NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils took a lot of grief considering his scored the first of his career-best three goals just 12 seconds into a crucial game against the Florida Panthers.
"He could have had a hat trick in the first 10 minutes, if he paid attention to the puck," quipped linemate Jaromir Jagr, who added a goal and three assists in a wild 6-3 victory over the Panthers on Monday night. "He missed the net twice.
"He should not have had to wait until the third period. He could have celebrated after 10 minutes. He likes it the hard way, I guess."
Veteran forward Dainius Zubrus yelled across the Devils locker room to Zajac that he probably should have had five goals. He then quickly pointed out that he once scored four in a game.
It was a rare fun night for the Devils, who are hoping a late-season rally can get them into the playoffs. New Jersey has seven games left.
"All we care about is wins at this point," said Zajac, who added an assist in matching his career high with four points. "The wingers were on it. They were getting me the puck. I think I have more chances this game than I ever had."
Besides right wing Jagr, Zajac's left wing Ryane Clowe added a goal and two assists before leaving the game in the third period with an undisclosed injury.
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 the hat trick by putting a rebound past Ellis at 9:37 of the third.
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. Devils coach Pete DeBoer didn't blame him.
"We needed a wake-up call, and I didn't feel a timeout would be enough of a jolt for us," he said.
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.
"I expected 60 minutes, and we obviously were not ready to play," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "The Zajac-Jagr line scored five of the six goals. I asked them to be aware of where they are on the ice and what was going on, and we turned pucks all over the ice and were not ready to play.
"Right from the beginning we put ourselves behind the 8 ball and it was 3-0. You're not going to win too many games that way against a team fighting for the playoffs."