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Winnipeg Jets' Mark Stuart celebrates his game winning goal against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, December 3, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade (FRED GREENSLADE)
Winnipeg Jets' Mark Stuart celebrates his game winning goal against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, December 3, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade (FRED GREENSLADE)

Jets cash in against road-weary Devils Add to ...

Byfuglien nearly gave the Jets the lead when he took another one of his long drives and hit the cross bar halfway through the third period.

The Jets finally went ahead when Stuart drifted into the New Jersey zone and lobbed the puck at the net. Somehow it went in, just as Kane was standing out front jabbing at Hedberg’s pads. The goal came while both sides were playing with four men because of offsetting penalties.

“Honestly I kind of ran out of room and just had to throw it at the net and got a nice bounce,” Stuart said.

Kane added that he wasn’t sure how the puck went in. He saw it briefly as he battled for it under Hedberg’s pad. The goal was reviewed by the referees, for an unclear reason, but it stood up. Kane added an empty net goal to seal the 4-2 win.

For Kane the two-goal night boosted his total to 14 this year. He has become a completely different player from the start of the season when he couldn’t score and looked outplayed many nights. Now he is crashing to the net constantly and regularly leads Jet rushes up the ice.

“I feel good,” he said after Saturday’s game. “I feel stronger.”

Noel credited Kane’s new-found confidence for his improved play.

“When you play like that, you come to the rink expecting to score and for example when you lack confidence you come to the rink hoping to score,” Noel said. “And as simple as that sounds that’s pretty much how it works, it’s really between your ears.”

For the Devils it was their fourth straight loss and it came despite a strong effort.

“We played hard,” DeBoer said afterward. “I'm not going to chalk it up to bounces or anything else. It was a hard-fought game at ice level both ways. I liked the way we played for a third [game]in four [nights]and on back-to-back nights.”

Both teams moved to .500, but in the wrong way. The Devils dropped to 12-12-1, with 25 points. Winnipeg jumped to 11-11-4 with 26 points. Winnipeg not only moved ahead of New Jersey in the Eastern Conference standings but is also third in the Southeast Division behind Florida and Washington.

“It’s good to see when you are holding on to those one goal leads in the third period, it shows that your team is learning how to win,” said Stuart. “If you look at the best teams in the league they get up by one or two goals they shut the door and that’s it.”

Noel wondered before the game about the real quality of his team. Were the Jets as good as they played Thursday in beating Phoenix or as bad as they were in losing to Ottawa two days earlier? “We had a good game last game, is this what we are?” he asked during a press conference Saturday morning.

He was asked for an assessment after the game.

“For me I really like what I see. They are a good group,” he said. “They get along, they play hard for each other, they’re checking, they’re doing the things necessary for us to win. I’m happy and I think they are happy and we’re all happy. You’re happy, everybody is happy.”

Whither Brodeur?

One of the big questions surrounding New Jersey has been the play of Brodeur. The all-star goalie, a veteran of 18 years in the NHL, is not having a great season. He has missed six games because of injury and has shared duties with Hedberg in seven others. And his save percentage is .879, ranking him 38th among NHL goalies.

Worse for Brodeur, he was pulled early Friday in Minneapolis after letting in three quick goals, leading the Devils to a 4-2 loss to Minnesota.

“It has been a tough year for me,” Brodeur, 39, said before Saturday’s game. “I think I’ve had some good stretches and lately -- especially the last two games -- a little tougher. I haven’t played a lot. ... I’m not really used to that. It’s a learning process for me not to play as much. I’m just kind of battling with it right now.”

He said the injury had slowed him down somewhat. “I go out there and try to do my best and it hasn’t been working out last two game.”

As for getting pulled Friday after just eight minutes into the game, the second-fastest yank in his career, Brodeur appeared to take it in stride. “It happened quick, three goals on four shots or so and I got pulled. These things happen. It happened before and hopefully, I don’t have many years left so it won’t happen again but you never know.”

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