NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac scored his first career hat trick and Jaromir Jagr had one goal and three assists on the way to a 6-3 victory against the Florida Panthers at Prudential Center on Monday night.
Zajac, who tied a career-high with four points, scored twice in the first period and added another goal in the third to record the first hat trick by a Devils player this season.
"At this point in the season, there are different ways you can contribute and I'm happy I was able to score. But I want to contribute any way possible, whether it's scoring goals or winning faceoffs," Zajac said.
Jagr grinned when asked about Zajac's three-goal game.
"He could have had a hat trick in the first 10 minutes if he was paying attention," he said, tongue-in-cheek. "Then you don't have to wait another 50 minutes."
New Jersey also received goals by Ryane Clowe and Jacob Josefson, and Cory Schneider made 13 saves in relief of Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur, who was still credited with his 18th win of the season, was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots midway through the second.
The victory moved the Devils (32-28-15) within three points of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second of two wild-card spots in Eastern Conference race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with seven regular-season games remaining. The Blue Jackets have one game in hand on the Devils.
New Jersey will play against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Tuesday before returning home against the Washington Capitals on Friday.
"We needed to have this game," Schneider said. "We couldn't afford to lose it. It was sort of heading south there in the second, but we found a way and didn't let it get to us. We got challenged between the second and third and responded in the third. Now it's on to the next one."
Clowe, who recorded his first three-point game as a member of the Devils, was forced to exit the game with 1:45 left in the second after taking a big hit along the boards from Quinton Howden. In Clowe's absence, DeBoer reinserted left wing Tuomo Ruutu on the top line with Zajac and Jagr. DeBoer had no update on Clowe's condition at the end of the game.
"We need [Clowe]," Jagr said. "He's a very important guy for our lineup. He was the reason why we had a 3-1 lead to begin with. He made a lot of good plays, especially on our line. He's a big guy and can play the puck on the boards, so we need him back in the lineup."
The Devils opened a 5-3 lead 4:02 into the third when Josefson scored his first of the season with his team shorthanded. Ryan Carter made the play happen when he created a turnover in the neutral zone, skated down his left wing before feeding Josefson across the blue line. Josefson lined a rope inside the right post past goalie Dan Ellis.
"Carts outskated their defenseman and did most of the work," Josefson said. "He had the puck on the boards and I was screaming for it. He looked up and made that terrific pass to me and all I had to do was try and hit the net."
Zajac completed his hat trick and scored his 16th of the season at 9:37 when he converted a wrist shot off assists from Ruutu and Jagr for a 6-3 lead. The three-goal game was the first for the Devils since Ilya Kovalchuk's hat trick on March 8, 2012 against the New York Islanders.
The Panthers (27-41-8, 62 points), who lost their sixth in the past seven games, received goals by Dmitry Kulikov, Brad Boyes and Brandon Pirri. Nick Bjugstad had two assists and Ellis made 26 saves.
Florida, outshot 32-22, didn't make things easy for the Devils. Trailing 3-0 late in the second, Kulikov scored his eighth of the season while shorthanded when he took a feed from Bjugstad in the right circle and fired a shot that beat Brodeur to the long side at 17:22.
The Panthers would pull within one goal 50 seconds into the second when Boyes scored his 20th off a rising backhand in the right circle that beat Brodeur to the short side. Clowe gave his team a 4-2 lead at 3:05 when he broke in 2-on-1 with Zajac and scored his seventh of the season at 3:05 from below the left circle. The Panthers trimmed the deficit to 4-3 when Pirri tipped home a point shot from Dylan Olsen at 6:35.
"We started playing up-and-down hockey with them and we can't because they're better at it than us," Jagr said. "I don't think we are good enough or have the players to play that style."
The Pirri goal prompted DeBoer to replace Brodeur with Schneider. It marked the second time this season that Brodeur was pulled; it also happened Jan. 26 at Yankee Stadium in the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series when Brodeur allowed six goals on 21 shots and was replaced at the start of the third period in a 7-3 loss against the New York Rangers.
"I don't blame [Brodeur] for any of the first three goals. We just needed a wakeup call and didn't feel a timeout would be enough of a jolt for us," DeBoer said. "Those are tough decisions to make because he wasn't at fault. Schneider came in and shut the door, so the move had the desired effect."
Schneider made eight saves the remainder of the period. He had six stops during a Panthers power-play that included two quick attempts in the crease at 11:58 and a breakaway by Scottie Upshall at 12:11.
"We've been fortunate to say we haven't had to do [pull the goalie] too often, but I don't think it was indicative of how Marty was playing. It was to shake the guys up and get us out of that funk in the second," Schneider said. "We took some penalties, but that's what you're there for -- to come in and hopefully change momentum a little bit. In the third period, we were lights out."
The Devils came out flying in the first, outshooting (18-4) and outscoring (3-1) the Panthers. It was the type of start DeBoer was hoping for after watching his team generate 18 first-period shots over the past four games (1-1-2).
Zajac scored his first of the game 12 seconds, the fastest goal to open a game scored by the Devils this season and the third fastest on home ice all-time. Jagr made it 2-0 when he retrieved a pass from Clowe low in the right circle and whisked a marvelous shot that beat Ellis high to the short side at 9:24. Zajac made it 3-0 when he connected for a power-play goal off a slap shot from the left circle at 11:33.
The Devils had an opportunity to extend the lead late in the period when Florida captain Ed Jovanovski was whistled for a double roughing minor on Carter at 15:46. Instead, Kulikov pulled his team within 3-1 with his first shorthanded goal of the season.