ATLANTA (AP) -- Kevin Constantine was uneasy watching the Atlanta Thrashers keep the score close Friday night. The New Jersey coach knew his Devils were teetering too close to the edge.
"It's dangerous when you play a team that's out of the playoffs, lowest wins in the league and hasn't been playing well lately," Constantine said. "You see that and you try to avoid thinking that it's going to be easy, but you still don't play with
the fear that you would with a better team."
The Devils moved nine games over .500 for the first time this
season and have 87 points, one less than the sixth-place New York
Islanders in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey, a winner of two
straight and three of four, improved to 10-3-0-1 in its last 14 games.
"We need a fraction more determination," Holik said. "We have opportunities, but they just get away from us. We're close."
Nieuwendyk's 25th goal -- and his second since he and Jamie Langenbrunner were acquired from Dallas on March 19 -- made it 2-0
on a breakaway 17:56 into the second. Langenbrunner's long pass
found Nieuwendyk in front of the crease, and after Hnilicka stopped
an attempt under his legs, Nieuwendyk took the short rebound and
wrapped a shot around the goalie's stick side.
New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur, who faced only 15 shots, improved to 35-26-9. Brodeur's victory broke a second-place tie with Boston's Byron Dafoe and San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov for wins this season and made him the only goalie in NHL history with six straight seasons of at least 35 wins.
"It's unbelievable to play a team with lots of young guys that
play hard but not be able to be dominant," Brodeur said. "That's
not something we were looking for today, but we got the win, and
right now we can't complain about that."
Brodeur saved all but Yuri Butsayev's goal 9:15 into the second.
Butsayev took Patrick Stefan's pass from the back boards and fired
the puck from the bottom of the slot and across the crease to
surprise Brodeur on his glove side.
Hnilicka, after saving 33 of 35 shots, dropped to 13-32-7 for
the Thrashers, who have lost five straight. Atlanta has just two
wins in its last 17 games.
"They're the best team in the Eastern Conference, but I'm proud
of our guys," Thrashers coach Curt Fraser said. "They really
stepped up tonight."
Atlanta was outshot in its season series with the Devils 138-79.
"I'm just a little disappointed the way the season went for
us," Hnilicka said. "I just need to remember the best stuff out
of this season and bring it next year."
Dany Heatley, who leads the Thrashers and all rookies with
62 points, had just one shot on goal for the second straight game.
... The Devils played their second straight game without team
assists leader Scott Gomez, who is expected to miss 6-to-8 weeks
after having surgery on his left hand Thursday. They were also
without Langenbrunner for a 17-minute span of the second and third
periods. He was assessed with three penalties, a 10-minute
misconduct, five for fighting and two for instigating. ... New
Jersey D Colin White returned after missing one game with a stiff
neck. ... The Devils are now 16-8-2-1 since Constantine debuted as
head coach on Jan. 29.