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With 23 games left in the season and 5 points shy of a playoff spot, the New Jersey Devils needed a strong start for their quest to the postseason. The Devils looked sharp after the two-week Olympic break last night defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-2 at the Prudential Center.
After being held scoreless in his last seven games, winger Adam Henrique came up huge for the Devils with two goals, including a crucial shorthanded tally late in the second period. Center Patrik Elias also had an impressive game, recording two assists and an empty net goal. In addition, Jarmoir Jagr scored his 699th goal of his career and Ryane Clowe also contributed his fourth of the season.
During practice this week, the Devils made it a priority to work on their offensive struggles. They were 27th in goals scored and dead last in shots on goal. It looks like the practice worked at least for the first game back. They got plenty of pucks on net, outshooting the Blue Jackets 35 to 19. The Devils scored at least five goals for just the sixth time this season.
Devils' goaltender Cory Schneider was not tested much and made the crucial saves when needed, stopping 17 of 19 shots. The Devils improved 25-22-13 and are now three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. New Jersey avoids the season sweep with their first victory of the Blue Jackets. The usual Devil-killers Cam Atkinson (3 goals, 3 assists vs. NJ in three games this season) and Brandon Dubinsky (2 goals, 5 assists vs. NJ) were held off the scoresheet in the final contest between the teams.
However, the Devils did not finish the game fully healthy. Winger Damien Brunner seemed like he re-tweaked his knee in the first period and did not return. Also, defenseman Bryce Salvador left the game after taking a hard slapshot to the right shoulder while blocking a shot in the third period.
Clowe struck first for the Devils at 6:09 of the opening period. Andrei Loktionov passed it to Clowe, who then shot it at Sergei Bobrosvky and he made a save with his pad. The puck deflected back to Clowe and he tried to pass it to Michael Ryder, but it was blocked and it came back to him again. The third time was a charm as Clowe roofed the puck over Bobrovsky for the 1-0 lead.
The goal was the first of three in three minutes for the Devils. New Jersey received the first power play of the game when Blue Jackets' defenseman James Wisniewski cross checked Steve Bernier down to the ice. The Devils made them pay as Eric Gelinas made his presence felt in his first game back from Albany. Gelinas shot a scorching slapper, which Bobrovsky saved, but it created a rebound chance for Jagr to finish it for the two-goal advantage. Henrique scored his first goal of the night when he deflected an Andy Greene shot from the point during the Devils' second power play.
Columbus responded less than two minutes later with an odd goal to cut the lead to 3-1. Blue Jackets' Artem Anisimov shot a backhander from a sharp angle, which hit Schneider's stick and somehow defected past the goal line. The Blue Jackets made it a one goal game and scary for Devils' fans in the middle of the second period. Following a mass scramble at front of the net, Marion Gaborik, just activated from injured reserved, knocked down the puck in the air, controlled it and banged it home to make it 3-2.
With the ice tilting to the Blue Jackets' favor, the Devils needed a spark to gain back control and they got it from the duo of Henrique and Elias. During a crucial penalty kill, Elias forced a turnover from Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson. Elias then made a beautiful D2: The Mighty Ducks-esque flip pass over the head of Johnson to spring Henrique on the breakaway. Like T.J. Oshie in the Olympics, Henrique shot through Bobrovsky's five-hole with only 18.1 seconds left to play to get the lead back to two.
The Henrique tally was the back breaker for Columbus as the Blue Jackets mustered only three shots on goal and did not pose much of a threat in the third period. Elias tried to give Henrique a hat trick with the net empty, but his pass deflected off Wisniewski for the final goal of the game.
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