UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) - The New Jersey Devils flashed smiles and shared laughs after a solid victory over the New York Islanders.
In years past, such wins were expected - and celebrations were reserved for deep playoff runs and championships. But from the bottom of the NHL standings, those lofty goals are all but lost for this season, so this group of Devils will take what they can get.
Vladimir Zharkov scored his first NHL goal, and the suddenly potent Devils broke out again in a 5-2 victory over the Islanders on Monday. New Jersey (13-29-3) closed within six points of the Islanders (14-23-7), but is still stuck in the NHL cellar.
``If we want to catch them, we've got to beat them,' said Martin Brodeur, who made 27 saves. ``They're the closest team to us, but they're still pretty up there.'
The Devils are 4-7-1 since Jacques Lemaire replaced John MacLean as coach on Dec. 23, just before New Jersey lost to the Islanders for the second time this season.
``You can tell we work way harder than we used to,' said Ilya Kovalchuk, who has three goals in three games. ``We're practicing way more intense and everybody is getting into game shape.'
They will have to do way more than that to reach the playoffs for the 14th straight season.
``We are very far away from where we want to be,' Kovalchuk said.
Zharkov started the Devils' latest barrage in the first period before Kovalchuk doubled the lead 57 seconds later during a power play. New Jersey also got a pair of goals 54 seconds apart from Rod Pelley and Dainius Zubrus in the second period after the Islanders trimmed a three-goal deficit to one.
Mattias Tedenby, playing for the first time since Jan. 1, and Pelley both had a goal and an assist to back Brodeur.
P.A. Parenteau and Michael Grabner had goals 54 seconds apart to pull New York to 3-2. Parenteau thought he had his second of the game with 1:29 remaining in the second, but the goal was disallowed after it was determined that Grabner interfered with Brodeur after he was shoved into him by Devils defenseman Mark Fayne. The contact knocked off Brodeur's mask.
``I think it's the right call,' Brodeur said. ``He didn't do it on purpose to go to the net, but he definitely prevented me from making the save and hit my head with his butt.
The Islanders protested after all four officials held a conference in front of the penalty box.
``At least they talked about it. It wasn't one guy making a decision knowing that three other guys had a different version of it. It was pretty nice. You don't see that too often.'
New York continued its argument after the period before the officials left the ice.
``I went to the net and got pushed from behind,' Grabner said. ``The ref next to the goal said the goal was good, but he was overruled.'
New Jersey, which has an NHL-low 90 goals, has scored 18 in four games after netting only 16 in the previous 11. The Devils are 3-0-1 during their scoring spurt, their best four-game stretch of this otherwise forgettable season.
``Give me five goals every game, we'll win a lot. Trust me,' said Brodeur, who owns an NHL-record 610 wins.
New York is 1-3-1 after an 8-2-1 spurt.
``We had no early jump,' Parenteau said. ``That has to be corrected.'
Islanders rookie Kevin Poulin made his fifth NHL appearance and had a rough outing in place of Rick DiPietro, who was scratched. DiPietro made 40 saves Saturday in a win over Buffalo after missing five games with a knee injury.
Poulin allowed all five goals on 27 shots and absorbed his first regulation loss.
Zharkov made it 1-0 at 4:25 with the first goal of his 49-game NHL career. Tedenby, back in the lineup after being scratched for six games, helped set it up.
Just 57 seconds later, Kovalchuk gave New Jersey a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal. Tedenby's fifth put New Jersey in front 3-0 at 6:40 of the second.
``I actually felt when I touched the puck for the first time in the game that I still had my confidence,' Tedenby said.
Parenteau scored his 11th goal at 10:56 and Grabner followed with his 11th less than a minute later to make it 3-2. Lemaire then used his timeout to perfection.
Pelley made it 4-2 at 16:59, and Zubrus followed at 17:53 to restore the Devils' three-goal lead.
``It was a quick two goals,' Kovalchuk said of the Islanders' spurt. ``Jacques is a very experienced guy. He had to calm us down and tell us what to do. We did and we turned the game around.'
Notes: The Devils were called twice for having too many men on the ice in the first. ... Islanders coach Jack Capuano said DiPietro is ``fine' and was held out for what he termed a ``maintenance day.'
The Associated Press News Service
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