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Shanahan's return sees Devils vault into first

by Brian Hunter
Brendan Shanahan's performance in his first game back was something for the New Jersey Devils to feel good about -- but it was only the beginning.

Shanahan opened the scoring Monday night with a power-play goal and the Devils went on to a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators at Sommet Center, finishing a season-long six-game road trip with a 5-1 record.

New Jersey, which lost franchise goaltender Martin Brodeur on Nov. 1, moved into first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time this season with 59 points. Scott Clemmensen, who emerged as the starter in Brodeur's absence, improved to 18-9-1 with a 33-save effort.

"We were pretty resilient again through the trip," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "We had some ups and downs early, but as the trip went on we got better and better. I thought we played some solid road games throughout it -- any time you go on a six-game road trip and you go 5-1, you've obviously done a lot of things pretty well."

Shanahan and David Clarkson scored less than two minutes apart during the second period, both off Brian Rolston assists, and Zach Parise ended any chance of a Nashville comeback by firing his team-leading 27th of the season into an empty net with 14 seconds remaining.

"The guys were definitely making a statement with the way they were playing," said Shanahan, whose goal was No. 651 in his NHL career. "It was really nice for me to be a part of it."

Radek Bonk's deflection of a Jason Arnott shot for a power-play goal with 5:48 left kept the Predators from being shut out, but they continue to fade, losing their third straight and staying 13th in the Western Conference.

"With the exception of the Atlanta game our ability to keep the other team to a low score has been good," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We've created chances. We just haven't been able to get points in games."

Shanahan, who turns 40 on Friday, set a League record by returning to play for the Devils -- it had been 6,504 days since he last dressed for the team, in an April 15, 1991 playoff game against Pittsburgh. In between stints with New Jersey he spent time with St. Louis, Hartford, Detroit and the Rangers, winning three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings along the way.

Clemmensen kept the game scoreless by stopping all 14 shots against him in the first, then Shanahan made his presence felt after David Legwand and Dan Hamhuis took penalties in the first 19 seconds of the middle period. Working on the 5-on-3 advantage, Shanahan walked in front and swept a shot past Pekka Rinne at 1:38 to give the Devils a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"I was going to go back to the point and I saw Rinne cheat a little bit, he went down a little early," Shanahan said. "If they want to take two players away from their team on every one of my shifts, I would be all for that -- just play the rest of the season 5-on-3.

"It was exciting. It's a little bit of luck to be out there in that situation and to find a little hole to put the puck through."

Clarkson made it 2-0 at 3:21 when he deflected a Rolston blast from just inside the blue line for his 10th of the season.

New Jersey had killed off all 20 shorthanded situations it faced on the road trip until Clarkson received a delay of game penalty for putting the puck over the glass with 6:32 left and Bonk cut the Nashville deficit in half with his fifth goal. It was the second straight game in which Clemmensen lost his shutout bid in the third period, but he finished strong and Parise's goal sealed the win.

"In the third period the game turned into a defensive one and a checking one," said Shanahan, who took several important shifts in the final five minutes. "So it was good to be a part of that as well and for Brent to use me in that capacity. I didn't feel tired or anything."

Sutter gave his new forward nearly 14 minutes of ice time and said the workload was never a concern.

"Shanahan played very well in his first game, obviously getting the big goal for us," Sutter said. "You can see his experience. He has played in a lot of key situations throughout his career."

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report

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