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Gionta makes first return to New Jersey

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Former Devil Brian Gionta.
Brian Gionta was back at Prudential Center on Friday, this time wearing bleu, blanc et rouge.

Now a member of the Montreal Canadiens, Gionta acknowledged it was special to be back in New Jersey, where he spent his first seven NHL seasons and won a Stanley Cup in 2003.

Friday's contest is the second and final Garden State meeting between the teams this season. The series concludes at Montreal on March 27.

“It’s definitely different,” Gionta said. “It’s a different feeling, but it’s always fun to play against guys you had been with for a while. That good-natured competitiveness is always fun to have.”

Gionta signed with Montreal as a free agent last summer and is on pace for his sixth straight season with at least 20 goals. He may have seen teammates come and go during his stay in New Jersey, but credits the Devils for always remaining competitive.

Jersey's Team (33-14-1) holds a four-point lead over Pittsburgh for first place in the Atlantic.

“One out, one in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who comes and goes, somebody’s always there to fill that spot. It’s the philosophy of the organization.”

A broken left foot kept him out of action for 21 games this year, including the Canadiens’ visit to Newark on Dec. 16. He has 13 goals, 10 assists in 30 games with a Montreal squad currently three points out of a playoff spot.

The Habs are 1-2-2 in their last five, and have dropped back-to-back games on the road.

“It’s desperation time and we need wins,” he said. “We’ve got a good match tonight against a pretty good team.”

Though a longtime teammate of Martin Brodeur, Gionta doesn’t have any secrets on how to beat the Devils’ goaltender, who has compiled an incredible five shutouts in his last 14 starts.

Brodeur leads the NHL with 30 wins and seven shutouts.

“No, just trying to figure it out myself,” joked Gionta, whose 48-goal campaign in 2005-06 is a Devils record.

“It’ll be fun,” he said. “Obviously it’s the first time that it’s happened, so it’ll be exciting out there.”

The Devils own a 2-0 series lead courtesy of two 2-1 wins. Gionta went pointless in New Jersey’s visit to the Bell Centre on Jan. 9 and isn’t at all surprised by Brodeur’s success this season.

“Nothing different than it ever was,” he said. “You have to find a way as a team to solve him. You have to find a way to get to him. It’s no different than it’s ever been before. He’s having a good year like he always has, and he’s as steady as he’s ever been.”

One thing different about Gionta these days is his goatee, which wouldn’t have meshed with the Devils’ clean-shaven policy.

Gionta laughed when asked if it was something he’d wanted to grow all those years in New Jersey.

“You respect his (Devils’ President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello) rules and see why they’re in place,” he said. “It’s a little discipline that can make a big difference, so you abide by them and live by them when you’re here.”

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