Brodeur posted his 119th career shutout and the Devils clinched a spot in the postseason with a 5-0 rout of the listless Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
"I didn't think it was going to bother me that much (last year, but) ... I was like, 'Wow, I'm really missing this atmosphere,' " Brodeur said. "This year, it was an important thing for me to go out and try to get in the playoffs, to get back at it."
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 made 22 saves and moved one victory from having another NHL record all to himself. His next win will give him 14 seasons with at least 30 victories.
"Winning is what's important, and if you get a shutout, most of the time, you've got a win," Brodeur said. "It's good to bring up that number (119), kind of push the envelope for the next guy coming trying to reach it. It doesn't get old, regardless of how you get them."
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, and were playing 24 hours after an overtime loss to Winnipeg eliminated them from the postseason race.
"The emotional letdown of not making the playoffs hit us," coach Kirk Muller said. "It's easy to say we're going to go right to the end, but I think, if anything, it obviously showed that guys are disappointed and it affected our play tonight."
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 and improving to 9-4-1 in its last 13 games.
"It's step one," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said. "Now that we're in, you obviously want to make some noise. That's where we go from here."
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.
The interference penalty was "a tough play. He drops the puck and I'm trying to be physical, I guess," Skinner said. "Probably not the best time to go after that guy."
He added that he couldn't discuss the unsportsmanlike penalty because "that's something that's going to get me in trouble."
Kovalchuk beat Boucher with a straightaway blast 1:44 into the second -- 6 seconds after Skinner's penalty expired -- for his team-leading 34th goal.
"You play teams like this, they want to mentally break you down," Muller said. "And I think as individuals, we've got a lot of young guys and they've got to learn that this league is hard. People are going to press your buttons. They're going to push you to the limit in every way you can, and it's discipline that's going to be the key that gets you out of it."
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.
"Regardless of what kind of pushback we got from the Hurricanes, I thought we executed real well, what we needed to do to be dominant in the game," Brodeur said. "We haven't dominated a game the way we did today."
Kovalchuk's three-point night gave him 44 points in 30 career games in Raleigh. ... Carolina has given up the first goal in eight of its past 10 games. ... Two of the best players in Devils history were behind Carolina's bench. Muller and assistant John MacLean combined for 532 goals during their time on the ice for New Jersey.