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Devils look to strengthen lead in East

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

Martin Brodeur's stellar goaltending has steered New Jersey to three straight wins. –
It was a big weekend for the Devils.

Three straight wins, including consecutive victories in Friday and Saturday's back-to-back, had the club on top to begin the week.

With 13 games left on the schedule, New Jersey led the East by a point over Montreal and held the same edge over Pittsburgh for first place in the Atlantic Division.

The Devils got some help from the Canadiens on Sunday, after Montreal finished up a 2-2 Western road trip with a 3-1 loss at Anaheim.

Carey Price suffered his second loss in three starts after giving up third-period goals to Chris Kunitz and Sami Pahlsson, as the Ducks outshot the Habs 37-21.

Price, the Canadiens' No. 1 goaltender following the deadline deal that shipped Cristobal Huet to the Capitals, finished 1-2 on the swing. Jaroslav Halak accounted for the other Montreal win with 21 saves in Saturday's 5-2 decision at Los Angeles.

The Devils' last loss came at the hands of those same Canadiens, and sole possession of first place in the conference will be at stake when the teams meet Tuesday night in Montreal.

Martin Brodeur, who was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week for the period ending March 9, has been outstanding during the Devils' current run.

The Montreal native has allowed just one goal in each of his last three starts while stopping 104 of 107 shots (.972). He posted a season-high 42 saves in Saturday's 2-1 win at Toronto, denying Bryan McCabe's one-timer from the slot with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation.

Parise is poised to eclipse his career highs of a season ago.
Brodeur's stingy performances have kept the Devils rolling while the offense has averaged 2.7 goals over their last three games. Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta have been red hot, accounting for nine of New Jersey's last 10 goals.

Parise struck twice on Saturday night to reach the 30-goal plateau for the second straight season. His fifth goal in three games broke a 1-1 tie with 48 seconds left in regulation, lifting the Devils to a four-game sweep of the season series against the Maple Leafs.

"We like the way we're playing," Parise said before Monday's practice. "Marty, obviously, has been unbelievable. He's one of the main reasons we are where we are. we like the way we've been playing, and the way we've been winning games lately.

The third-year forward leads the Devils in goals (30) and points (60), but hasn't lost sight of what his production brings to the team's bottom line.

"The most important thing is winning, and that's the way it's always been here," Parise said. "That's the most enjoyable part, being on top of the Eastern Conference and winning."

Elias, meanwhile, has a goal and three assists for four points in three games, and netted the winning goal against Tampa Friday night with 57.9 seconds left in overtime. He has collected a team-high 32 assists and needs just four more helpers to surpass Scott Niedermayer for the club record (364).

Their scoring contributions will be critical as the Devils try to add to their lead in the days ahead. Nipping at the Devils' heels are the Penguins who have taken three of four, including Sunday's 4-2 win at Washington.

Sidney Crosby was credited with his second goal of the game when Caps' rookie Nicklas Backstrom accidentally put the puck into his own net late in regulation for the deciding marker.

It was Pittsburgh's second win in three games since Crosby came back on March 4. The defending league MVP missed 21 games with an ankle sprain and has collected two goals and two assists in his return.

Still in the conference mix are the Senators, who trailed the Devils by three points in the conference on Monday. Ottawa had led the conference for all but one day of the regular season before yielding to New Jersey on Feb. 24.

The Devils close out their road trip with stops in Minnesota on Thursday and Colorado on Saturday. The club then plays four of six on home ice to wrap up the month of March.

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