Devils Power Past Canadiens
In the first of two huge tests this weekend, the Devils powered their way past the Canadiens (13-4-3) 5-3 at Continental Airlines Arena Friday night. On the strength of three power play goals, New Jersey won for the third time in four games.
With the game tied at three in the third period, the Devils took advantage of a Saku Koivu slash to take the lead. Already having connected twice, they caught a bit of luck when a Brian Rafalski rebound deflected off Brian Gionta's leg past Jose Theodore at 7:25. It was Gionta's team-leading 12th goal of the season. Rafalski and Sergei Brylin notched assists.
Before Gionta's winner, with Vlad Malakhov in the box, Martin Brodeur came up with his best save of the night, kicking out a Michael Ryder one-timer from the slot.
"That was a big one-timer he had," said Brodeur. "It made somewhat of a difference. From there, we were able to continue and it was a tie game and we took a lead after it."
"That changed the complexion of the game and that's why he's the best," added coach Larry Robinson.
Brodeur denied Ryder again late in the third to keep his team ahead. In his fourth straight start, he finished with 25 saves and improved to 24-8-3 in his 35th consecutive start (regular season and playoffs) against his hometown club.
With the Canadiens pressing late, the Devils D didn't break, allowing John Madden to score into an empty net with 24 seconds left.
"We stick with our gameplan against them," said Brylin.
Entering the contest against the Eastern Conference leading Habs, Robinson thought his team needed a sense of urgency. Taking a page from the coach, they came out flying in the opening period.
Much sharper on the puck and outshooting Montreal 17-8, the Devils jumped out to a two-goal lead thanks to their power play. With Montreal down two men for 1:41, Scott Gomez beat Theodore from the right circle with a shot off the far post to make it 1-0 8:08 in. It was Gomez' third goal in four games. Paul Martin and Rafalski picked up assists.
Gionta increased the lead to two 7:41 later when he redirected a Gomez shot from the left wing over Theodore. In arguably their best period this season, the Devs took it to the locker room.
But with all the momentum, it fell apart quickly in the second when Tomas Plekanec and Richard Zednik scored 42 seconds apart to tie the game. First, a Rafalski giveaway went right to Plekanec, who backhanded his second past Brodeur. Zednik followed when he walked in and beat Brodeur.
It would get worse 6:03 later when Vlad Malakhov allowed Saku Koivu to skate into the slot and beat Brodeur five-hole.
Asked about seeing Montreal score three straight, Gomez said, "It was like, here we go again kind of thing but the team responded well and everyone did the job."
"That's a great hockey club over there."
With nothing going in the period for the Devils, Viktor Kozlov changed that when his turnaround shot around the net beat Theodore gloveside, tying it 3-3 with 1:21 left.
"It was huge," said Gomez. "We didn't want to come into the locker room like that and especially for Kozzie. It was a great goal for him. When he wants to play, he's just awesome out there."
"It was important for us to tie the game at the end of the second," added Brylin.
It changed the game and helped give the Devils a big comeback victory heading into Ottawa Saturday.
"It's big," said Gionta. "Again, we had the lead and then were just down for a couple of minutes, a couple of bad mistakes but we stuck with it and stayed confident tonight, which we haven't done all year."
"We played pretty close to 60 minutes tonight."
"We played smarter tonight," noted Brylin. "And the effort was there games before but we didn't play as smart as we did today."
Notes: Jamie Langenbrunner sat out the game with an undisclosed illness. ... Alexander Mogilny (concussion) missed his third game in a row and won't play Saturday. ... Devils (9-8-2) travel to Ottawa (14-3-0) tonight at 7 PM.