NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey Devils will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
Mathieu Darche scored twice, Carey Price made 20 saves and the Montreal Canadiens ended the Devils' run of making the last 13 playoffs with a 3-1 victory on Saturday night.
P.K. Subban also scored and former Devils star Brian Gionta set up both of Darche's goals as the Canadiens inched closer to clinching a playoff berth with their second win in six games.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored for the Devils with 5:59 to play, preventing Carey Price from posting his ninth shutout of the season.
This will mark only the third time in the last 23 seasons that the Devils have missed the playoffs, and this one can be atttributed to a dismal start under rookie coach John MacLean that forced general manager Lou Lamoriello to bring Jacques Lemaire out of retirement.
The team responded in early January and posted a 23-3-2 mark to pull within six points of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. However, they would get no closer and New Jersey has been faced with must-win games the past week just to stay alive.
Darche and the Canadiens ended their faint hopes on Saturday night.
Darche deflected a backhand pass by Gionta from the left side boards midway through the first period to give Montreal a 1-0 lead to the roars of what seemed a Canadiens crowd in New Jersey.
Martin Brodeur kept the Devils in the game in the second period but the Canadiens put the game away in the early minutes of the third.
Subban ripped a blue-line shot past Brodeur on a power play at 29 seconds with Andrei Kostitsym providing a screen.
Darche got his 12th goal of the season at 3:34, once again deflecting a Gionta pass by Brodeur, who finished with 26 saves.
Kovalchuk got his 29th goal of the season in close with the Canadiens about to be called for a delayed penalty.
Brodeur was the reason the Devils were only a goal down after two periods. He made 22 saves in the opening 40 minutes and several were spectacular, with the best being a couple on Michael Cammalleri in the second period.
Brodeur got a piece of Cammalleri's rebound attempt with his glove about eight minutes into the second period and he had another in the closing seconds with the Canadiens on a power play.
The 38-year-old goaltender also stopped former teammates Scott Gomez and Gionta in close in the second period.
Devils rookie Mattias Tedenby was awarded a penalty shot in the opening minutes after being slashed on a breakaway, However, his attempt hit off the post and rolled along the goal line without going in.
NOTES: Price tied a Canadiens record appearing in his 70th game in goal. Gerry McNeil (1950-51, 51-52) and Jacques Plante (61-62). ... Gionta got his 400th NHL point on Darche's first goal. ... Devils D Colin White missed his fourth straight game with a lower body injury. ... Brodeur returned to action after being rested on Friday against Philadelphia. He had started 15 straight games.