NEWARK, N.J. -- The Boston Bruins had one goal in mind prior to faceoff on Wednesday against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center -- stake claim to first place in the Northeast Division.
The Bruins (26-9-4, 56 points) received a pair of goals from Gregory Campbell, 24 saves from backup goalie Anton Khudobin, and withstood a furious late rally, on the way to a 5-4 victory that moved them one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens and into sole possession of first place in the Northeast for the first time since March 26.
"It's certainly nice to be there in first place and that was certainly a little bit of motivation," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We accomplished our goal of being there. That's not to say we played a great game, but we accomplished our goal."
Boston has won 11 of the past 12 games against New Jersey, including all three matches this season to extend their winning streak to seven over the past two seasons. The Devils last defeated the Bruins on April 10, 2011.
"It's about getting goals, getting points … it's a good feeling," Campbell said. "I try to work hard every game whether I'm on the scoreboard or not, but I've had a few chances throughout the year and I was happy [Wednesday] that they went in."
New Jersey's Matt D'Agostini scored his first goal for the Devils with 37 seconds remaining in the third period and goalie Martin Brodeur pulled for the extra attacker to pull his team within 5-4, but the Bruins hung on in the end. The Bruins also received goals from Daniel Paille, Zdeno Chara and Tyler Seguin. Brodeur, who last celebrated a victory against Boston on March 15, 2010, finished with 13 saves.
The Devils suffered their eighth straight defeat (0-4-4) to equal the second longest losing skid in team history, which was done five times. New Jersey's longest losing streak is 10 games, from Oct. 14 to Nov. 4, 1983, which was in its second season in the Garden State.
"We can't ignore what's going on [in the standings], but have to be proactive about the situation and be as positive as can in a negative atmosphere, and that's not easy," Brodeur said. "The only thing to solve the issues we're having right now is winning."
Boston denied the Devils on eight power-play opportunities, including a pair of two-man advantages in the first period when the visitors built a 3-0 lead on a pair of goals by Campbell and one by Paille in the opening 8:12 of the first.
"I have no idea [what happened in the first] and I'm a little speechless," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "We came out, created some power-play opportunities … and you guys saw what happened. They scored two shorthanded goals. It can't happen."
Julien was glad to see his team's top-rated penalty-kill come through once again.
"Not only did they kill, but they scored a couple of shorthanded goals and that really set the tone for us," Julien said. "You always like to play with the lead, and we got a pretty good lead there in the first."
Boston broke a string of three unanswered goals by New Jersey 7:33 into the third to open a 5-3 edge when Seguin took a pass from a hustling Paille in front of Brodeur and knocked home his 13th of the season with a tip in front. Paille sped past Devils defenseman Mark Fayne behind the cage before dishing to Seguin.
The Devils scored their third straight goal when defenseman Andy Greene wristed a shot from the left circle that beat Khudobin 5:58 into the third and sent the hometown faithful among the crowd of 17,625 into a frenzy. Adam Henrique made the play possible when he kicked the puck onto his stick in the right circle before sending a pass to Greene, who found open space on the ice to score his fourth of the season.
After spotting Boston a 4-0 lead, New Jersey pulled to within two in the second period. Patrik Elias put the Devils on the board at 12:07 when he deflected a shot off the stick of Steve Sullivan that beat Khudobin high to the long side. The goal by Elias was his first in eight games.
New Jersey pared the deficit to 4-2 on a shorthanded goal. Travis Zajac broke in on a semi-breakaway with Milan Lucic shoving from behind before lining a shot between Khudobin's pads at 18:12.
Lucic and Johnny Boychuk appeared to be crossed on the play, allowing Zajac to split the two and break in on Khudobin, who was making his first career start against the Devils.
The goal came 3:01 after Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for an elbow to the head of Boston's Brad Marchand along the boards in the New Jersey end. Marchand did not return to the game, and Volchenkov's absence left the Devils with four defensemen.
The Bruins opened a four-goal lead 3:06 into the second when Chara lumbered into to slot to poke in a rebound with his team on the power play. Jaromir Jagr skated into the left circle before dishing to David Krejci in the slot. Krejci jammed an attempt that Brodeur appeared to initially smother, but Chara extended his stick to loosen the puck over the goal line.
Prior to the Boston goal, Chara took a big slap shot that New Jersey captain Bryce Salvador blocked with this right hand at 2:59 of the second. Salvador suffered a wrist injury and did not return.
"We know we came out of this game a little lucky," Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "We did score a few goals, but we did give up quite a few after being up 4-0. It shouldn't be that close. For now, we have to take the positives and that's being No. 1 in our division. But we also know what to improve on. Everybody knows what to do and we just have to get better."
The Devils certainly didn't get off to the start they needed with their Stanley Cup Playoff hopes in jeopardy. Not only did they fail to capitalize on four power-play opportunities, including the pair of 5-on-3s, but the Bruins connected for two shorthanded goals and barely missed on a third when Boychuk's penalty shot with his team down a man was denied by Brodeur 3:58 into the game.
"We lost it in the first five or 10 minutes of the game," Elias said. "We had two 5-on-3 chances and I had good chances myself … three Grade-A opportunities and didn't bury and, all of a sudden, we found ourselves down three goals and that's the game."
Campbell gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead 1:10 into the game when he gained inside position in the slot before taking a pass from Jagr and backhanded an attempt past Brodeur. The Devils had a golden opportunity to at least pull even when Boychuk was sent to the box for tripping at 1:48 and Chara for delay of game at 2:21, giving the home team a two-man advantage for 1:27. Though the Devils had plenty of zone time, they couldn't generate a quality chance on Khudobin, and as Boychuk was exiting the box, he picked up the puck and skated in before getting hooked from behind by Marek Zidlicky to earn the penalty shot.
Seconds after Brodeur's big save, Seidenberg was whistled for an illegal check to the head at 4:14, giving New Jersey another two-man advantage for seven seconds. Thirty seconds after Chara's penalty expired and the Bruins still one man down, Paille took a feed from Krejci in the left circle and curled in on Brodeur before knocking his own rebound past the fallen goalie at 4:51.
The Bruins extended the lead to 3-0 on Campbell's second of the game off a deflection of a point blast by Ference at 8:12. Peverley made the play possible when he forced one of seven Devils' turnovers in the first despite the fact Boston was shorthanded with Nathan Horton in the box for holding.
"We know [Campbell] is capable of doing that," Julien said. "One thing about Soupy is he's always been good in front of the net, whether it's tipping pucks or whether it's finding loose pucks. That's one of his strengths. He was really smart tonight, he went to the front of the net. The second one was a tip and the first one [Jagr] just threw it at the net and he's right there to bang it in. Part of our game plan was to put pucks at the net, put pucks at [Brodeur's] feet and get our nose dirty around there."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mikemorrealeNHL