The Montreal Canadiens have only swept their Superbowl weekend afternoon games four times since the scheduling format came to light in the 1990-91 season.
Number five was not in the cards, after a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. The Canadiens had shutout the New York Rangers 2-0 on Saturday afternoon and just came out flat against a rested New Jersey team.
The pattern is not unfamiliar, as the Canadiens have won their last four Superbowl Saturday games, and lost four straight on the day of the big game south of the border.
A pair of turnovers early in the first period led to goals by Dainius Zubrus and Ilya Kovalchuk, and that was all Jacques Lemaire's defensie system usually needs. Plan B, and usually a given, is a stellar hometown performance from Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur was solid in the first 20 minutes, but tweaked his knee and turned the rest of the game over to Johan Hedberg. "It wasn't that bad," the NHL's all-time career wins leader said post-game. "But it was time to get out of the net."
The Devils backup goalie allowed just one goal, a P.K. Subban shot that was redirected by Kovalchuk, on the fifteen shots he faced over forty minutes. Despite playing the bulk of the minutes, the win went to Brodeur as he was the goalie of record when the winning goal was scored.
Standings wise, the Canadiens were in position to match the idle Boston Bruins in points for the Northeast Division, but would remain in second having played one more game. The two teams will meet up Wednesday night. They also fall three points back of the Washington Capitals for fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals blanked the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 earlier in the afternoon.
The return of Lemaire behind the Devils bench has certainly been a turnaround for the franchise. Basically, they are back, and they are going to make it a nightmare for teams battling for playoff positions. Arpon Basu wrote a great piece on Lemaire's return and the possibility that he hasn't ruled out returning next season.
The coaching transition has also re-surged the play of Kovalchuk, who finished the night as the First Star with two goals, and had opportunities for many more.
It was clear the teams exhaustion from the weekend and frustrations had reached their peak. With Carey Price pulled for an extra attacker, Kovalchuk was hauled down by Subban and his shot hit the post. NHL rules give an automatic goal in this situation, which set off an already frustrated Scott Gomez. The Habs centre had been chirping the officials for most of the game, and had his reasons. The Zebras had heard enough, and issued him a ten-minute misconduct.
Outside of that, the Canadiens did maintain their discipline, taking only two minor penalties all night. On the flip side, they only managed to draw a single power-play, despite getting five shots at Brodeur in that two-minute opportunity.
In light of a two goal deficit, Carey Price remained composed and gave his team every opportunity to stay in the game. Fans in attendance were quick to jump on the Canadiens netminder early in the game, but failed to realize that all thee goals were due to defensive breakdowns.
Zubrus' goal may have been the only one that Price may have wanted back, when his poke check attempt on the Hal Gill cough up exposed his five hole. It was the right thing for Price to try in this situation, given the Habs defensive breakdown.
The Kovalchuk tip-in was a shot that would have found the lone puck sized hole on a piece of 4x6 board. Price had no chance and the insurance goal, by Travis Zajac in the second period, easily exposed a tired Canadiens team. Zajac led the pressure to the Canadiens goal, off the face-off, skated right in past Roman Hamrlik and in on Price.
The Canadiens get a day off Monday, before chartering off to Boston on Tuesday.
Devils coverage from In Lou We Trust
Mike Boone's Quick Hits (updated through the SuperBowl)
The Numbers Game from Canadiens.com Habs haven't beaten the Devils at home since December 2008. Ouch!
Three Stars:1. Ilya Kovalchuk 2. P.K. Subban 3. Travis Zajac
|01:12 N.J||Dainius Zubrus, 10 (N.J: 30 12 26 8 5 28 MTL: 75 11 46 31 76 81)|
|04:04 N.J||Ilya Kovalchuk, 16 (Colin White, 3 Travis Zajac, 21) (N.J: 30 5 28 17 19 32 MTL: 75 21 14 31 76 67)|
|03:16 N.J||Travis Zajac, 9 (Anton Volchenkov, 4) (N.J: 1 5 28 17 19 32 MTL: 44 6 52 31 94 58)|
|06:32 MTL||P.k. Subban, 6 (Scott Gomez, 21 Max Pacioretty, 8) (N.J: 1 8 5 17 19 29 MTL: 44 11 21 31 76 67)|
|18:39 N.J||Ilya Kovalchuk, 17 (Travis Zajac, 22) (N.J: 1 7 17 19 6 18 MTL: 44 11 21 14 76 67)|