-- The New Jersey Devils
once again bid farewell to the most successful coach in franchise history on Sunday with a rousing 3-2 victory over the playoff-bound Boston Bruins
before 17,625 at Prudential Center.
Coach Jacques Lemaire, who informed the media last month that he'd announce his decision to either stay one more year or resign following the final game of the season, kept his promise. It probably wasn't the news Devils' fans wanted to hear, however.
"(Coaching) demands a lot," Lemaire said. "I want to enjoy life. I want to enjoy the family."
Lemaire will remain in the organization as a special assignment coach -- the same role he held at the start of the season before General Manager Lou Lamoriello called to entice him to take over a sinking ship back in December when the Devils were last in the Eastern Conference (9-22-2) under then-coach John MacLean.
Lemaire did just that, leading the Devils on 29-17-3 run that actually put them back in playoff contention and even had a few pundits considering the veteran coach a legitimate Jack Adams Award nominee.
"He brought the team back and did a lot of good things for our organization," Devils wing Ilya Kovalchuk
said. "He turned this thing around and the fans started coming back into the building and it was exciting. He taught me a lot and he paid attention to the little details -- that was the difference."
Lemaire certainly won't be easy to replace. When Lamoriello does determine a new coach, however, it will mark the eighth to work the Devils bench in seven seasons. MacLean replaced Lemaire at the start of the season.
"It'll be tough, but I'm sure there's the coach who will have an opportunity now to do something," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur
said. "We've shown we're a good hockey club, and discovered a lot of young talent within the organization that we might have not discovered if we didn't have that bad of a start. So, from there he'll have a lot to work with. Hopefully it'll be the right pick and I'm sure they'll take their time and do something that is to the benefit of the team."
In their curtain call to Lemaire and a sold-out regular-season finale, fans were treated to a few of those young skaters playing a key role in Sunday's victory over the Bruins. Second-year forward Vladimir Zharkov
and rookie defenseman Alexander Urbom
, who combined for just one goal all season, each connected in the third period to give the home team the win.
Zharkov's second goal of the season in his 38th game came four minutes into the third to snap a 1-1 tie. The Russian controlled an outlet pass from Anssi Salmela at the Bruins blue line, broke in on Tuukka Rask
, and fired a wrist shot that beat the Boston goalie over his glove into the right corner of the cage.
Urbom, meanwhile, was playing in only his eighth game and first since Nov. 5. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Swedish defenseman connected for his first NHL goal at the 9:10 mark off a wraparound on Rask to extend the lead, 3-1.
Rask, who has played well this season but has been overshadowed by the incredible numbers put up by Tim Thomas
(35-11-9, 2.00 goals-against average, .938 save percentage), made 29 saves. Devils goalie Johan Hedberg
turned aside 24 shots in notching his 15th victory, marking only the second time in eight seasons that he's hit that mark.
The Bruins pulled within 3-2 with just 3.1 seconds remaining in the third when Chris Kelly
deflected home Dennis Seidenberg
's shot from 15 feet away.
With the final regular-season game now in their rear-view mirror, the Bruins can now focus on the Montreal Canadiens, their first-round opponent in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round. The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this week.
"It's going to be a tough matchup because Montreal is a great team and the games are always intense and tough," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron
said. "It's going to be a big series because it's a big rivalry. We have to make sure we're ready."
Thomas is looking forward to 33rd all-time playoff series between the two rivals.
"This is familiar territory for us playing the Montreal Canadiens," he said. "There are a lot of people in this locker room who have been through that experience of playing in the first round against Montreal and hopefully that experience comes in handy, especially at Montreal where it's pretty intense, crazy and a high-energy atmosphere.
"Speaking from personal experience, I'm glad I've done it in the past because the first couple of times I had to do it, there was so much energy. You have to play a different way."
The Devils and Bruins exchanged goals in the first period. Patrik Elias
one-timed a shot over the outstretched left pad of Rask at the 1:47 mark while at the right post. Elias controlled a feed from Brian Rolston, who had picked up a loose puck behind the net before skating to the left post, before slamming home his 21st of the season. With the goal, Elias finished the season with 5 goals and 9 points over the last eight games.
The Bruins evened the score at 10:04 when Rich Peverley
swept home his 18th of the season from the bottom of the left circle. Defenseman Andrew Ference
centered a pass from the right circle that appeared to deflect off the skate of Michael Ryder right onto the tape of Peverley, who was Johnny on the spot.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale