EAST RUTHERFORD - Despite nearly clawing all the way back from a three-goal deficit, the Canadiens were still edged 5-4 by the Devils Thursday night in New Jersey.
In only his second game back after missing the first three months of the season with hepatitis, Patrik Elias led the way for the Devils (18-18-5) with two goals and a pair of assists. The Canadiens (18-15-6) dropped their fourth straight and now sit tied with the Thrashers for eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, only one point ahead of the resurgent Devils.
Montreal's third period comeback was sparked by Michael Ryder, who notched his team-leading 18th of the season at the 4:05 mark of the final frame. Rookie Andrei Kostitsyn then closed the gap to a single goal on a wraparound just over 90 seconds later for his second NHL goal, but the Devils held on for the one-goal victory.
"It showed that our guys aren't going to quit and that they kept battling," Claude Julien said. "I have to give our players credit for the way they battled in the third period."
Saku Koivu opened the scoring only 11 seconds into the game with his ninth of the year, while Chris Higgins notched his fifth of the campaign with time winding down in the first period. Higgins also picked up an assist for his second career multi-point game.
Jan Bulis continued his hot streak since being moved to centre with a pair of assists, giving him five points in his last three games. Andrei Markov also had a two-point night with a pair of helpers.
Martin Brodeur made 16 saves for his 16th win of the season, while Jose Theodore kicked aside 22 shots.
Other New Jersey goal scorers included Scott Gomez, Viktor Kozlov and Brian Rafalski.
The Canadiens will play their next game Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre. They'll host the Ottawa Senators at 2 pm to kick off CBC's annual "Hockey Day in Canada."
NOTES: Claude Julien went with the same lineup as Tuesday night against the Penguins, with C Mike Ribeiro, LW Pierre Dagenais and D Mark Streit all being healthy scratches once again...The 5-4 final marked the first time since January 1997 that the Canadiens have allowed five or more goals in three consecutive games. From Jan. 22-28, Alain Vigneault's squad surrendered at least five goals in four straight contests...Saku Koivu's marker 11 seconds into the game was just two seconds shy of the Canadiens' all-time record of nine seconds. On November 5, 1988, Bob Gainey was the last of five players to accomplish the feat...Montreal is now 15-9 in one-goal games while the Devils are 10-10...The Canadiens and Devils each ended up with only one man-advantage on the night, setting a new season-low record for fewest power-play opportunities in a game, fewest power-play opportunities by an opponent in a game and fewest power-play opportunities for two teams in a game. The previous lows were three, three and six, respectively, with those last being set Tuesday against Pittsburgh... Ryder's goal extended his point streak to three games.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com. Files from the Associated Press were used in this report.