Zajac has goal, 3 assists as Devils beat Senators

New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique, center, scores an open-net goal against the Ottawa Senators during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 6-3. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) It had been a long time between goals for New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac – 27 games to be exact.

Zajac broke out in a big way with a goal and three assists as the New Jersey Devils beat the Ottawa Senators 6-3 on Thursday night.

''It definitely helps the confidence,'' Zajac said. ''You got to stay hungry in those situations, and contribute again in the next game.''

Hunger was not an issue in the first period as the Devils scored five times.

Kyle Palmieri scored twice while Joseph Blandisi got his first NHL goal and chipped in two assists. Lee Stempniak had the final tally of the opening period as the Devils roared to a 5-0 lead.

''It was fun to watch,'' said Cory Schneider who stopped 29 shots for the Devils. ''We came ready to play. Coach (John Hynes) talked about what an important game this was. When we get off to good starts, we're a tough team to beat.''

Adam Henrique scored New Jersey's final goal into an empty net in the closing seconds.

Mika Zibanejad, Mike Hoffman and Cody Ceci scored for Ottawa, which had won two straight.

The game was a battle of teams vying for a playoff spot.

New Jersey started the night as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of Ottawa and Montreal.

The Devils responded to the challenge while the Senators came out flat.

''We obviously can't start a game like that,'' Ceci said. ''We dug ourselves a huge hole. We tried to play catch up the whole game, everyone's down. We can't do that again. The league's too good for that.''

When the ice chips settled, New Jersey had a 5-0 lead after one period. It was the Devils' biggest outburst in a period this season.

Even the Devils' dormant power play – without a goal in the previous eight games – came alive.

Blandisi started it with a power-play tally at 6:53. The rookie tipped a point shot from David Schlemko past Craig Anderson.

''We've been clicking, creating chances down low but we hadn't found a way to put it in,'' Blandisi said. ''We just stuck with it and pucks were going in tonight.''

Palmieri jammed home his own rebound only 64 seconds later to make it 2-0.

Palmieri connected again, this time on the power play, on a drive from the left circle with 8:37 left. It was his 20th this season, the first time the New Jersey native reached that plateau.

Zajac ended his goal-scoring drought, slamming home a setup from Blandisi with 6:04 to go to push the lead to 4-0, and chase Anderson to the bench after facing only seven shots.

Stempniak closed out the first-period scoring on a semi-breakaway, beating Andrew Hammond with 2:36 left.

The line of Blandisi, Zajac and Palmieri combined for 10 points as the Devils skated off to a standing ovation from the fans at the Prudential Center after the opening 20 minutes.

With the damage already done, the Senators played much better in the second period, getting the goal from Zibanejad at 7:30 while outshooting the Devils 13-3.

Momentum kept flowing Ottawa's way in the third period. The Senators kept pressing and the Devils got sloppy, penalized three times in period.

Hoffman got his team-leading 21st goal with 3:55 remaining on the power play to cut the Devils lead to 5-2.

Then it became a contest when Ceci connected with 2:46 left to trim the Devils lead to two.

''We fought back and made it closer than they thought it would be, but it was too late,'' Ceci said.

Henrique ended hopes for an improbable comeback with the empty netter.

''Listen, we haven't been in that situation before where we've been up by that many,'' Zajac said. ''We'll learn from it. We'll get better.''

NOTES: Ottawa concluded a season-high five-game road trip. … This was New Jersey's final home game before the All-Star break. … The Devils activated C Jacob Josefson, sidelined since Dec. 26 with a foot injury. … New Jersey's scratches were LW Stefan Matteau, LW Bobby Farnham and C Tyler Kennedy. … Ottawa scratched D Marc Methot, C Kyle Turris and LW Matt Puempel. … Turris had played in 307 consecutive games, second highest streak in club history. Chris Phillips holds the mark with 311 straight appearances. … The four-point period by Zajac was the first by a Devil since Ilya Kovalchuk against Columbus on March 23, 2010. Zajac also joined Patrik Elias (2000) as the only Devils to notch four points in an opening period.