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Ruutu scores in third to lift Devils past Hurricanes

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- Tuomo Ruutu managed to fit a game-winning goal against his former team into his frantic schedule.

Ruutu scored his first goal with the New Jersey Devils with 6:30 remaining in regulation to lift his new team to a 5-4 win against his old one, the Carolina Hurricanes, on Saturday at Prudential Center.

Ruutu's sixth goal of the season capped a hectic two weeks for the 31-year-old forward.

After capturing a bronze medal for Finland at the 2014 Sochi Olympics on Feb. 23, Ruutu returned to the Hurricanes just in time to leave on a five-game, cross-country road trip that included three games in California. The West Coast swing ended Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks; he flew back to Raleigh with the Hurricanes and was dealt to New Jersey on Wednesday at the NHL Trade Deadline for forward Andrei Loktionov and a draft pick.

Ruutu flew to Newark on Thursday for practice, flew with the Devils to play in a 7-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, then returned to Newark and scored the winning goal in a game the Devils had to have; they moved within two points of Detroit for the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.

"This guy hasn't been home in a month, other than for two hours [before the Olympic break]," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said.

"It was a great game for him. His wife and family are in Carolina and his wife is expecting a baby. It was just a great performance. We wouldn't have won without him."

All that travel hasn't slowed Ruutu. DeBoer even had him on the top line against the Hurricanes on the left of center Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr, and he rewarded his coach with his first multipoint performance in 21 games.

Ruutu broke a 4-4 tie when he fired a wrist shot from between the circles through a maze of bodies and past Cam Ward. The play was set up when defenseman Marek Zidlicky fed him off Zajac's offensive-zone faceoff win.

Fans began chanting, "Ruutu! Ruutu!" after he was named the game's first star.

"I haven't scored that many goals so I just closed my eyes and fire as hard as I can," Ruutu said after his first home game as a Devil. "I try to shoot high but the goal was scored because there was some traffic in front of the net. I think that's almost the only way to score nowadays because the goalies are so good."

Goalie Martin Brodeur finished with 29 saves to earn his 16th win of the season, although he was unable to hold a 4-1 lead. Adam Henrique continued his torrid scoring pace with two goals, and Zajac and Damien Brunner also scored.

The victory was the fourth in six games for the Devils (28-24-13), who embark on a three-game road swing against the Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Hurricanes (27-28-9) fell to 1-7-0 in their past eight games.

"It's about wins right now," DeBoer said. "We're giving up too many goals for my liking but it's about wins."

Ruutu agreed.

"It was a great win, but maybe there are some things we can do better," Ruutu said. "But at this point in the season, two points are most important."

Ruutu's goal negated Carolina's rally, which saw the Hurricanes score three unanswered goals to get even.

"Everyone stayed positive [when we were down 4-2 after two periods]," Hurricanes defenseman Ryan Murphy said. "We're getting to the point in the year where these points are very critical and we can't be giving up points like that so everyone was staying positive in the dressing room and we did a good job of getting back into the game but unfortunately came up short."

Alexander Semin tied the game at 4-4 when he skated past Zajac and Jagr before twirling with the puck between the circles and beating Brodeur inside the right post with 7:21 left in regulation.

"I don't practice these things so often where a guy comes in and goes through five guys, does a spin-o-rama and puts one just inside the post," Brodeur said. "I was a little deep in net and got down on my knees to block. I only moved my pad after the shot was in."

Carolina's Nathan Gerbe scored a shorthanded goal 4:41 into the third to cut the deficit to 4-3. Jordan Staal stole an ill-advised pass by Brunner at the Carolina blue line and sent Gerbe on a breakaway. Gerbe roofed his second shorthanded goal of the season into the right corner.

The Devils had scored three times in the second to grab a 4-1 lead.

After Carolina's Jeff Skinner had pulled the visitors into a 1-1 tie at 6:21, Brunner executed a great backhand attempt from low in the left circle that beat goalie Anton Khudobin high to the long side at 8:34 with his team on the power play. Zidlicky ripped a shot from the left point that caromed off the end boards to Brunner in the circle.

Henrique then connected for two straight goals, marking his second straight two-goal game and third in the past six. He gave the Devils a 3-1 lead when he deposited a highlight-reel backhand from in tight on Khudobin off a feed from Ryane Clowe at 8:57. He scored his team-leading 23rd of the season at 12:51 when he took a drop pass from Patrik Elias in the high slot and unleashed a wrist shot that beat Khudobin into the top left corner with his team shorthanded.

At that point, coach Kirk Muller replaced Khudobin (19 saves) with Ward.

"I haven't changed anything," Henrique said when asked about his scoring surge of late. "I'm just trying to shoot when I get the chance. The pucks are going in. Down the stretch, the games are so big and I just come to the rink and want to be ready and be a difference-maker."

Henrique's two-point performance extended his season-high point streak to six games, during which he's struck for nine goals and two assists.

"You have to get up for these games and come ready to play every night; leave everything on the ice," he said.

The Hurricanes got one back 33 seconds after the goaltending change when Jay Harrison ripped a shot from between the circles for his team's first power-play goal in 28 chances spanning eight games.

The Devils took a 1-0 lead when Zajac slammed home a shot at the right post after getting a pass from Ruutu at 4:25. Jagr won a battle along the left-wing boards to Ruutu, who carried the puck low in the left circle before feeding Zajac for his 11th of the season.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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