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Devils' third line clicks in win over Rangers

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK, N.J. -- Brian Rolston sensed it right from the opening faceoff. Jacques Lemaire did, too.

After a sub-par effort in Edmonton three nights ago, the New Jersey Devils' third line of Rolston, Rob Niedermayer and David Clarkson was jumping early Wednesday night against the New York Rangers and it took them only two shifts to put a puck past Henrik Lundqvist.

They were dashed for both goals in the Devils' 2-0 loss to the Oilers, but back home at Prudential Center against their cross-river rivals, Rolston, Niedermayer and Clarkson produced a pair to help the Devils to a 6-3 win that snapped a two-game losing skid.

"We scored right away so that gives a good feeling to a coach, but if he gets us into the game like that we can be a very effective line," Rolston, who was a plus-2 with a goal and an assist, told "I thought he really got us into the game. We obviously deserved that ice time, but it was nice to get into a game like we did tonight."

Lemaire has jumbled up his lines this season more times than anyone could possibly count, but this one looks like it could stick. They've played together for four straight games now and clearly they were at their best on Wednesday.

Niedermayer gave the Devils' a 1-0 lead on a rebound goal from the high slot 4:16 into the game after Rolston, who was behind the goal line, sent the puck on net and Clarkson crashed the crease.

Rolston made it 5-3 by finishing off an ugly yet effective 3-on-1 late in the second period.

Clarkson thought he was going down the right wall 1-on-1 against Rangers' defenseman Dan Girardi, but he heard Niedermayer yell from behind, "3-on-1, 3-on-1," so he slowed and passed it to the middle. Niedermayer flubbed the pass, but the puck still trickled to Rolston, whose shot from the left circle nicked off Girardi's stick and beat Lundqvist.

Rangers coach John Tortorella gave his goalie the hook after that goal, the fifth that Lundqvist allowed on 17 shots in just over 35 minutes.

"For some reason this line hasn't been on top, playing as well as they could lately and they come tonight and Rollie had a good game, Niedermayer, too, and you have Clarkson, who is always involved," Lemaire said. "It was a good line for us."

The 3-on-1 rush notwithstanding, this is not going to be a fancy line that gets to tic-tac-toe it around. The first goal they scored -- hard shot at the net, two guys crashing, one putting it in off the rebound -- is more than likely the kinds of goals they are going to have to score.

They have the ingredients to do that on a consistent basis, especially with Clarkson healthy for the first time really since late November.

Clarkson fractured a bone in the lower part of his right leg by blocking a shot from Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara on Nov. 27. He returned a month later, but re-injured the same leg and didn't come back until the Devils played at San Jose on March 2.

He's just getting his legs back now.

"After three months of not playing hockey I have a lot of energy, but when you have a lot of energy you still need your legs and your timing," Clarkson told "I feel like it's coming back."

If the Devils manage to stay healthy, Lemaire may have finally found his rotation.

The top-six have proven to be interchangeable with Travis Zajac, Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus skating on one line Wednesday while Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner formed another.

Lemaire also liked the energy he got from his fourth line of Rod Pelley, Dean McAmmond and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and obviously he was thrilled that Niedermayer, Rolston and Clarkson popped two past Lundqvist.

Jay Pandolfo, Vladimir Zharkov and Andrew Peters fit into the mix somehow as well.

"I'm not the coach and things do juggle a lot, but I thought we played well as a team and our line played well," Clarkson said. "It was exciting. It's fun when things are rolling. I think we controlled the puck well low and in our own end we shut them down. It was one of those games we needed."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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