EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Zach Parise is the future of the New Jersey Devils. Fortunately for Martin Brodeur and company, the future is now. Parise, a 22-year-old who had a team-high 31 goals this season, scored two goals, including the winner early in the third period, leading the Devils to a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in their opening playoff game Thursday night.
New Jersey Devils' Patrik Elias, of the Czech Republic, celebrates his goal in the first period of an NHL first-round hockey playoff game against the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night, April 12, 2007, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
"It was just a preview of what the Devils have with this kid," said New Jersey center Scott Gomez, who set up New Jersey's other three goals. "He's got the flair for the big time. He just keeps getting better. He's always soaking up information. He's one of the hardest workers and he likes the spotlight. He's a special one."
Parise got the Devils going early by scoring off a turnover, and he got the winner working a give-and-go with Jamie Langenbrunner just 63 seconds after Vincent Lecavalier tied the score at 3 with his second goal.
"There was no panic on the bench," Parise said. "That shows the experience we have on the bench and in the dressing room. We knew we had to respond. That's a tough team to keep off the board."
Martin Brodeur, playing in his 154th career playoff game, stopped a couple of chances by Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis with about nine minutes to go to preserve the lead. Then Lightning goaltender Johan Holmqvist, in his first playoff game, made the last big mistake to seal the Devils' win.
Holmqvist stopped a slap shot by Brian Gionta and instead of freezing the puck, he tried to move it. Patrik Elias intercepted, gave it to Gomez, who found Gionta for an easy goal with 1:22 to play.
"When Gomer's line is going, not a lot of people can stop them," Parise said. "We've got the ability to score goals. At times this year, we went through some cold spells. We can definitely put them in."
Elias and defenseman Brian Rafalski also scored for New Jersey, while Brodeur, who set a single-season record with 48 wins, looked ordinary in making 23 saves in the game determined by power plays and turnovers.
Martin St. Louis had the other goal for Tampa Bay.
Lightning coach John Tortorella was encouraged looking toward Game 2 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference matchup, which will be played Saturday night at the Continental Airlines Arena.
"I think we match up well against them," Tortorella said. "We scored three goals on Brodeur in the first game of the series. We scored a couple on their checking line, I thought we did a lot of good things. I thought we did a lot right tonight."
The Devils converted on two of their three power-play chances and got both of Parise's goals and Gionta's on Lightning turnovers. Tampa Bay was 1-for-6 on the power play, with St. Louis converting with a two-man advantage.
Lecavalier, who had a league-leading 52 goals, game the Lightning back in the game after falling behind 3-1. He stole a pass by Devils defenseman Colin White behind the net and stuffed a shot past Brodeur midway through the second period. He tied the game at 2:51 of the third period with a slap shot from the right circle.
A little more than a minute later, Parise and Langenbrunner forced a turnover in center ice. Parise gave the puck to Langenbrunner and took a return pass, firing a shot off the shoulder of Holmqvist into the net.
A turnover and a power-play goal in the first period staked the Devils to a 2-0 lead and forced the Lightning to play catch-up all night.
Tampa Bay center Eric Perrin made a back pass in his own zone to Parise, who turned and ripped a shot past Holmqvist from the right circle.
Elias was lucky on his power-play goal. Taking a pass from Gomez, his shot deflected off the stick of Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt and went over Holmqvist's shoulder.
With the Devils playing two men short, St. Louis beat Brodeur with a shot from above the circle.
Lecavalier picked up a tripping penalty early in the second period and Rafalski restored the Devils' two-goal lead with a shot from the right point.
Lecavalier then rallied the Lightning, but Tampa Bay's mistakes cost it the game.
Notes:@ Devils D Richard Matvichuk, who played in his first game of the season Sunday, was scratched along with F Cam Janssen. ...The Lightning had a 5-1 record at the Meadowlands before Thursday's game, including two wins in as many games this season. ...The game drew 14,495. Capacity is 19,040. The Devils have not sold out a game this season. ... Elias was originally credited with the third New Jersey goal because it seemed to hit off his skate, but it was changed to Rafalski.