MONTREAL - Patrice Brisebois waited a long time to play in his 1,000th NHL game, but when it was over he had no problem acknowledging the real star of Saturday night.
Brisebois picked up an assist on the Montreal Canadiens' only goal and was named second star of his team's 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
But instead of taking a quick twirl to salute the crowd, Brisebois skated straight across the ice to the visitors tunnel to shake hands with the evening's first star, Martin Brodeur, who had just equalled Patrick Roy's all-time NHL record of 551 wins.
"Martin is a good friend of mine and what he accomplished tonight is truly exceptional," Brisebois said. "It shows the magnitude of the athlete he is. I just wanted to congratulate him personally."
Brodeur received a standing ovation from the sellout Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 at the end of the game, moments after the crowd had spent the final five minutes of regulation booing the home club and chanting "Carbo, Carbo, Carbo" in support of recently fired head coach Guy Carbonneau.
Though the game statistics suggest otherwise, general manager and new head coach Bob Gainey did not feel his team was that outclassed in the game until the Devils took a 3-1 lead at 12:57 of the third.
"I thought into the third period we were participants," Gainey said. "We definitely weren't dominating, but we were having our time in the offensive zone, getting our shots and we were still a threat to tie the score in the game."
The Devils outshot the Canadiens 48-23, had another 28 shot attempts blocked and missed the net 14 times. That's 90 shot attempts for the Devils compared to just 45 for the Canadiens, and it was the 13th time in their last 14 games the Canadiens were outshot.
"We have some defencemen who we rely on to be good defensive defencemen who are struggling around the net, plus we're giving up extra power plays," Gainey said to explain the shot disparity of late.
"But we played a very good team tonight and they showed us their recipe for winning. They took the lead and played well with the lead. When they extended the lead they really trapped us and didn't give us any chance at all to penetrate around their net."
The Canadiens had some moments in the second period where they created some pressure in the Devils end, but captain Saku Koivu said those moments weren't maintained long enough to change the momentum of the game.
"We have to make it tougher for teams to play against us, and if it means winning 1-0 then that's what we have to do," Koivu said. "It was too easy for them to break out of their zone and we have to make it harder for teams to break our pressure."
The Habs maintained their tenuous hold on fifth place in the Eastern Conference but lost ground on nearly all of their playoff rivals. Montreal fell to four points behind fourth-place Philadelphia and is now only two points up on ninth-place Florida.
Gainey acknowledged that things are starting get a little urgent.
"We had three games this week where we picked up three points," he said. "We have three games next week against the Rangers, Ottawa and Toronto, and to stay with our competition we'll need to pick up more than three points."