MONTREAL – There truly is no place like home for Martin Brodeur.
The New Jersey Devils goaltender stymied his hometown Montreal Canadiens once again, with 21 saves in a 3-1 victory Sunday night at Bell Centre.
"A lot of friends always come to see me and support me, so going out and performing well on top of it is definitely what I'm looking for every time I come to Montreal," Brodeur said. "I've got to give credit to my players; they know I care about it. Maybe it's the amount of money I put on the board? But they play really hard here for me."
One person who always comes out to support Brodeur is his father, Denis, the former Canadiens team photographer who sits in the front row next to the visitors’ net and snaps photos of his son in the first and third periods.
But Denis Brodeur was not in his usual seat for this game because Brodeur revealed to reporters afterwards that he underwent brain surgery on Friday, making his son's performance on Sunday that much more remarkable.
Adding to the emotion that must have been coursing through Brodeur's veins was the pre-game video tribute to the late Gary Carter, the former Montreal Expos and New York Mets Hall-of-Fame catcher who passed away Thursday from brain cancer at the age of 57.
"I grew up watching him and got to meet him a few times through my dad, because he was the Expos photographer. For us, he was a part of our family. He was really a gentleman, a nice guy," Brodeur said. "My brother showed me a picture yesterday that (Carter) signed to me and my brother with a message wishing us good luck. I just remember him coming over and looking at pictures with my dad and talking to my dad. I didn't know much English when I was young, so it was a little hard to understand what was going on. But we knew who he was, so it was fun to be a part of that."
Brodeur's career record against the Canadiens improved to 43-18-5, while he is 7-0-1 overall since the All-Star break. He was particularly strong over the second half of the game while his Devils were being outshot 16-8.
"He was great," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "He had a lot of work in the second and third, but he made big saves at the right time. He's on top of his game right now, and it gives the whole team confidence."
Zach Parise, David Clarkson and Matt Taormina provided the offense for the Devils (34-20-4), who improved to a scintillating 8-1-1 since the All-Star break to leapfrog both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers into fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The Devils were tied for eighth in the conference going into the break.
"We've put ourselves in a good position, but we still have a lot of work to do. We like what we're seeing, but eventually we need to get healthy. It's going to get harder and harder as we go," Brodeur said. "The roll that we're on, it's well deserved. The boys are working hard, we're playing with a lot of passion every night, guys are blocking shots, making second efforts."
Max Pacioretty scored his 13th goal in 17 games for the Canadiens (24-26-10), who wasted an opportunity to get to within four points of the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs and who instead remain in 13th place in the conference standings.
Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth said the weight of the team's desperate attempt at making the playoffs may be starting to wear on the players.
"Not to make excuses because there are no excuses at this time, but I think we've been going pretty well for a little bit here and we're probably a little physically and mentally tired," he said. "We'll take the next day here to regroup and refresh ourselves and get ready for another big game. It's a tough let down. I feel for the guys, their intentions were in the right place, but we just couldn't muster anything collectively to get things going."
The Canadiens came out of the gates extremely flat in the first period, going nearly 18 minutes between shots on Brodeur.
"Maybe it's the nerves of knowing that our season could be over before the playoffs, but it's no excuse at all," Pacioretty said of his team's start. "That should give us more motivation to go out there and play 60 minutes hard as a team."
The Devils managed to grab the lead at 18:03 of the period when rookie Adam Henrique beat Tomas Plekanec clean on a draw in the Canadiens zone and got the puck to Ilya Kovalchuk, whose shot was tipped in by Parise in front for his 22nd of the season. It was the 18th point for Kovalchuk and the 11th for Parise since the All-Star break.
The Canadiens only had six shots on goal midway through the second period, but they suddenly came to life at that point and managed to more than double that total – to 13 – by the end of the period.
But it was the Devils who went into the second intermission with a two-goal lead when Clarkson tipped an innocuous Patrik Elias shot from the blue line past Carey Price with just 17.4 seconds to play in the period for his 22nd of the season.
"That late goal at the end of the period really hurt us," Cunneyworth said. "It takes a lot out of you."
Pacioretty got the Canadiens to within a goal at 1:46 of the third period, scoring on a rebound of a Tomas Kaberle shot on the power play for his 25th of the season.
But Taormina put the Devils up by two again with his first goal since Oct. 30, 2010, using a Steve Bernier screen to get his point shot past Price at 8:27 of the third period.