MONTREAL - There was a little extra jump in the legs of the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, a day after their 8-2 trouncing of the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre.
They'll need it for their next challenge - a road game in New Jersey, where they have not won in nine games since Feb. 5, 2002. In fact, since a victory on Oct. 26, 1993 with Patrick Roy in goal, the Canadiens are 1-21-4 in New Jersey.
And much of it has to do with a Montreal native who seems to save his best for the Canadiens - Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who has a career 1.71 goals-against average and eight shutouts against the Canadiens.
"It always seems that Marty plays unbelievable against us," said winger Chris Higgins, who has been shut out in his last eight games. "It's pretty discouraging actually, because he plays so well.
"You can play the best you can but if you're not getting any pucks past him, you're not going to win. So we have to find a way to make that happen."
For his career, Brodeur is 34-12-5 against Montreal, but the 35-year-old has brought woe to many other teams over his 15-year career.
His 518 wins are second only to Roy's all-time record of 551 and his 96 shutouts are only seven short of Terry Sawchuk's record of 103. Last summer, Brodeur got his third Vezina Trophy in the last four seasons.
Canadiens scoring leader Alex Kovalev saw a lot of Brodeur while playing for Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers before he was traded to Montreal in 2004. He has 18 goals in 60 career games against New Jersey.
"A lot of people said that he was such a good goalie because of the defence New Jersey had in the past, and that he only faced maybe 20 shots a game," said Kovalev.
"Now, the defence is still good, but not as good as it used to be when they had Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, but he still proves he can be the best goalie."
The Devils play a tight, defensive system and are one of the league's most disciplined clubs, but Kovalev says it all starts with Brodeur.
"We're playing pretty good on the road, we're playing well defensively and our goaltender's playing good, so it's up to us forwards to score goals," he said.
A start like they had against Boston would help.
Their checking line bottled the Bruins in their zone off the opening faceoff and got a goal from Tom Kostopoulos only 14 seconds into what was to become a romp.
But they also started well on their last trip to New Jersey, dominating the play in the first period, only to see Brodeur shut the door and the Devils win 4-0.
"They're two different teams when they're playing from behind or with the lead," said Habs defenceman Mike Komisarek. "More than ever, it's important to get that first goal."
It will be the last game before the all-star break for both clubs. Both have been hot of late, with the Devils 10-4-0 in their last 14 games, including a 7-3 victory in Philadelphia on Tuesday night that solidified their hold on first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Canadiens are 8-2-2 in their last 12 and now sit only six points back of Northeast Division and Eastern Conference leader Ottawa, with a game in hand. Montreal and Ottawa still have five games to play against each other this season.
Kovalev said a win in Jersey would not only be a confidence-booster, it would give the Canadiens an even 60 points and let them relax and enjoy the all-star break.
Coach Guy Carbonneau calls it a test for his team against a solid defensive club. Carbonneau feels his team has evolved over the past two seasons into one that can win tight or high-scoring games.
"What makes the Devils successful is that they're experienced, they're very patient and they have probably the best goalie in the NHL," he said. "When the other team gets frustrated and starts turning the puck over, they take advantage. We're better prepared to play that kind of game now."
Winger Steve Begin returned to the lineup on Tuesday after missing 19 games with a shoulder injury, but left in the third period after a check from Boston's Shane Hnidy. Begin was back at practice Wednesday and said he's ready to play.
That means veteran Mathieu Dandenault will sit out a second straight game.
A dejected Dandenault said he would reflect on his future in Montreal when informed he wouldn't be in the lineup against Boston, but took a step back from that statement on Wednesday.
"I shouldn't be a distraction to this team," he said. "I didn't play and I'm bummed out about it, but we should be talking about the big 8-2 win. I don't think we should be talking about me right now."