Oct. 29.

After averaging 13 minutes of ice time in his first two games back earlier in the week, Zubrus played 20:37 on Friday and was plus-2. He was also the screener in front of goalie Vesa Toskala on Zajac's overtime-winning one-timer from the right circle.

"Obviously I'm not maybe in top, top shape but I feel like I'm in pretty good shape," Zubrus said. "It seemed the more I was playing the better I was feeling. If you feel like you're in the game and you're on top of things then you get to feel the puck more. Physically I felt good."

In search for balanced defense throughout his lines, Lemaire broke up the trio in the third period, moving Zubrus down to the fourth line to play with Rod Pelley and Nick Palmieri and replacing him on the top line with captain Jamie Langenbrunner.

Pelley, Palmieri and Vladimir Zharkov were on the ice for the Leafs' first two goals, and Lemaire was hoping the Devils could hold their 4-2 lead.

"I tried to make another line better," Lemaire said. "After how many goals am I going to change it? Two was too many."

The move didn't work as Parise, Zajac and Langenbrunner were on for Alexei Ponikarovsky's goal at 14:59 that sliced the Devils' lead to 4-3. Zubrus was on with Dean McAmmond and Brian Rolston when Matt Stajan sent it to overtime with his goal at 18:29.

Nevertheless, Lemaire at least found out that Zubrus can play right wing on the top line, something that could prove to be valuable as he searches for the right offensive combinations.

"When he first started, the first couple of shifts he was just average," Lemaire said of Zubrus. "Then, after that, I don't know what happened. He started to control the puck and play like I've seen him play in the past. Playing with Zach and Travis, it helps to get better."

Zubrus definitely agrees with that.

"They make things happen," Zubrus said. "They hold on to the puck. Once the puck is on their stick in their end, they're going to make something happen. They don't just get rid of it. They try to make plays and you've got to be ready."

Zubrus helped create Parise's first goal by making up for his own turnover. He gave the puck to Toronto defenseman Ian White in the Leafs' defensive zone, but he quickly forechecked and forced White to give it up to Parise.

Parise's shot from the high slot went wide, but Zubrus played the puck off the end boards and after twirling near the right post was able to feed a perfect pass to Parise for a redirection in the slot.

Zubrus again gave the puck up to White in the Leafs' zone later in the period, but Zajac tipped the defenseman's pass and the puck came straight to Zubrus. He found Parise knifing through the gut of the Leafs' D for a one-timer that beat goalie Jonas Gustavsson.

Zubrus scored his goal 9:22 into the second period off a 2-on-1 with Zajac created by Parise's strength on the puck at the red line.

"Zubie got us going," Parise said. "He made some really good plays on my goals and a great shot on the 2-on-1. He played really well. He was great out there."

He had a lot of fun, too. It's been a while since Zubrus could say that.

"I did," he said. "We had a lot of chances as a line. We could have scored a few more, so, yeah, it was a fun night."

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