Ryan Malone apparently felt right at home in front of the net on Thursday night.
Unfortunately for him and the Tampa Bay Lightning, so did the New Jersey Devils.
Malone scored three times to record his fourth career hat trick, and Victor Hedman added two assists, but neither could prevent New Jersey from earning its second consecutive victory in a 6-4 win over the Lightning at the Prudential Center.
Trevor Smith also scored with eight seconds to go in regulation for Tampa Bay, which has now lost two straight after previously stringing together three consecutive victories.
New Jersey entered the game having scored only 11 goals in their previous eight contests, but turned things around rather quickly against Tampa Bay, receiving goals from six different players.
The offensive outburst marked the highest total for the Devils since Feb. 4 when it earned a 6-4 win in Philadelphia. It also marked the ninth time this season that the Lightning, who entered the game last in the league with a 3.38 goals-against average, have allowed six or more goals in a game.
Dainius Zubrus, Jacob Josefson and Ilya Kovalchuk each scored for the Devils, which completed a sweep of their two-game homestand. Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias each added two assists in the win.
New Jersey, sixth in the Eastern Conference with 44 wins and 94 points, also got goals from Marek Zidlicky, Alex Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson. They missed out on clinching a playoff berth when Washington beat Boston 3-2 in a shootout.
Martin Brodeur, making his fourth consecutive start, made 16 saves to earn his 28th victory of the season in net.
Malone opened the scoring to grab the Lightning a 1-0 lead late in the first after he slipped a shot just past the outstretched left pad of Brodeur with 44 seconds to go in the first.
“We worked a lot on getting pucks on net and the guys did a really good job to create chances,” Lightning assistant coach Martin Raymond said. “We felt like it could have been more than 1-0 after that first.”
Tampa Bay held a 9-8 shot advantage through the first 20 minutes, but then struggled to keep up with New Jersey’s relentless attack throughout the remainder of the game, as the Devils outshot the Lightning 30-11 in the final two periods.
After both teams combined for just a single goal in the opening frame, the clubs exploded for six tallies in the second period.
Zubrus tied the game 1-1 while shorthanded 3:07 into the middle frame after taking advantage of Steven Stamkos’ giveaway in his own offensive zone and beating Dwayne Roloson.
But Malone’s second of the night just 93 seconds later put the Lightning back ahead by one.
After Josefson tied it 2-2 at 6:54, Malone completed the hat trick midway through the period after battling for a loose puck around the crease and tucking it behind Brodeur’s skate.
“I just went to the net and did the best I could to get the body in front, get some traffic in there and get some bounces,” Malone said.
Malone’s hat trick was his first since Oct. 10, 2009 in a 5-2 triumph against Carolina, but the Lightning forward’s offensive solo effort proved to be less than inspiring.
Roloson allowed six goals on 34 shots, and was relieved in favor of backup Sebastien Caron early in the third period.
Prior to the switch in goal, however, New Jersey went on to score four unanswered times following Malone’s third tally, including twice throughout the remainder of the second period and an additional two times to open the third.
Kovalchuk made it 3-3 from in-close with 6:34 to go in the period, just 71 seconds before Zidlicky’s second goal of the season pulled the Devils ahead by one.
Ponikarovsky and Clarkson then exchanged goals to open the scoring in the final frame and give New Jersey a 6-3 lead, chasing Roloson from net at 6:05 of the third.
Caron, in his team debut, stopped all four shots faced on the night.