-- The fourth time was finally the charm for Montreal Canadiens
goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Halak, making his first start since allowing six goals on 34 shots in a loss to the Rangers last week, notched his first career victory over the New Jersey Devils
on Friday. The Slovakian goaltender turned aside 31 shots and the Canadiens connected for three unanswered goals en route to a 3-1 victory before 17,625 at Prudential Center.
"It feels great to get the win and the two points," Halak said. "Even though they scored first, we kept battling and stuck to the game plan. The team was battling so I needed to do the same thing to keep the pucks out of the net, and the guys were great -- I saw most of the pucks."
Halak, who suffered a 2-1 overtime loss to the Devils and goalie Martin Brodeur
at Bell Centre on Jan. 9 despite a 26-save performance, was certainly in the proverbial goalie zone. He was particularly sharp during a feverishly-played third period, turning aside 14 shots while his team clung to a one-goal lead before Mike Cammalleri
's team-leading 24th goal of the season sealed the deal with 8:07 remaining.
"I think for any goalie, he'd tell you he'd rather play in games like that where we're making a big effort, paying attention to details and not trying to give up a number of those Grade A scoring chances," Cammalleri said. "It was a solid team effort."
The victory snapped a six-game skid against the Devils and a three-game losing streak overall. It also moved the Canadiens within one point of the eighth-seeded New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"We know when you play the Devils it's going to be a tough game -- a patient game," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "I felt we did a good job away from the puck in controlling and winning battles."
The Canadiens return home to Bell Centre on Saturday to play host to the New York Rangers. Meanwhile, the Devils are not only struggling for wins, but goals -- producing just 12 in their last eight games (3-5-0). The Devils will travel to Long Island on Saturday to face the Islanders, who are 7-2-1 in their last 10.
"Obviously we have to start scoring more goals," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "We can't rely on shutouts and one-goal games every night, we realize that. I thought we did some better things tonight -- we created some chances but we didn't finish on them."
Langenbrunner was denied on each of his game-high eight shots, including three quality chances in the final period.
"I thought Jaro (Halak) was solid," Cammalleri said. "You can't fault him on the breakaway goal (in the first period). He made a flurry of saves there in the third that were timely, especially when Langenbrunner cut to the middle. He stood up there and made a big save."
Halak also kept the Canadiens even, 1-1, with a big stop off the stick of Travis Zajac
low in the left circle 3:19 into the second before his team would reward him a one-goal lead just 1:16 later. That's when Montreal native Mathieu Darche
battled for position in front of Brodeur before redirecting a blast from the right point by former Devil Brian Gionta
for a 2-1 edge.
Darche, who was recalled from the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Hamilton on Tuesday, scored his first of the season in his second game wearing a Canadiens jersey.
"Mathieu knows what works for him and it doesn't matter where he's used, whether on the fourth or second line -- he plays the same," Martin praised. "He's effective going to the net, winning some battles and providing good puck support."
The visitors extended the lead to 3-1 on a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe play in the Devils' end. The triangular passing play went from Darche behind the net to Andrei Markov
in the left circle to Cammalleri in the right circle. Cammalleri then unleashed a rocket past a helpless Brodeur for a two-goal cushion.
Martin began switching his lines up late in the first to give his team more of a scoring punch.
"We had just one line producing (Gionta, Scott Gomez
and Benoit Pouliot) so I felt I needed to strengthen Cammalleri and (Tomas) Plekanec," Martin said. "So I used Gionta with them and then shuffled Gomez with other players."
The Canadiens pulled into a 1-1 tie with 3:50 left in the first when Pouliot, on a line with Gomez and Travis Moen
, scored his ninth goal in 14 games since being acquired from Minnesota on Nov. 23.
Parise had given the Devils a 1-0 lead 5:16 into the opening period when he connected for his first goal in six games. Langenbrunner sprung Parise on a breakaway after hitting him in stride at the Devils center-ice logo on a pass from his own circle. Parise finished the deal by flipping a backhand that found the five-hole on Halak. The Montreal goalie would stop the next 27 shots in his direction.
The goal came 22 seconds after a Devils' power-play opportunity had expired. New Jersey finished 0-for-2 with the man advantage, and is now scoreless in 23 straight chances spanning eight games -- the club's longest drought of the season.
"One thing would be to get the power play to score a goal and get us going a little bit," Langenbrunner admitted. "It's tough when you're only getting a couple of opportunities every game, but we have to find a way to manufacture some goals and score more than one goal a game."
Brodeur, who was making his 28th straight start, finished with 21 saves.