WASHINGTON - The left post stopped one shot. The crossbar stopped another. Martin Brodeur took care of nearly all the rest, putting the New Jersey Devils into first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2001.
Brodeur made 37 saves in his 22nd consecutive start, and John Madden backhanded a rebound with 50 seconds remaining in overtime Sunday, giving the Devils a 2-1 victory Sunday over the Washington Capitals and a one-point lead over idle Ottawa in a crowded race for the conference's top seed.
"We're definitely proud of what we've accomplished," Madden said. "But at the same time we've got to move forward."
Jamie Langenbrunner scored on a 5-on-3 power play in the first minute of the third period for the Devils, and Washington's Alexander Semin tied it about two minutes later. The winning score came after Patrik Elias' shot hit Madden's glove and then the post, giving Madden a chance to put the rebound under goalie Brent Johnson's left leg pad.
But there was little doubt that the Devils won their fifth straight because of another masterful performance from Brodeur, who is 14-6-2 during his consecutive games streak.
"We definitely stole one," Langenbrunner said. "The way Marty played was unbelievable. It's one of those games where we are lucky to get two points, but we'll take it."
Washington failed to get a needed two points from one of its coveted games in hand against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Capitals now trail the Southeast Division leaders by five points - having lost at Raleigh on Saturday - but have played two fewer games than the Hurricanes.
"Sometimes you don't get the results you desire," said Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team has lost five of six but only two of them in regulation. "But if we keep pushing through, eventually there's going to be a three-and four-game win streak. And with 20 games left, you know Carolina's not winning all 20, so you've got to keep pushing on."
Alex Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 48 goals, was held without a goal for a season-high fifth straight game, but he and the Capitals had plenty of near-misses. Matt Bradley hit the post and Eric Fehr nailed the crossbar, both in the first period. Washington outshot the Devils 15-6 in the first period and 13-4 in the second.
But Brodeur stopped one shot with his upper chest and later lay on his left side to stop Ovechkin from converting a rebound. Brooks Laich had several swipes at the puck in the crease late in the second period, but he couldn't put it past Brodeur's pad. Ovechkin had a great run from his own blue-line in the same period, but he was again thwarted by the veteran goalie.
"When he needed to make a big save, he did," Capitals defenceman Mike Green said. "We threw a lot at him tonight, but he played awesome."
After two scoreless periods, Langenbrunner put a slap shot past Johnson's stick side with one second remaining on a two-man advantage from a pair of high-sticking calls against on the Capitals.
Semin tied the game with a backhanded shot past Brodeur, the Russian's fifth goal in as many games.
The Devils, after managing only 10 shots on goal in the first two periods, had 18 in the third.
"In the first two periods we did a lot of puck-watching," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said. "Then in the third period we started moving, and obviously our goaltender gave us an opportunity to get back in the game."
Notes: Capitals C David Steckel missed the game with the flu. D Jeff Schultz sat out his second straight game with a strained knee. ... Capitals rookie Nicklas Backstrom got his 50th point, a secondary assist on Semin's goal.