NEWARK, N.J. – Jacques Lemaire went out a winner.
The 65-year-old Hall of Famer walked away from coaching for the third and probably final time, announcing his retirement Sunday after the New Jersey Devils beat the playoff-bound Boston Bruins 3-2 on third-period goals by Vladimir Zharkov and Alexander Urbom.
“It demands a lot,” Lemaire said of coaching. “I want to enjoy life. I want to enjoy the family.”
Lemaire clearly enjoyed his third stint with the Devils. He took over a team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in December and taught it how to win again. However, his age—he’ll be 66 in September—was working against him and his players knew his return was a long shot.
“We know what he did with this team in the second half, so it’s disappointing,” veteran forward Patrik Elias said. “We obviously played good hockey under him. He knows the game probably better than anyone. On the other hand, he’s been around hockey for so long, he’s got to enjoy his life, too.”
Lemaire had said before the game he would discuss his future after the final whistle, and he didn’t waste any time once the horn sounded. He shook hands with the referees and linesmen before leaving the bench and met with the media less than 10 minutes later.
Lemaire even teased reporters, talking about the game for a couple of seconds before discussing his future.
“The only regrets that I have is not making the playoffs,” Lemaire said after New Jersey missed the post-season for the first time since 1996.
The Devils made a valiant post-season run after Lemaire replaced John MacLean in late December, getting within six points of a playoff spot before fading in the final two weeks.
“I think the boys really learned a lot the last part of the season under Jacques,” goalie Martin Brodeur said. “We’ve got to be thankful that he came in and salvaged a little bit of the season.”
Lemaire decided to retire two days ago and told the team before the season finale. They went out and got him a final ‘W.’
Elias also scored for New Jersey, and Johan Hedberg made 24 saves.
Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly scored for the Bruins, and Tuukka Rask was outstanding in making 29 saves. Boston will meet Montreal in the opening round of the playoffs in what has become a more heated rivalry in recent months between the famed Original Six rivals.
“We’re going to close the book on the regular season and we’ve got a whole new season starting at the end of this week,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien, who said his team wasn’t very good on Sunday.
Zharkov, who has struggled to score despite numerous opportunities, beat Rask on a breakaway to snap a one-all tie four minutes into the Devils’ final period of the season. Defenceman Anssi Salmela sprung Zharkov with a quick outlet pass from the blue line, and the Russian beat Rask with a shot to the top corner for his second goal of the season.
Urbom, recalled from Albany of the American Hockey League after defenceman Jay Leach was hurt in Saturday’s loss to the New York Rangers, got his first NHL goal a little more than five minutes later. He came down from the left point, took a pass from fellow rookie Jacob Josefson, skated behind the net and scored on a wraparound.
Adam Henrique, who also was recalled from Albany, provided a screen at the edge of the crease that gave Urbom the room to score.
Elias gave the Devils the lead less than two minutes after the opening faceoff. Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk couldn’t control a fluttering puck behind the Boston net, and Brian Rolston got the puck and found Elias all alone for his 21st goal.
Peverley tied the game at 10:04 of the opening period, 6 seconds after a tripping penalty to Devils defenceman Andy Greene expired. Hedberg made a pad save on a blast from the right circle by Andrew Ference. The rebound tipped off Michael Ryder and went to Peverley for a shot into a wide-open net. It was his second goal in two games.
NOTES: The Bruins left captain Zdeno Chara and veteran Mark Recchi in Boston so they could get an extra day off before the series with Montreal. … The Canadiens won the season series 4-2. … Devils C David Steckel also was unable to play because of an injury, leading to the recall of Henrique. … New Jersey’s 38-39-5 record was its first sub .500 mark since 1990-91 (32-33-15). … The sellout crowd of 17,625, included at least 1,000 fans from the Quebec area, many wearing Nordiques’ jerseys.