WINNIPEG – Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias provided a look at vintage New Jersey Devils hockey, while Adam Larsson provided another glimpse at the club's future on Saturday afternoon in a 2-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets (20-19-5), meanwhile, just showed yet another third-period collapse in front of 15,004 at the MTS Centre in sinking to 1-5-0 this month.
The Devils (25-17-2) delivered another late blow to a Winnipeg club that has now lost three consecutive decisions. New Jersey spaced a pair of third-period goals just 2:58 apart to rip two points out of the Jets' hands while Winnipeg wasted another stout performance from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. The Jets have now been outscored 50-27 in the third period this season, including a 12-1 deficit this month.
After the Devils had tied the game at 1-1 halfway through the third period, Elias snuck away from Winnipeg center Bryan Little and went to the front of the net, where he redirected Larsson's point shot past Pavelec with 7:17 remaining.
"[It was] perfect eye-contact with [Larsson], and a great heads-up play by him," Elias explained. "You just kind of feel the presence of the guys around you. Those are the plays that you look at [Larsson], and you say to yourself, 'He's a player.'"
The Elias goal, plus a tally from defenseman Kurtis Foster and Brodeur's solid bounce-back 22-save performance, paced the Devils.
"We battled really hard," Brodeur said. "The boys played well. I thought we played under control for most of the night. We didn't give up too many opportunities. I thought we played really well defensively."
Without rookie sniper Adam Henrique, a last-minute scratch due to injury, the Devils began the afternoon with an opportunity to wrap up their four-game road trip with three wins and nudge toward the upper crust of the Eastern Conference playoff field and away from the five-team pack clustered behind them. New Jersey's two-point afternoon pushed them two points behind the Ottawa Senators for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
"We knew we needed contributions from some different people tonight with some of the guys we had out of the lineup at the end of a road trip," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said, "and we got that. We did what we had to do. I think that Marty made a couple of huge saves at the right time. I thought that Adam Larsson had maybe his best game all year for us at both ends of the rink."
Winnipeg just needed a win in order to keep its month from plunging further into disastrous territory after staging December's 10-3-1 mark, the best month in franchise history. The Jets had followed up an ugly 1-3-0 road trip with a flat 2-0 loss to the visiting San Jose Sharks on Thursday night. And with road dates with the Devils, Ottawa and the New York Rangers looming over the next 10 days, the calendar will not ease any on the Jets.
"I thought we played a pretty good game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I don't know if there is anything we would have done differently. I thought our guys battled hard and I thought that they worked hard."
Winnipeg's lone goal came from captain Andrew Ladd. Pavelec finished with 22 saves, including a stop on an Elias penalty shot with 1:36 remaining that afforded the Jets a chance for a last-minute push.
The Jets staged a furious last-minute crush on Brodeur's net, but the veteran goaltender emerged unscathed.
"The boys were right in front of me," Brodeur laughed. "Two or three goalies, plus me … we held the fort pretty well for 20 seconds there."
Shortly before the Devils went ahead, Winnipeg had dominated in the faceoff circle all afternoon, but New Jersey used a key third-period draw to tie the game. Dainus Zubrus beat Winnipeg's Jim Slater, who had won 14 of 18 draws up to that point, on a right-circle draw halfway through the third period. Foster stepped into the hash-marks before whipping a shot that crossed through the legs of defenseman Ron Hainsey and then Pavelec.
Both clubs staged a defensive duel in combining for a mere 28 shots over the opening two periods. Brodeur rebounded from his rocky outing in Calgary on Tuesday in which the Flames knocked him out of the game with two goals after seven minutes. Opposite Brodeur, Pavelec's January numbers have tumbled during the Jets' January slide. Pavelec had gone 1-3-0 with a 3.71 goals-against average this month before facing the Devils, though, truth be told, he has often been the only player holding the Jets in games this month.
The Jets mustered just 12 shots through two periods, but they held a lead heading into the second intermission thanks to Ladd, their captain who broke down the left boards before snapping a heavy shot that beat Brodeur far-side with 1:29 to go in the period.
New Jersey managed only 16 shots over the opening 40 minutes but they certainly tested Pavelec. The Jets' goaltender awakened the crowd halfway through the period when he faced a New Jersey 2-on-1 break. Petr Sykora saucered a pass from the right side to Henrik Tallinder, who one-timed a rising shot that Pavelec managed to nick with the inside of his blocker. Pavelec followed up that effort with a pad-stack save on Bryce Salvador's hard left-circle shot.
If the Jets are demoralized, Ladd was not conceding it.
"It's tough, obviously, losing a stretch of games," Ladd said. "It's frustrating and guys are frustrated, but at the same time, you've got to lean on each other."