MONTREAL – Over the last 13 years, two things have been a constant in New Jersey – the Devils playing in the post-season, and Martin Brodeur tending goal.
Brodeur continued his mastery of his boyhood team with 25 saves as the New Jersey Devils clinched their 13th straight playoff berth with a 4-2 win Saturday over the Montreal Canadiens.
Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, Dainius Zubrus and Brian Rolston scored for the Devils (44-25-5), who won for the second time in five games.
Brodeur was quick to credit New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello for the team’s run of 13 straight playoff seasons, the second longest streak in the NHL after the Detroit Red Wings, who have yet to clinch a playoff berth this season.
“I’ve been here for all 13 of them and seen a lot of guys come and go, but the attitude is always the same,” Brodeur said. “It starts from our boss upstairs with Lou and trickles down to the guy that plays the least amount of minutes. The first step is always making the playoffs.”
Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec scored for the Canadiens (37-31-8), who have one victory in their last five games but still remained sixth in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Canadiens came out dominating the opening minutes of the game and building a 7-2 lead in shots on goal through the first seven minutes of play. But a Roman Hamrlik tripping penalty led to New Jersey’s first goal, and the Canadiens never regained that momentum.
“Right after that first goal it deflated us a little bit, it kind of got us back in a shell,” said Canadiens winger Brian Gionta, who left the Devils as a free agent in the off-season. “For about 10 or 12 minutes at least we sat back too much and gave them too much respect.”
The Devils maintained their lead in the Atlantic Division even though they are tied at 93 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-1 winners over the Philadelphia Flyers earlier Saturday. New Jersey has played one fewer game than Pittsburgh.
Montreal stays in sixth with 82 points, two points up on the seventh-place Boston Bruins and eighth-place Flyers. The Bruins, 5-0 winners over the Calgary Flames on Saturday afternoon, have two games in hand on Montreal.
Brodeur improved his career record against the Canadiens to 38-16-5, including a 3-1-0 mark this season. Other than that opening Montreal flurry Brodeur wasn’t tested often through 40 minutes of play, but came up with two big saves from close range on Dominic Moore and former teammate Gionta early in the third to protect a 3-2 lead.
“There are a lot of distractions for me every time I come to play to Montreal, so I really try to put my blinders on and do what I need to do to prepare for the game,” said Brodeur, a native of the Montreal borough of St-Leonard. “Even if I’ve won a lot of these games, it’s always a difficult game for me here.”
Jaroslav Halak made 22 saves for the Canadiens, his three goals allowed his highest total in six starts dating back to a 5-4 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers on March 11.
The Canadiens lost the special teams battle with an 0-for-4 performance on the power play. They are 2-for-23 at home since the return from the Olympic break. The Devils, meanwhile, went 2-for-3 with the man advantage.
“On the power play you have to be opportunistic,” Gionta said. “You don’t have to be perfect.”
Mike Cammalleri had two assists for the Canadiens, his first points in three games since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for seven weeks. But just as the Canadiens looked to be getting healthy, fourth-line centre Glen Metropolit went down in the first period with a suspected shoulder injury.
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said Metropolit will be re-evaluated Monday.
Ilya Kovalchuk had two assists for the Devils, including passing up what would have been his 39th of the season with an empty-net to set up Rolston for his 700th career point with 10 seconds to play in regulation.
“I think it shows what a good team guy he is,” Langenbrunner said of Kovalchuk. “We all know the individual talent. But especially when he’s nearing 40, to give away one for another guy shows how great he can be for this team.”
The Devils took the lead 1-0 at 8:11 of the first, moments after the Canadiens Josh Gorges shot wide with an open net off a short-handed 2-on-1 rush. Elias corralled a rebound that popped out to the weak side and had an open net to shoot at for his 15th of the season.
New Jersey went up 2-0 on another rebound, with Langenbrunner spinning and firing one through Halak’s legs from the slot at 1:59 of the second for his 18th of the year.
Montreal cut the lead in half when former Devil Scott Gomez found Kostitsyn alone in the slot, and he wired one inside the far post for his 15th of the year and third in three games at 5:15.
Zubrus re-established New Jersey’s two-goal lead at 15:19 of the second with his eighth of the year, tipping a Paul Martin point shot in front through Halak’s legs.
The Canadiens got that one back 90 seconds later when Kostitsyn wired one off Plekanec’s skate in front and in at 16:49 of the second to make it 3-2 Devils.
Notes: Mathieu Darche and Maxim Lapierre were scratched for the Canadiens. . . Jay Pandolfo, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Andrew Peters, Mark Fraser and Anssi Salmela did not dress for the Devils. . . Devils winger Vladimir Zharkov dressed for the first time since March 7 and drew an assist on Zubrus’ second period goal. He’s the fourth player to wear No. 18 this season for the Devils, who have no players with a number higher than 29. . . The Red Wings last missed the playoffs in 1989-90.