MONTREAL (AP) — Falling just short of hoisting the Stanley Cup last season has provided the motivation for the New Jersey Devils’ strong start this year.
The Devils attempt to remain undefeated Sunday night when they try for a ninth consecutive road victory over a Montreal Canadiens team looking for its third straight win.
New Jersey (3-0-0) lost in six games to Los Angeles in last season’s Stanley Cup finals, but an otherwise memorable postseason run has fueled the Devils’ attempt to take the next step in 2013.
“When we left last year, we were disappointed, but it left us with a great taste in our mouths, the great taste of success,” said goaltender Martin Brodeur, who turns 41 in May. “Now we’re jumping right back in and it’s like we never left. It’s a short season and we have to capitalize on our momentum.”
Brodeur made 26 saves and Patrik Elias had a goal with an assist as New Jersey won 3-2 over Washington on Ilya Kovalchuk’s overtime winner after blowing a 2-0 lead Friday.
The last time the Devils won their first three games was 2002-03, when they last hoisted the Cup. Though New Jersey’s last 4-0 start came when it failed to make the playoffs in 1995-96, this year’s team could have the discipline and focus to maintain the quick start.
“There’s a trust in that dressing room amongst the guys that if they do their jobs and stick to the system, and if we get the kind of goaltending we’ve got we have a chance to win every night,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer told the NHL’s official website.
Brodeur has stopped 68 of 71 shots through three games but has not won his first four since 1995-96. Backed by the future Hall of Fame netminder, the Devils have allowed a league-low three goals and rank among the NHL leaders by killing 16 of 18 penalties.
New Jersey has played stellar defense while outscoring the Canadiens 26-10 during an eight-game winning streak at Montreal that dates to a 4-0 loss March 11, 2008. A Montreal native, Brodeur has posted a 1.25 goals-against average during a personal seven-game road winning streak against his hometown team.
New Jersey’s team leader with two goals and two assists, Kovalchuk has three goals and six assists in his last six against the Canadiens.
Though New Jersey has won three straight overall in the series, Montreal (2-1-0) has some momentum after scoring eight times in the last two games since a 2-1 season-opening loss to Toronto. Andrei Markov has scored all of his team-leading three goals in the last two, including one with an assist in Thursday’s 4-1 win at Washington.
Healthy after two knee injuries, the 34-year-old Markov is a big reason Montreal is off to a solid start even while talented restricted free agent defenseman P.K. Subban has yet to come to terms with a new contract.
“(Markov) controls the game really well; he’s got such an important role for us,” first-year Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “He competes so hard, he’s tough to play against. And he’s doing a very good job on the power play.”
Max Pacioretty has also been solid on the power play, with three of his four assists coming with the man advantage, but the Canadiens announced Saturday that the 24-year-old will miss three-to-four weeks after having an emergency appendectomy.
Pacioretty, who has 53 goals and 65 assists in 205 games with the Canadiens, has no scores but a team-high 10 shots on goal this season.
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