NEWARK, N.J. - Not only are the New Jersey Devils winning almost every game, they starting to get the breaks, too.
Take a look at their 4-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night. New Jersey had two major pieces of good fortune in winning for the 23rd time in 28 games (23-3-2) and moving above the .500 mark (33-32-4) for the first time this season.
A goal that got them back into the game late in the first period went in off the skate of an Atlanta defenceman and then an apparent tying goal by the Thrashers late in the third was waved off by the officials for a high stick.
"It's pretty amazing what we've accomplished," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who preserved the win with two great saves in the final minute. "We've got ourselves in a fun situation that every game counts now. Thirty, 40 games ago, it was how are we going to play the second half? Are we just going to kill time to finish the season? We definitely are a long way from where we want to be, but it's fun."
Coupled with eighth-place Buffalo's 1-0 loss to Carolina, the Devils are now in 10th place, although they are tied on 70 points Toronto and Atlanta. They are six points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand and 13 games to go.
On Jan. 8, they were the worst team in the conference, 27 points out of playoff spot.
"It's pretty unbelievable how we're winning these games," centre Travis Zajac said. "At the same time, this is what was expected of us, to compete at a high level. Right now we're coming out ahead and that's the way it has to be for the rest of the season if we still want to make the playoffs."
The Devils didn't start the game looking as if they wanted to be in the playoffs.
Atlanta's Tim Stapleton and Chris Thorburn scored in a 65-second span in the first period for a 2-0 lead, and for a couple of minutes it looked like New Jersey was headed for a suddenly rare loss.
That's when luck entered the picture.
Zajac deflected a shot by defenceman Mark Fayne with just over a minute left in the period and it went past Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec after deflecting off the skate of defenceman Ron Hainsey.
It woke the Devils up. Patrik Elias tied the game early in the second period on an odd-man rush and Jacob Josefson got the game winner early in the third period after being set up by fellow Swedish rookie Mattias Tedenby.
Brodeur finished with 18 saves and preserved the lead stopping a break-in by Blake Wheeler and a shot in close by Bryan Little in the final minute.
The Devils also got the benefit of having an apparent tying goal by Evander Kane waved off with 37.4 seconds remaining because of a high stick.
Kane, who set up Stapleton's goal with a great no-look pass, felt the goal was good.
"I looked at it on the replay and the way I felt I made contact I felt it was in the accepted area," he said. "They made the call and it is what it is."
Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay was disappointed in the call.
"It was so close," he said. "You can't wave that off at this time of the year. When you look at it from some of those views, it was so damn close. I don't know you can be that emphatic about the call and now the league doesn't want to overrule you."
Brodeur was not even sure, noting he was looking at the puck.
"I really didn't pay attention to how high the shot was," Brodeur said. "They called it right away. That's a good sign. I know it was definitely miss the net high. There was no doubt about that. But where he touched it, over or below that line, we'll take the call."
Kovalchuk iced the game with an empty-net goal with 16.6 seconds to play.
Josefson's game winner was his second NHL goal and his second in two games. Tedenby chased down a pass by Devils defenceman Colin White near the Thrashers' goal line. After bumping with a Thrashers' defenceman, he found Josefson above the left circle and Josefson wristed a shot past Pavelec.
NOTES: Radek Dvorak got an assist on Thorburn's goal, his first point in seven games as a Thrasher. ... Thorburn wore a face guard to protect his lip, which was cut Saturday against Philadelphia. ... Atlanta recalled D Noah Welch from Chicago (AHL)... The Devils won the season series 3-1.