After building leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in the second period tonight, the Devils appeared to decide that they had done enough work and were ready to start their all-star break. The Montreal Canadiens weren’t finished working, however, and scored three unanswered goals in the third period to pull out a 4-3 victory _ just their second in New Jersey in more than 14 years.
It also snapped the Devils’ nine-game winning streak over the Canadiens that dated to March 20, 2004.
When asked afterward if his team handed the game to the Habs, Devils coach Brent Sutter angrily replied, “Damn right we did.”
Sutter was so upset that he ordered a 30-minute team stationary bicycle workout after the game before the players could head their separate ways for the break.
“If they don't like it, too bad,” Sutter said. “Patting themselves on the back. They've already got their plans going to Vegas or wherever they’re going when the game is half over. I can't accept that. They can work in the gym now if they don't want to work on the ice."
Sutter pointed to a 5-on-3 power play with 2:47 remaining in the second period as the turning point. Jamie Langenbrunner had just given the Devils a 3-1 lead by scoring on a two-man advantage with 2:58 left in the second, but they had a chance to put the Habs away when the Canadiens bench was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty 11 seconds later with Steve Begin still in the penalty box.
The Devils failed to register a shot on goal during the two-man advantage, however, and left the door open for Montreal. In fact, the Devils registered just five shots on Cristobal Huet after Patrik Elias’ second of the night put them up 2-0 3:24 into the second and finished the game with a season-low 13 shots.
Those 13 shots are the third fewest they’ve ever registered in a game. The team record for fewest shots is 11.
After Bryan Smolinski’s second of the night cut it to 3-2 just 29 seconds into the third period, the Devils took four consecutive penalties against a Habs’ power play that is ranked first in the league on the road. Saku Koivu’s tying goal came just three second after a Elias goaltender interference penalty and Chris Higgins’ game-winner came during Karel Rachunek’s tripping penalty.
The Devils blew a third period lead for the second time in four games after winning the first 17 times this season when they led after two periods. They blew a 1-0 lead in a 2-1 loss to Florida last Friday.
“It was a bad hockey game by all of us,” center John Madden said. “We took four or five penalties that we couldn’t kill and that took the momentum right out of us and we couldn’t get anything done. We couldn’t get any shots or sustained pressure. Nobody had an edge to them. Nobody wanted to win a battle. It was just awful.”
Sutter singled out Langenbrunner, who played despite being ill, as the only Devil who gave the required effort. “Too bad we didn’t’ have anybody else follow his lead.”
“I’m not feeling too good,” Langenbrunner admitted afterward.