-- Lost in all the hoopla of the New Jersey Devils
ascent in the Eastern Conference has been the play of two of their brightest young talents -- Mattias Tedenby
and Jacob Josefson
With the Devils in desperation mode for what seemed to be the umpteenth time this season, the young Swedes combined on the game-winning goal to help rally the Devils to a 4-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers at the Prudential Center on Tuesday night.
Josefson, named the game's First Star, scored his second goal in as many games 4:14 into the third when he one-timed a pass from Tedenby at the top of the left circle past a screened Ondrej Pavelec to snap a 2-2 tie.
"We chipped it down low and Mattias forechecked really good and won the puck down there," Josefson said. "He saw me in middle and made a really great pass. All I had to do was shoot it. Luckily, it went in."
"I tried to keep my head up and saw him there, wide open," Tedenby said. "It was a quick play and one timer. It was a good feeling."
Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias also scored, Ilya Kovalchuk hit the empty net with 17 second remaining, and goalie Martin Brodeur made 18 saves as the Devils rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win their third straight game and keep their playoff hopes alive.
"We're taking it one at a time and we try to win every game," Tedenby said. "That's what we want to do. That's what we're fighting for every day and if we keep having a little luck like this, we have a chance."
The Devils, 23-3-2 in their last 28 games, haven't given up more than two goals since Feb. 4 -- a span of 17 games. The trio of Josefson, David Clarkson and Tedenby has produced 3 goals and 8 points in two games together.
"I know when we feel comfortable on the ice, especially when Teddy gets the puck … everything can happen and the same goes for Clarkie," Josefson said. "Clarkie does a tremendous job, he works hard and creates space for all of us on the ice and wins battles."
Brodeur, now 15-1-1 in his last 17 starts, made a tremendous diving stop on a breaking Blake Wheeler with 1:15 remaining in the game to keep the Devils ahead 3-2. The Thrashers thought they had evened the score with 37.4 seconds left and their goalie pulled for an extra attacker when Evander Kane tipped home a shot from the right point by Tobias Enstrom. But referee Wes McCauley immediately waved off the goal, ruling that Kane directed the puck into the net with a high stick, and the decision was upheld after a video review.
"It was weird … we set up the play and it worked," Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said. "The (decision) was so disappointing, the fact we didn't get that goal to at least give us a chance."
"The referee saw it," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "It's obvious it was a high stick there on that goal. Everyone will agree with that."
Said Brodeur: "I was looking at the puck. I didn't really pay attention how high the stick was. Where he (Kane) touched the puck, I don't know. We'll definitely take the call.
While the victory catapulted the Devils two rungs to 10th place in the East with 33 wins and 70 points, the club did have its streak of not allowing a first-period goal to come to an end at 16 games when the Thrashers struck twice late in the period.
Atlanta, which was coming off a dramatic 5-4 overtime win at Philadelphia on Saturday, jumped in front when Tim Stapleton tipped home a picturesque feed from Kane at 15:24. Chris Thorburn then extended the lead 1:05 later when he beat defenseman Mark Fayne along the left-wing half boards and tucked a wrist shot past Brodeur.
But the Devils pared the deficit to 2-1 with 1:08 left in the first when Zajac redirected a blast from the right point by Fayne off defenseman Ron Hainsey's skate and past Pavelec. Kovalchuk made the sequence possible by blocking a shot in his own end before transitioning into the Thrashers zone.
"It was a smart play (by Fayne)," Zajac said of the shot by the rookie defenseman. "He had his head up and knew where I was. It's nice to win and get some sense of achievement from the way we're playing. We're getting to where we want to be. It's going to be interesting."
Kovalchuk, who scored the empty-netter against his former team, registered five shots and logged a team-high 24:04 of ice time. He said he's excited to see Tedenby and Josefson contributing at this stage in the season.
"They play unbelievable," he said. "They work hard, they're skating, they're listening to what Jacques told them. They're lucky, actually, because he's our coach. When you're in that stage of your career and you have a coach like that, you can learn a lot. He will make them much better players, that's for sure."
Zajac, who was playing in his 388th straight game to equal the franchise record set by Ken Daneyko 17 years ago, gave the Devils a much-needed spark with his 13th goal.
"That late goal hurt," Ramsay said. "We're battling every game and it would have been awfully nice to get out of that period with a 2-0 lead. We were in pretty good shape, and it goes off our own defenseman's foot into the net."
The Devils pulled even 5:10 into the second when Elias, Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus broke in 3-on-2 off a quick transition after Wheeler sent his attempt wide of Brodeur at the other end. Elias fed Rolston just across the blue line before Rolston returned the favor to Elias in the right circle for a shot past Pavelec (20 saves).
The Devils outshot the Thrashers 9-2 in the middle period, but Pavelec held his ground. His best save came at 15:26 when he stopped Elias off a tip from the slot.
"Jacques wasn't happy about how we played (in the first)," Tedenby said. "I think Travis' goal helped a lot there. It makes us go in the second period but it was nervous in the end."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale