Canadiens’ Bryan Smolinski celebrates his first goal of the night in front of New Jersey’s John Madden.
Ray Stubblebine, Reuters
Quick: find a bottle large enough to preserve tonight’s third period in Newark, N.J., and keep it sealed until March 1, the next time the Canadiens take on the New Jersey Devils.
Montreal scored three unanswered third-period goals tonight, outshooting their hosts 20-3 in the final frame, and in the process snapped a gruesome streak of futility.
Christopher Higgins, on the power play, and Saku Koivu and Bryan Smolinski hit the mesh behind normally airtight New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur during tonight’s final 20 minutes, giving the Canadiens a 4-3 victory and ending a nine-game losing streak against the Devils.
This devilish domination had reached ridiculous heights, and for a time tonight it seemed like the Canadiens were going to carry another loss to New Jersey into this weekend’s all-star break. But a terrific third period turned the team’s fortunes, and Montreal now heads into a few days off with a very welcome one-game winning streak against the Devils.
The Canadiens outshot the Devils 32-13.
The first period sounded a little like the first tee at your local golf course, with the ping! of Devils pucks drilling the goal posts behind Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet.
Patrick Elias had the first, his power-play shot at 12:18 rattling in behind Huet off the post, the steel behind the crossbar and quickly back out. But there was no doubt about the goal, and Montreal’s Sergei Kostitsyn can see it on the highlights, having been in the penalty box for tripping when Elias scored.
If the Canadiens, now 26-15-8, were hoping to solve Brodeur, getting three shots on goal the first period wasn’t the way to do it. New Jersey, 28-18-3, had six on Huet.
The Canadiens goalie had no chance at all on Elias’s second of the night, 3:24 into the second on badly broken defensive coverage.
Brodeur’s shutout was broken at 14:12 by Smolinski, on a line-change trio with Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Kovalev. Smolinski got in behind the Devils defenceman Karel Rachunek and took a crisp pass from the corner off the stick of Kostitsyn, the spadework done by Kovalev to keep the puck in the New Jersey end, to bury his fourth goal of the season.
But any momentum that might have given the Canadiens evaporated when Montreal went two men down, Plekanec and Steve Bégin off for slashing and cross-checking. Seven seconds after Bégin was sent off, Devils captain Jamie Lagenbrunner stepped in and teed off, rifling one from 40 feet past a screened Huet at 17:02.
Montreal’s 10-4 edge in shots didn’t count for a whole lot.
But Smolinski, the sudden sniper, got the Canadiens close again 29 seconds into the third period, converting the rebound of an Andrei Markov shot past Brodeur.
Then, with Montreal completely in control of the third period, Koivu swatted down a Mike Komisarek shot from the blue line, his stick within centimetres of being illegally high. But a review of the play let the goal stand at 11:54, giving Koivu his ninth of the season and tying the game at 3-3.
And finally, Higgins bagged Montreal’s third unanswered goal of the period, his 16th, banging home the puck from a scramble at 14:31, set up by Koivu and defenceman Roman Hamrlik.
The Devils came into the night’s action having beaten Montreal nine straight dating to March 20, 2004. The Canadiens, who at least earned a single point with one overtime loss, were outscored 33-16 during that span.
Brodeur had started every game during the streak, posting a 1.76 goals-against average and two shutouts. He had been nearly perfect in his last five starts against the Canadiens, giving up four goals in over 304 minutes for a 0.79 goals-against average.
In 51 games against his hometown team before tonight’s game, the three-time Vezina Trophy winner was 34-12-0 with five ties, a 1.74 GAA and eight shutouts.
Finally, the Canadiens have solved Brodeur. And surely not one game too soon.
Christopher Higgins scores the winning goal on Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
Andy Marlin, NHLI via Getty Images