Habs Feel Right at Home as They Eliminate Devils

Montreal 3             Devils 1

From the time the game started, check that — walking to and into the arena I could sense this wasn’t going to be a good night for the New Jersey Devils. I had to navigate my way through multiple busloads of partying Montreal Canadiens fans to get to the arena entrance; and the party didn’t stop there. “It’s impressive; that’s all I can say,” said Devils goalie and Montreal-native Martin Brodeur. “It’s better than the Rangers when they come in here. I know the Canadiens’ fans are die-hard, but to show up in the numbers that they did and how much noise they made, it was weird. I knew there were a lot of people coming, but not half the crowd.”

Figuring about seven buses, forty people to a bus, about 280 fans maybe, but in the arena it looked — and sounded like — 12,080 of the sellout crowd were rooting for the Canadiens, something that has become the norm on the road for current Canadien and former Devil Scott Gomez. “It seems like everywhere we go on the road there is a huge Canadien-following, and yeah they’re passionate; but it’s nothing new to us. They’re everywhere we go, it’s unbelievable.”

The result was a 3-1 Canadiens victory, officially eliminating the Devils from the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Ex-Devil and current captain of Montreal Brian Gionta had a strong game with two primary assists on Mathieu Darche’s two goals which were sandwiched around PK Subban’s power play marker early in the third period. “They’re a team that’s known to lock down the middle of the ice,” said Gionta talking about both of Darche’s goals. “There are not many plays there, so you have to drive them wide; Matt did a good job of getting his stick on the puck as I drove them wide.”

Despite being out-shot 23-12 heading into the third period, New Jersey only trailed 1-0 thanks to their best player, Brodeur, who made several big saves that gave his squad a faint pulse. “Can you ask Marty to be better than how he was tonight?” asked Devils coach Jacques Lemaire afterwards. “He had nobody in front of him. Sorry, but that’s what it was. Mistakes after mistakes; just a bad game.”

Perhaps the best news of the night for Devils fans was that Zach Parise played for the first time since October 30, missing 65 games with surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. But even the always-energetic Parise couldn’t save New Jersey from elimination on this night. “He looked like a guy that didn’t play for a year,” said Lemaire. “It’s going to take a little time, and he didn’t get any help either. It’s not because he didn’t try. For his first time, he was fine.” Parise played 21 shifts for a total of 16:05 and had two shots on goal.

Montreal’s Carey Price was lined up for his ninth shutout of the season until Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 29th goal of the season with Brodeur on the bench during a delayed penalty. “He’s at that level now where it’s just expected,” said Gomez of the 23-year-old Price. “That’s one area we don’t have to worry about. He’s up there now with the Brodeurs and the other guys; it shouldn’t be too shocking because he’s the best goalie in the world right now. We know he’s going to come up with the big saves, he’s done it all year (for us).”

Game Notes: Devils rookie Mattias Tedenby had an unsuccessful penalty shot attempt 4:48 into the game but after beating Price his shot hit the goal post and stayed out of the net. “He actually got roasted on that penalty shot,” said a smiling and laughing Gomez loud enough for his buddy Price to hear it. Gionta’s first assist was the 400th point of his career. Devils defenseman Andy Greene led all skaters in ice-time with 29:02, and was a game-worst minus-2; James Wisniewski led the Habs with 24:24. Mike Cammalleri led all players with seven shots on goal; no one from New Jersey had more than two shots on goal, Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus were the only two players on the team to not record a shot on goal.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Mathieu Darche (Mtl) – 2 goals (12)

#2 – Brian Gionta (Mtl) – 2 assists (17)

#3 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 26 saves, loss (25)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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