Jamie Langenbrunner capped a sensational third-period comeback
Tuesday night that earned New Jersey the Atlantic Division title
with its 11th straight victory, 4-3 over Montreal.
The Devils, who trailed the division-leading Flyers by 19 points
on Jan. 6, registered the biggest comeback to claim a division
title since the league divided into two conferences with the
1974-75 expansion. Detroit held the previous record, overcoming an
18-point deficit in 1993-94.
Gionta had three points, including his franchise-record 47th and
48th goals, then Langenbrunner scored with 2:23 to go in
regulation. New Jersey, which was battling for one of the last
playoff positions a month ago, won its sixth division championship
in nine seasons in spectacular fashion.
"I don't think it's sunk in," Langenbrunner said. "We were
basically so far out of it even three weeks ago that somehow we won
this division and have home ice is -- I think we're all a little bit
in shock about that. But we definitely earned it."
The Devils last lost 4-3 in Toronto on March 26. They trailed
the Canadiens 3-0, however.
Gionta scored late in the second period and again midway through
the third before assisting on Patrik Elias' tying goal 14:55 into
the final period.
"We knew what was going on," said Gionta, acknowledging the
Devils were aware the New York Rangers had lost 5-1 to Ottawa.
"Down 3-1 going into the third and with a chance for a division
title, we had to throw everything on the line."
Langenbrunner further silenced the stunned sellout crowd of
21,273 when he beat Cristobal Huet on a 2-on-1 to win it.
"I was definitely excited," Langenbrunner said. "To be able
to help your team clinch a division is definitely a good feeling,
especially considering all that we've been through this year with
our struggles early on, players leaving and coaches quitting. It's
been quite a year."
The Devils finished with 101 points, the same as Philadelphia,
but won the division with more victories. They will play the New
York Rangers in the playoffs; the Rangers wound up with 100 points.
"To win 11 in a row at the end of the year is quite an
accomplishment, especially the schedule we were playing, against
pretty much all playoff teams," Langenbrunner said. "We're
excited about the way we're playing, but this team is built to play
in the playoffs and that's what we base our accomplishments on and
we're excited about our opportunity now."
Montreal, which topped its own league attendance record,
finished seventh overall with 95 points after clinching a playoff
spot the night before when Atlanta lost. The Canadiens will travel
to Carolina to open its opening-round series.
"If you had asked me 24 hours ago I would have said I was
excited about it because we're happy to be playing and we skated
right down to the wire to get into the playoffs," Canadiens coach
and GM Bob Gainey said. "Even tonight, teams were moving all over
through the division, so we're happy to be playing, we're happy to
be in the playoffs. That's what our goal was at the beginning of
Gionta had his sixth three-point game of the season to finish
with 89 points. He extended his points streak to 15 games when he
broke Huet's shutout effort. He moved ahead of Pat Verbeek, who
scored 46 goals for the Devils in 1987-88.
The 5-foot-7 right wing added his second goal of the game 11:29
into the third.
Montreal's 41st sellout in as many home games brought the
Canadiens' total attendance to 872,193 this season, the team's 10th
full season at the Bell Centre. That tops its NHL record of 861,072
set in 1996-97.
Devils G Martin Brodeur tied his career high with 43 wins,
a figure he first attained in 1997-98. Brodeur also won 43 games in
1999-2000 before the Devils went on to win the second of their
three Stanley Cups in the playoffs. ... The Canadiens' total
attendance was higher than baseball's Expos drew in five of their
six final seasons at Olympic Stadium. Montreal's defunct NL team
played 59 home dates in its final two seasons, when some games were
moved to Puerto Rico to boost revenue before the franchise was
moved to Washington, D.C., for the 2005 season. ... The Canadiens
have sold out 64 consecutive regular-season games.