Despite a fantastic start by the Habs combined with a dismal start for the Devils, the Montreal Canadiens could not put the game away early, managing only one goal against a very stingy Martin Brodeur, and eventually managing only a 1-1 tie. This, of course, leaves Brodeur still looking for his 400th career win, and with the second match of the home and home due in
The Canadiens came out of the gate seemingly with something to prove, and pinned the Devils in their own zone for much of the first half of the period. A mere 4:35 into the contest, Richard Zednik flew by a couple of defenders and fired a shot. Brodeur couldn’t quite handle the rebound, and Yanic Perreault was there to bat home the first goal of the game.
The Canadiens weren’t done threatening there. Not long after, Saku Koivu made a glittering end-to-end rush, through two Devils, and his deft pass from behind the net to Zednik almost caught Brodeur going the wrong way. Not long after, Jim Dowd send Jan Bulis in on a partial break, and it was again Brodeur with a game-saving save.
At around the midway point of the period, the Devils looked to have tied the match with a goal somewhat against the flow of play. After a relatively short delay, though, the ruling was that the puck had been tipped higher than the crossbar – in other words with a high stick. This, however, proved to be the turning point in the game as the Devils fed off the effort and slowly improved their play all night long.
The second period saw a large adjustment in the New Jersey game and with that increased forechecking pressure, particularly from defensive stalwart John Madden and his linemates. For much of the rest of the game they held the Koivu line in check, primarily because clearances were stopped at or before the blueline.
It was costly early in the second as Zednik failed to clear the zone, and that led to Madden feeding Jay Pandolfo in the slot. Despite being tripped end over end and under tight scrutiny from Andrei Markov, Pandolfo managed to get a stick on the puck and deflect it home to tie the score at one.
There would be no more scoring in the game, and the chances would become further and further apart as both teams dropped into deep traps. There were a couple of close calls, however.
Perreault, on a two-on-one with Zednik chose to shoot from a bad angle instead of sending the puck out front, and that shot whistled wide of the net. A little later, Alex Kovalev, who played his best game as a Hab so far, send a sweet little pass into the crease after handling the puck nicely along the boards. Pierre Dagenais, back in the lineup after being scratched from the last three, managed somehow to get his stick on it, but Brodeur again made a fine save.
The third was about as close you can get to a perfect trap from both teams. At the end of the period, the shots were 5-3 in favour of the Devils; much of the period was played in the neutral zone.
Overtime was a complete change of pace, though, as both teams seemed to push for the extra point. Koivu barely missed on a wrap-around attempt and that led to a break the other way with Garon making a brilliant save to preserve the tie. A two-on-one was wasted this time by Markov who’s ineffectual shot eventually led to yet another break by the Devils, this time only the post prevented Jersey from picking up the extra point.
As the focus now shifts to Montreal, one can only hope that the first period from this night’s game is represented well, rather than the rest of the match which was played under the trap. Certainly, a Saturday night crowd would appreciate a little more excitement in the play.