Martin Brodeur returned to the crease Thursday for the New Jersey Devils and immediately began helping the team in ways they couldn't have imagined.
The Devils hope Brodeur can get them a second straight win when New Jersey hosts the Florida Panthers in Saturday's battle at Prudential Center.
New Jersey's franchise goaltender was credited with the third goal of his career and also posted 17 saves to help the Devils earn an important 4-1 win at Carolina.
Brodeur, who had missed the last 13 games due to back soreness, staked New Jersey to a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal less than four minutes into the first period. The goaltender didn't actually shoot the puck in but he was the last New Jersey player to touch it before Jordan Staal scored on his own net.
Brodeur also stopped 17-of-18 shots in the win and lost his shutout bid, and a shot at the game-winning goal, when Jeff Skinner scored with 8:33 left in regulation.
The rare goal came with the Hurricanes shorthanded less than four minutes into the contest. Skinner raced in on a breakaway and was hooked by New Jersey defenseman Marek Zidlicky before getting off a shot that Brodeur sticked away into the right corner. Ellis then left the Carolina net on the delayed penalty call, but Jordan Staal's feed to the left point missed the mark and banked off the boards before trickling the length of the ice into the vacated net to give New Jersey a 1-0 lead at the 3:54 mark.
"It was definitely nice to contribute somehow," Brodeur joked of his goal. "We haven't gotten many breaks as of late so definitely it was a welcomed one."
Adam Henrique, Peter Harrold and Andrei Loktionov also scored for the Devils, who snapped a three-game slide and moved two points ahead of Carolina for the seventh seed in the East. New Jersey was 3-8-2 in Brodeur's absence and the club is certainly happy to have the future Hall of Famer back for the stretch run.
Although another goal is highly unlikely, Brodeur will get the start again on Saturday. The 40-year-old is 37-16-1 with seven ties in 61 career games against the Panthers.
The Devils, who are 9-5-2 as the host this season, will try to halt a two-game home losing streak on Saturday.
Florida, meanwhile, is last in the Eastern Conference with just 24 points but the club has a chance to win three straight on Saturday for the first time this season.
The Panthers had lost six straight (0-5-1) before beginning a five-game road trip Tuesday with a 4-1 win at Carolina. Florida moved to 2-0 on the swing with Thursday's 3-1 decision against the New York Rangers.
Jacob Markstrom made 44 saves in a sensational performance between the pipes on Thursday, leading the way in the victory over the Rangers. Markstrom really shined in the third period, stopping 17-of-18 shots over the final 20 minutes.
"I felt really good from the start to the finish," said Markstrom. "It was a good game for us and a good win."
Brian Campbell had a power-play goal in the first period and Scottie Upshall scored in the second for Florida, with Tomas Kopecky adding an empty-netter near the end.
For the Panthers, it marked the first time they've won back-to-back outings since beating Winnipeg and Buffalo on Jan. 31 and Feb. 3, respectively.
Florida, which is 5-8-1 as the road team, will close its current trek with games against the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Friday's meeting between the Devils and Panthers is the first encounter between the clubs since New Jersey won Game 7 of last year's opening-round playoff series in Florida. The Devils earned a double-overtime victory in that decisive contest before making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they were ousted by Los Angeles in six games.
The Devils have won four of the last seven regular-season games in this series.