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Friday, January 6, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Devils 5, Panthers 2

By Katie Strang

Recap | Box score | Photos

What it means: Patrik Elias set up Ilya Kovalchuk's game-winner in the third period to finish with a goal and two assists in his 1,000th NHL game. The veteran forward boosted the Devils to a 5-2 victory over the Panthers -- a bounce-back win after Wednesday's embarrassing 6-1 loss to Boston.

The Devils, who entered Friday's game occupying the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, clawed their way back into the top eight with the two points earned against Florida. Both Kovalchuk and Devils captain Zach Parise added empty-net goals with less than a minute remaining in regulation.

Two for Kovalchuk: After snapping a 2-2 draw at 11:40 in the third with his goal off the rush, Kovalchuk tallied his 14th of the season with a shorthanded empty-netter with less than a minute to play.

Elias at 1,000: Elias became the 271st player in NHL history to play in his 1,000th game. The 35-year-old, who has spent 16 years with the Devils, is the third player in franchise history to play all 1,000 while wearing a Devils jersey. Elias received a standing ovation from the crowd at Prudential Center during the first period for his milestone achievement and tallied his 349th goal in the second. Elias one-timed the puck for his 14th goal of the season to give the Devils a 2-1 lead 36 seconds into play.

Henrique strikes first: Rookie center Adam Henrique gave the Devils a 1-0 lead at 3:53 of the first, backhanding a rebound past Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

Back from ban: After serving a one-game suspension Thursday for "inappropriate comments" directed at Montreal's P.K. Subban Saturday, Panthers forward Krys Barch returned to score his first goal of the season and tie the game art 2.

Devils debut: Called up from Albany (AHL) on Wednesday, center Steve Zalewski made his Devils debut Friday, centering a line between Tim Sestito and David Clarkson. Zalewski was summoned to replace an injured Zajac after an impressive stretch with the Devils' minor-league affiliate; the 25-year-old Utica, N.Y., native has nine goals and 12 assists for the Albany Devils.

Zajac, Volchenkov out: Both Travis Zajac (sore Achilles) and defenseman Anton Volchenkov (lower-body) sat out Friday's game, opting for an extra day of rest instead. Coach Pete DeBoer said he is unsure whether the pair will travel with the team to Pittsburgh for Saturday’s match against the Penguins.

Familiar face: Ex-Devil John Madden, who played for New Jersey from 1998-2009, made his season debut for the Panthers against his former team. The 38-year-old inked a one-year with Florida this week.

Up Next: Devils at Penguins, 7 p.m. Saturday.