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Devils reach 30 wins by blanking Stars 4-0

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK , N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils are playing so well they've even surprising themselves.

The Devils rolled to their 30th victory in 41 games as Martin Brodeur stopped 28 shots for his fifth shutout of the season and Patrik Elias scored twice in a 4-0 victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night.

"Am I surprised at this start to the season?," Brodeur asked. "Yeah, because we've had some great teams that dominated (in the past), so to see this team at the top of the class as far as points is surprising, for sure."

The victory was the Devils' sixth in a row at the Prudential Center and ninth in the last 10 home games. During that six-game stretch at home, Brodeur has allowed just six goals and notched two shutouts -- overall, he has three shutouts in his last seven games.

The Devils lead the NHL in victories and are tops in the Eastern Conference in points (61) and home victories (16 in 22 games). That's pretty impressive for a team that some thought might not make the playoffs.

"Not a lot of people expected us to be where we are right now but we're playing well and, hopefully, it continues in the second half," forward Zach Parise said.

"I didn't know what to expect with all the injuries we had, but we're a team that battles and we play a team game," admitted center Travis Zajac. "Everyone is contributing and working hard and Marty's been playing great. Everything is kind of rolling for us right now."

Actually, rolling might be an understatement.

Elias has 16 points, including seven goals, in his last 14 contests. Brodeur, who was making his 20th straight start, not only earned his League-leading 27th triumph but also extended his NHL career records for games played (1,038), wins (584), minutes played (61,322) and shutouts (106).

"The guys did a great job -- Dallas didn't get many point shots," Brodeur said. "When we played them in Dallas (a 5-3 Stars victory in November), that's one of the things that they took advantage of -- playing behind the net and their point shots. We really took care of that (Tuesday) and it made a big difference in how their offense worked against us."

He's hoping for much of the same in the second half of the season -- which begins at home on Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Consistency is what people are looking for in their game, and I think that's a hard thing to do especially as you move into the second half of the season," Brodeur said. "It's going to get really hard -- points are tougher to get and teams will get more desperate. Building a cushion helps us out, but we can't let our guard down. We have to put our head down, play well and be consistent."

After Elias gave the Devils the lead late in the first period, the Devils blew the game open with three second-period goals, including two in a span of 2:37 in the opening 10 minutes. Elias connected for his second of the game and 10th of the season at 6:59 before Zajac followed with his first in 13 games at 9:36 while on the power play.

Parise extended the lead to four goals his team-leading 18th of the season at 15:07. After blocking a shot off the stick of Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas, Parise began the quick transition. He led Zajac, who led Jamie Langenbrunner, who fed Parise in the left circle for a wrist shot that found the five-hole on Dallas goalie Alex Auld.

Langenbrunner finished with two assists and now has 5 goals and 8 points during a five-game points streak.

It's been quite a week for Langenbrunner, the Devils' third-season captain. On Friday, he was named to the U.S. Olympic Team along with teammates Parise and Paul Martin and on Saturday he recorded his first career hat trick in a 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild.

Just 35 seconds after Parise' goal, Brodeur stoned Mike Ribeiro when he stacked the pads at the right post, denying a quick wrist shot ticketed for the short side. Brodeur's best save might have come with his team ahead, 1-0, and killing a Dallas power-play when he turned away Loui Eriksson from in close 5:22 into the second.

Dallas, now 1-5-3 in its last nine road games, travels to MadisonSquareGarden on Wednesday to face the Rangers. Eriksson, who entered having connected for five goals over his last three games and points in 11 of his last 12 (8 goals, 17 points), was held scoreless on three shots in the game. The Stars finished 0-for-3 on the power play.

"The turnovers and lost puck battles were the difference and as much as goals-against is a concern, scoring goals is also a concern," Stars coach Marc Crawford said. "When the puck is up for grabs we needed to battle harder for it. Why are the Devils good? Because they have a lot of guys who win those puck battles in the corner when its up for grabs. In the third, I thought we improved that level of our game and that's why we were better (when the Stars outshot the Devils 13-5)."

Elias' second goal came right after he exited the penalty box 6:59 into the second. After intercepting the puck in his own end, Elias sped into the Dallas zone on a 2-on-1 with Langenbrunner before unleashing a snap shot from deep into the right circle that soared just inside the long-side post past Auld. Elias had just finished serving a minor penalty for cross-checking Dallas' Steve Ott during a defensive-zone draw.

"We gave them a two-goal lead right there because we didn't exercise patience in their end (which enabled Elias to skate uncontested the length of the ice)," Crawford said. "You're never going to play a mistake-free game, but you want to limit the ones needed to be limited -- it's risk and reward. And our player took a lot of risk looking to make some happen at the end of that power-play and nothing good came from it."

The Devils broke a scoreless tie with just 1:58 remaining in the first when Elias tipped home a shot past a screened Auld. Brian Rolston fought off a pair of checks at the Stars blue line before spinning and firing the puck at the net. Elias deftly redirected the puck past a surprised Auld.

"I was hoping (Rolston) would shoot," Elias said. "I was behind their defense for about 10 seconds it seemed. He was battling inside the zone there for the puck, along the blue line, and I was hoping he was going to get it. I kind of stayed behind hoping they'd forget about me and Brian did a good job of battling and sliding it toward me."

Elias, the top scorer in franchise history, said he's also been impressed with his team's first half.

"Especially when you look at how many guys got hurt, how many young guys stepping in -- the team still found a way to win, that's pretty amazing," he said.

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