By TOM CANAVAN
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — NEWARK, N.J. — Facing the prospect of their first seven-game slide since 1986, Devils coach Peter DeBoer talked about character and perseverance following the team’s morning skate for their game with the Buffalo Sabres.
New Jersey showed it had both qualities Thursday night, rallying from a late two-goal deficit and getting shootout goals from David Clarkson and Patrik Elias in posting a 3-2 over the Sabres and snapping an 0-5-1 slide.
“I’m glad we stuck with it and got the goals,” said Elias, whose first word to the media was ‘finally.’
“We just had to keep working through this. It was a huge win, obviously. After losing six games in a row, we didn’t know. We had three or four of those games we could have won and didn’t find a way. Hopefully, this will turn us around and jump-start us a little.”
For 53 minutes, the Devils seemed well on the road to a seventh straight loss. They fell behind 2-0 midway through the third period, and the way Sabres starting goaltender Jhonas Enroth was playing, things didn’t look promising.
“I think we were due for a bounce,” said DeBoer, who felt his team never deviated from the game plan even after falling behind by two goals. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve been working here for a week or two and played some pretty good hockey and haven’t got it (a bounce), and we got it tonight.”
Adam Henrique started the comeback with a goal a little less than a minute after Buffalo defenseman Christian Erhoff was called for holding . Henrique’s initial shot was blocked by defenseman Mike Weber. The shot stunned Weber and Henrique was able to get the loose puck and fire it past Enroth from the left circle.
Elias’ tying goal seemed a little soft. Clarkson took a long shot from the left point seconds after embattled Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg left for a sixth skater. Enroth kicked out a long rebound and Elias had a wide-open net with 66 seconds to play in regulation.
Enroth lay prone on the ice after the play and had to be helped to the bench, dragging his right leg. Ryan Miller, who was getting his first night off after 14 straight starts, replaced him.
Sabres coach Ron Rolston disclosed after the game that Enroth was cramping the entire third period.
“I like what he did,” Rolston said. “He made some huge saves for us. I know he’s disappointed he couldn’t finish. He’ll be back.
“We’re disappointed we couldn’t get the win for him. The guys were working. There was a lot of sacrifice out there. I like the way our team is competing right now.”
The overtime was exciting, with Miller stopping Devils defenseman Andy Greene in close with about a minute to go in the five-minute session and Pominville blasting a shot off the right post seconds later.
After Ilya Kovalchuk and Thomas Vanek missed on the first two shootout attempts, Clarkson made a nifty move to beat Miller with a backhander.
Pominville seemed to miss the net on the Sabres’ second try and Elias deked Miller out of position for a tap-in game winner.
“Tonight I got some breaks,” said Hedberg, who lost a shootout to the Sabres less than a week ago. “They hit some posts and sometimes that’s the difference. We deserved to win. We played as hard as we can the last couple of games. We just didn’t get the goal we needed. Tonight we did.”
The Devils’ winless streak has coincided with Martin Brodeur being sidelined with a sore back. Hedberg had 23 saves in ending the slide.
“I think it was a perfect storm,’ DeBoer said. “We went through a week or 10 days where we didn’t get rewarded for some of our work. We didn’t get some bounces or help ourselves and it snowballed on us. Hopefully, that’s the end of it and we can move this in a positive direction.”
Vanek and rookie Brian Flynn staked Buffalo to a 2-0 lead, with Vanek tallying his team-high 13th goal of the season on a second-period power play, and Flynn getting the first of his career midway through the third period.
Vanek staked the Sabres to a 1-0 lead in the second period, converting a nice pass from Tyler Ennis on a power play.
Flynn got his first midway through the third period when defenseman Andrej Sekera’s shot was blocked and went directly to the rookie playing in only his fourth game.
Enroth was outstanding in making his first start since Feb. 5. The 24-year-old who was only appearing in his fourth game this season was spectacular for the opening 40 minutes, stopping all 19 shots.
His best saves in the opening period were back-to-back stops on Henrique from low in the left circle and then a quick pad stop on Elias’ uncontested rebound from point-blank range.
While Hedberg faced just 14 shots in the first two periods, he was back in form after a bad outing in a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday — a game in which he was taken out after giving up three goals on 11 shots in 33 minutes.
The 39-year-old goaltender, who has started the last seven games with Martin Brodeur sidelined with a sore back, got a little lucky early when Cody Hodgson clanged one off the crossbar.
Hedberg, however, made a nice pad save on John Scott on a first-period counterattack, and a good skate save on Hodgson.
Enroth came up with his second great stop on a rebound attempt when he slid across the crease to stop Clarkson after making the initial save on Elias.
NOTES: The Devils made a number of lineup changes. Defensemen Henrik Tallinder (lower body) and Adam Larsson were scratched and Peter Harrold and Anton Volchenkov replaced them. It was Harrold’s second game this season, while Volchenkov had been a healthy scratch for four straight. ... RW Tom Kostopoulos made his Devils debut after being claimed on waived from Pittsburgh. Sabres RW Patrick Kaleta served the second game in his 5-game suspension for boarding Rangers C Brad Richards. ... Buffalo C Jochen Hecht was scratched for the first time this season. ... Enroth was looking for his first win since November 2011 (0-10-3).