MONTREAL (AP) — A season ago, a second-half surge had New Jersey eyeing an improbable playoff spot. This season, the Devils are trying to secure home-ice advantage.
Zach Parise, David Clarkson and Matt Taormina scored and Martin Brodeur made 21 saves in the Devils’ 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday night.
The Devils improved to 34-20-4 with their third straight victory and jumped past division rivals Pittsburgh and Philadelphia into fourth in the Eastern Conference.
“The roll that we’re on, it’s well-deserved,” Brodeur said of his team, 8-1-1 since the All-Star break. “The boys are working really hard, we’re playing with a lot of passion every night, guys are blocking shots, making second efforts. We’re happy with the position that we’re in but we just want to move forward.”
Bell Centre victories are a career habit for Brodeur. The Montreal native is 43-18-5-0 lifetime against the Canadiens, with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.
“I got to give credit to my players. I think every time they know I care about it,” he said. “They play really hard here for me. it’s a fun place to play. The atmosphere is great.”
Max Pacioretty scored for Montreal, which honored late Expos catcher Gary Carter by wearing No. 8 jerseys in warmups. Carter died Thursday at 57.
The Canadiens have lost eight straight against New Jersey at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens last beat the Devils in Montreal on March 11, 2008.
After a 4-3 shootout victory in Buffalo on Friday night, the Canadiens’ slim hopes for a playoff berth stalled again. A win would have moved Montreal within four points of the eighth and final spot in the East.
“We all know how important these games are, especially tonight when we had a chance to make up some ground,” Pacioretty said. “It’s frustrating that, myself included, we came out the wrong way. If we’d played like we did in the third period, we would have had better results.”
Carey Price made 22 saves for Montreal.
“We’ve been playing pretty good hockey, getting points in a lot of the recent games. Tonight, there’s no excuse, though,” Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said. “We don’t have the luxury — and I’ve said this before — of taking a night off, a period off or a shift off. We don’t have that because every game is maybe the difference of getting in or us going home early.”
Price gave the Canadiens a chance in the opening 20 minutes, stopping 12 shots.
The Devils opened the scoring when Parise deflected Ilya Kovalchuk’s shot off a faceoff past Price with 1:57 left in the first. New Jersey made it 2-0 with 18 seconds left in the second, with Clarkson scoring off a deflection for his 22nd goal of the season.
Pacioretty ended Brodeur’s shutout bid at 1:46 of the third when he picked up a loose puck in a busy crease and wristed it past the goalie. The 23-year-old winger has 13 goals and five assists in his last 17 games.
Taormina re-established New Jersey’s two-goal lead at 8:27 of the third with his first of the season. After the Canadiens failed to clear the zone, Devils defenseman Mark Fayne took a shot from the blue line that went in off Taormina.
NOTES: The Devils scratched defenseman Kurtis Foster and wingers Stephane Veilleux and Cam Janssen. … For the first time since January 20, 2001, the Canadiens didn’t take a penalty.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)