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Kovalchuk injured in Brodeur's 666th career victory

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- Did victory No. 666 in the illustrious career of New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur come at a huge price?

That could be the case.

New Jersey's 2-1 victory against the Florida Panthers before a sellout crowd at Prudential Center on Saturday included a fairly serious injury to forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who left the game midway through the third period with an apparent right-shoulder injury.

Devils coach Peter DeBoer said after the game Kovalchuk is "probably going to be out for at least a short time." He immediately followed up by admitting "We'll have to fill that hole."

Kovalchuk appeared to hurt his right shoulder when he broke in 1-on-4 before losing his edge and barreling into the end boards behind the Panthers' net with 10:53 remaining in the third period and the Devils holding a 2-1 lead.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Russian was attempting to curl defenseman Colby Robak on the play but tumbled to the ice. Though Kovalchuk did skate off the ice and into the dressing room on his own power, he was wincing in pain and was never made available to the media afterward.

Less than a minute after Kovalchuk's injury, Devils forward Tim Sestito appeared to suffer a shoulder or upper-back injury when Robak slammed him into the boards. Robak was given a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct for the hit. DeBoer said Sestito would be fine.

Forward David Clarkson scored what proved to be the decisive goal 11:03 into the second period, and Brodeur, whose career record is 666-373-105-61, made it stand behind 17 saves as the Devils won their second straight game. The Panthers, who were playing the third of a five-game road swing, saw a two-game winning streak end.

"I think my brother is really excited about [win No. 666]," Brodeur said. "He already put in the call. He wants the stick; the whole thing. Maybe he's the real Devil."

The goalies were sharp in the third period, when the Devils held an 11-6 advantage in shots. Florida's Scott Clemmensen came up big with his team shorthanded when Patrik Elias backhanded an attempt while splitting two defenders down the slot before retrieving his own rebound that was also turned away at 6:31.

Clemmensen spent several years as a backup goalie to Brodeur in New Jersey.

"I was thinking of him a little bit at the other end," Brodeur said of Clemmensen. "It's always fun to play against old teammates. He's having a rough go in Florida, but tonight he looked pretty good."

The Panthers took advantage of a poor play by Brodeur behind his own cage with 9.8 seconds remaining in the second period to pare the deficit to 2-1. While attempting to wrap the puck around the wall, Brodeur fanned, and Tomas Fleischmann picked up the puck and fed Peter Mueller cruising down the slot. Mueller easily one-timed the pass into a wide-open net, his seventh goal of the season.

"It's a decision thing, and there's not much time to throw it in the corner, but I'm trying to make a play," Brodeur said. "The more you play, the more you start adjusting to situations. I made a big mistake that might have been a little more costly, but fortunately we won the game."

Brodeur was making his second start after coming off injured reserve and not playing the previous 13 games with a pinched nerve in his neck/back.

The Devils opened a 1-0 lead 1:24 into the second period when Elias broke in 2-on-1 with Travis Zajac and redirected a perfectly placed feed while cutting down the slot. Panthers defenseman Filip Kuba was playing the pass on the play but failed to find the puck on Zajac's picturesque feed from the right circle.

Zajac, who had two assists, has one goal and five points over the past three games for the Devils.

"Travis showed good patience on that play … he let me jump into that hole there and that's what good players do," Elias said. "It's not all about speed and going 100 miles per hour every time. Slowing down and waiting for a better play to develop is just as important, and that's what happened."

Brodeur made a great save to keep the Devils ahead when he denied rookie Jonathan Huberdeau at 4:47 off a strong backhand attempt from the slot. Clemmensen then made a big glove save off Kovalchuk's shorthanded attempt to keep his team within reach.

Clarkson gave his team a 2-0 lead midway into the second on a great individual effort in following up a rebound. Zajac took the initial shot from the right circle that hit Clemmensen high on the chest and dropped in front of him. Clarkson jammed the loose puck into the cage for his 12th goal of the season.

"It was a shot on net and the rebound sat on part of the goalie's pad that bends and I was just digging," Clarkson said. "It was a little grinder's goal. I saw it, and reached, and saw it there and kept whacking."

The Panthers received a bit of a scare midway through the second period when forward Shawn Matthias exited after being hit in the face with a deflected puck. Matthias did return for the start of the third with several stitches above his left eye.

Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov took a shot from the right circle that appeared to be blocked by Devils forward Ryan Carter before hitting Matthias in the face. He skated off the ice on his own power.

Florida registered its first of seven unanswered shots 10:52 into the first when Drew Shore tipped in a shot Brodeur neatly denied. Brodeur's best save of the opening period came with 46.7 seconds left when he snared a slap shot from the point off the stick of Kulikov.

"We were fortunate to get the first goal considering how we played in the first period … we probably deserved to be behind, but Marty gave us a chance to get out of the period," DeBoer said. "I thought in the second and third periods, we were the better team."

The Devils are 12-1-2 when scoring the first goal this season. They are 3-10-4 when allowing the opening goal.

The Devils were credited with two shots in the first period, both by Steve Bernier. Kovalchuk also drove a shot from the right circle that rang off the goal post at the 10:18 mark.

"In the second and third periods, we were moving better, supporting people better," Elias said. "In the first, we couldn't make a play. But you need better support and need to put the puck in places where you can support it -- that's what we did in the second and third."

Kulikov, who missed the previous 10 games while recovering from a dislocated shoulder sustained March 2 against the Carolina Hurricanes, was in the lineup filling in for Erik Gudbranson.

Gudbranson, who is questionable to face the New York Islanders on Monday, is out with the flu.


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