AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists, Martin Brodeur made 22 saves in his third shutout of the season and the New Jersey Devils clinched a playoff berth by routing the Carolina Hurricanes 5-0 on Saturday night.
Petr Sykora added a goal and an assist for the Devils. David Clarkson, Ryan Carter and Zach Parise also scored, and Patrik Elias had two assists.
New Jersey scored three goals in a 3:50 span and had no trouble after that while wrapping up a return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
Brodeur's 119th career shutout moved him one victory from another NHL record. His next win will give him 14 seasons with at least 30 victories.
Brian Boucher stopped 26 shots in his second appearance after missing 43 games because of a groin injury. The Hurricanes have lost four of five.
The Devils entered needing just one point in their final four games _ or for Washington to miss out on a point _ to sew up their 20th playoff berth in 22 seasons, and had an easy time earning it against a Hurricanes team playing 24 hours after an overtime loss to Winnipeg mathematically eliminated it from the race. New Jersey improved to 9-4-1 in its last 13 games.
This one was decided in the final minute of the first period with a sequence that helped put New Jersey up 2-0 early in the second.
While skating in on Brodeur, Carolina's Jeff Skinner was taken down by Anton Volchenkov and the Carolina teenager responded a few seconds later by drilling Volchenkov near the boards, drawing an interference minor with 42.4 seconds left.
Clarkson scored on a one-timer from the slot with 21.5 seconds to go. On his way out of the penalty box, Skinner was seen saying something to an official _ and was promptly sent back in for 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Kovalchuk then beat Boucher with a straightaway blast 1:44 into the second _ 6 seconds after Skinner's penalty expired _ for his team-leading 34th goal.
Things got out of hand 1:44 later, when Carter put the Devils' next shot past the Carolina goalie on a 2-on-1. Sykora pushed it to 4-0 when he scored off a faceoff late in the second. By the time Parise scored 1:15 into the third, the only question was whether Brodeur would blank the Hurricanes for the ninth time in his career.
NOTES: Carolina has given up the first goal in eight of its last 10 games. ... Two of the best players in Devils history were behind Carolina's bench. Coach Kirk Muller and assistant John MacLean combined for 532 goals during their time on the ice for New Jersey.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)