MONTREAL – If Tuesday night’s tilt was Martin Brodeur’s swan song in La Belle Province, the veteran netminder certainly made it count.
Giving up just one goal on 30 shots, Brodeur backstopped the New Jersey Devils to a 4-1 win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, picking up his 45th career victory against his hometown team in the process.
On a night when Michel Therrien’s troops threw everything they could in the three-time Stanley Cup champion’s direction, lighting the lamp against the perennial All-Star proved difficult to say the least. That's what eventually allowed the Devils to avoid the season-sweep at the hands of the Habs, and enabled them to pick up a valuable two points in their quest to climb back into playoff contention in the Eastern conference.
“We started the game off the right way, but Martin Brodeur was the difference in this game. We went up against a legend, and he kept his team in this game,” offered the Habs bench boss, whose squad outshot the Devils by a 30-19 margin, but surrendered four unanswered goals, including an empty-netter, after Max Pacioretty opened the scoring at the seven-minute mark of the first period with his team-leading 20th goal of the season.
While the final scoreline didn’t yield the result the Canadiens were looking for following their all-out effort against the Chicago Blackhawks last Saturday night, Therrien lauded his team’s performance versus one of the stingiest groups the NHL has to offer.
“A team like New Jersey is very strong when it comes to puck possession and they don’t give up a lot of scoring chances. What I liked tonight is that we took a lot of shots on goal and we had good scoring chances, something that’s pretty rare against a team like that,” added Therrien, referencing the fact that Peter DeBoer’s contingent concedes the least amount of shots against per game and also ranks in the top-5 in goals against per game, too. “We didn’t play a bad game, but the difference tonight in this game was simple. It was Martin Brodeur.”
Being deprived of David Desharnais’ services didn’t help the Habs’ cause either. The 27-year-old centerman was a late scratch after coming down with the flu, forcing the bleu-blanc-rouge to alter a lineup that had been firing on all cylinders days earlier against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Desharnais had been a thorn in the Devils’ side in two previous meetings in early December, racking up one goal, three points and a shootout-winner during a home-and-home set.
Like his head coach, however, captain Brian Gionta, who played alongside Brodeur for seven seasons in the Garden State, attributed the Canadiens’ 16th loss of the season to their inability to solve the four-time Vezina Trophy winner.
“He played well. I don’t think we challenged him enough with second and third scoring opportunities,” underlined Gionta, who won a Stanley Cup with Brodeur during the 2002-03 campaign. “He’s obviously a great goalie. He can stop the first one, and we’ve got to find ways to try and get some traffic there and get those second and third opportunities.”
On this night, the Devils were intent on not letting that happen. When it did, however, Brendan Gallagher saw his second-period tally disallowed later by video review after the NHL sophomore was deemed to have inadvertently kicked the puck into the New Jersey net. That tally might have been the spark the Canadiens needed to overcome a two-goal deficit and get back into gear after Eric Gelinas and Adam Henrique beat Carey Price in quick succession early on in the frame to put the Devils up 3-1.
“It just seems like we had a lot of things going against us,” noted Lars Eller, who logged just over 19 minutes of ice time against New Jersey. “It certainly wasn’t our night.”
A certain future Hall-of-Famer - who appears to have plenty of hockey left in him - made sure of that.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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