Jacques Lemaire's return to Minnesota overshadowed by Iron Range standout
By Wild Road Tripper
It was a festive evening, indeed. With an overflow 19,155 on hand -- the largest crowd to see a Wild game since October 5, 2005, the first home game following the strike/lockout -- including a few busloads from his hometown of Cloquet, Minnesota, New Jersey Devils Captain (and future US Olympian) Jamie Langenbrunner managed to steal the show from another hockey legend -- Jacques Lemaire, Devils' coach and former Wild bench boss -- as the Devils, behind Langenbrunner's hat trick, his first in his 924 NHL game career, defeated the Minnesota Wild 5-3 Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Langenbrunner's 11th, 12th and 13th goals of the season -- the last one an empty-netter as time was running out -- gave the Devils the victory, their 29th of the season, as they lead the Eastern Conference by five points over second place Buffalo. The loss by the Wild was their third straight, the longest current losing skein in the Western Conference, but despite that, they did not lose ground, as both Dallas and St. Louis lost Saturday as well. The Wild have now surrendered the first goal of the game in 17 of the last 23 starts, and fall to 6-3-3 versus the Eastern Conference in 2009-10.
It was an up-and-down fast skating game -- in short, a Lemaire-style contest -- as the two teams went back and forth in the first period. As the second period wore on, the Wild began to make mental mistakes, and when that happened, the Devils were quick to pounce on any loose puck which would find its' way inside of the Minnesota blue line. Two Minnesota penalties were converted by the Devils, including a goal with 3.5 seconds remaining in the second, no thanks to another laziness-inspired Marek Zidlicky penalty -- as the Wild found themselves down a goal heading into the third period.
Anyone tell the Wild that the Devils were 20-0-0 when leading after two periods? (Uh, no.) Well, they were, and now, thanks to some really sloppy play in the latter stages of the third period, the Devils are 21-0-0, as the Wild watched while Langenbrunner skated to the goalmouth, before calmly shooting the puck in to seal the deal for New Jersey, as Lemaire had to just sit back and smile. A little bit. Or, so we thought at the time.
Lemaire was actually displeased with the efforts of his team, save for Langenbrunner's efforts; he likened his team's efforts to complicating the game "a little too much." The Devils are the only team the Wild has only defeated once; their all-time record against New Jersey drops to a nearly-embarrassing 1-5-4.
And the road ahead for the Wild doesn't get any easier, not with the schedule, nor with the brisk winter weather, as they travel to the Windy City for the Next Game: at Chicago, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 7:00 PM Central Time, United Center. (TV: Versus; XM Radio, Ch. 237)
Note: No Minnesota Wild-sponsored 'viewing parties' in the Twin Cities Area have been announced for this game.