NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Travis Zajac scored the first of his career-best three goals just 12 seconds in, and the New Jersey Devils held on for a wild 6-3 victory over the Florida Panthers on Monday night after nearly blowing an early three-goal lead
Zajac opened the barrage against Dan Ellis and then netted his second of the night midway through New Jersey’s three-goal first period. He completed his first NHL hat trick by putting a rebound past Ellis at 9:37 of the third.
It was also a big night for Zajac’s linemates. Jaromir Jagr had a goal and three assists, and Ryane Clowe added a goal and two assists. Zajac also had an assist for the Devils, who are hoping a late-season rally can get them into the playoffs. New Jersey has seven games left.
Jacob Josefson scored the other Devils goal, and Cory Schneider stopped all 13 Florida shots he faced after replacing Martin Brodeur in the second period when New Jersey’s lead was cut to 4-3.
Brodeur stopped only six of nine shots, but was credited with the win.
Dmitry Kulikov, Brad Boyes and Brandon Pirri scored for Florida, which lost for the sixth time in seven games. Ellis faced 32 shots, including 18 in the first period.
The Devils started as if they were carrying a grudge from their last meeting in Florida, when they blew a 3-1 lead and lost 5-3 on three third-period goals. That led to losses in four of five games.
Zajac got the Devils going in this one right after the opening faceoff. Defenseman Mark Fayne took a shot from the point, and Zajac put in the rebound after Jagr touched it. The Devils record for fastest goal is 8 seconds by Kirk Muller and Alexander Semak.
Jagr made it 2-0 with a snap shot from the right circle for his 24th goal of the season and 705th of his career. His three assists gave him 1,047, two behind Gordie Howe for eighth in NHL history.
The blowout seemed on a little more than two minutes later when Zajac scored on a power play.
Things got worse for the Panthers when captain Ed Jovanovski was given a four-minute roughing penalty for taking out his frustration on Ryan Carter with 4:14 left in the period.
However, that woke up the Panthers woke up. Kulikov scored a short-handed goal on a nice setup by Nick Bjugstad at 17:22.
Boyes cut the deficit to 3-2 early in the second by outfighting Fayne along the boards and beating Brodeur with a top-shelf backhander from the right circle.
Clowe restored the two-goal lead a little more than two minutes later by converting Zajac’s pass, but Pirri — standing high in the slot– deflected a shot by Dylan Olsen past a startled Brodeur to make it 4-3.
Devils coach Pete DeBoer then pulled Brodeur — who seemed blameless on the goals — in favor of Schneider. He stopped eight shots the rest of the period, including a power-play breakaway by Scottie Upshall.
Jacobson restored the Devils’ two goal lead with a short-handed goal at 4:02, and Zajac capped his big night with his 16th of the season.
NOTES: This is the Panthers’ final road trip of the season. They will play the New York Islanders on Tuesday and then return home for their final five games. … Florida G Roberto Luongo missed his second straight game because of an upper-body injury. … Devils rookie D Jon Merrill sat out after being hit in the cheek with a puck on Saturday. Adam Larsson was recalled from Albany (AHL) to replace him. Defensemen Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov sat out with lower-body injuries.
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