The Devils ended 2009 on a sour note, falling to the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-1, on New Year's Eve.
Jonathan Toews had a goal and an assist for the Blackhawks, who handed the Devils their second straight road loss and foiled their bid for a third straight victory, overall.
Former Devil John Madden was one of five different Chicago goal scorers in a contest that pitted the East-leading Devils against one of the top clubs in the West.
The Devils (28-10-1) were held off the scoresheet until late in the third period, when Jamie Langenbrunner broke up Cristobal Huet's shutout with 1:33 to go. The captain extended his points streak to three games (2g-1a).
One night after posting his 105th career shutout against Pittsburgh, Martin Brodeur was tested with 36 shots and made 31 saves. The League's wins leader with 25, Brodeur has started 18 in a row for the Devils and has gone 14-4 over that span.
"Marty was so good," head coach Jacques Lemaire told MSG. "I felt the guys could come back earlier than we did. Up to the third period, we were still in the game if we started to play. We get a goal, it's 3-1 and we can come back. I never thought we wouldn't get our legs back and skate the way we can."
New Jersey maintained its three-point cushion over Washington for the Eastern Conference lead. They visit Minnesota on Saturday, when Lemaire will face his former team for the first time.
Jersey's Team closed out the 2009 calendar year with the most wins in the NHL (58), and returns home to host Dallas on Tuesday, when the club will honor the 2000 Stanley Cup champions.
Troy Brouwer and Ben Eager scored 1:45 apart in the first period to give Chicago a 2-0 lead. Andrew Ladd added one in the second before Toews and Madden staked the Blackhawks to a 5-0 lead in the third.
"We didn't make a lot of plays," said Lemaire. "We weren't skating as well. It seems like it was downhill for them the rest of the way."
The Devils were trailing 3-0 six minutes into the second, when Zach Parise got in alone on Huet. But the Chicago netminder produced one of his 26 saves on Parise's backhander to keep New Jersey off the board.
Lemaire will look to improve a power play that is 0-for-7 in its last two contests after finishing 0-for-3 in Chicago. That included a prime chance to cut into the Blackhawks' 3-0 lead 2:34 into the third period, following Cam Barker's delay of game minor for putting the puck over the glass.
Seven seconds after Barker exited the box, Toews knocked the puck away from Johnny Oduya and walked in on Brodeur to make it 4-0 with his 12th of the year at 4:41.
"What we'll do is try to get the guys to understand what we want," Lemaire said. "Right now, some nights they do understand; they're trying to do it. Other nights they just want to try to make plays, and in this League it doesn't work. You have to bring the puck at the net."
Lemaire was impressed by the Blackhawks' overall game.
"They move the puck well," he said. "Skating and puck control is their game, and this is why they have success. They're a top team."
Asked for one positive from the contest, Lemaire quickly identified No. 30.
"The goalie, definitely," he said. "Marty was just great. I thought he was really good."
The Blackhawks grabbed a two-goal edge in the opening period. Colin White was off for hooking when Toews' centering pass went off Brodeur in front to Brouwer, who knocked in his 10th of the season to make it 1-0 at 14:44.
Eager got his third after Colin Fraser's missed wraparound try. Eager drove to the top of the crease to backhand the loose puck past Brodeur for a 2-0 count at 16:29.
Early in the second period, Marian Hossa gained the New Jersey blueline to create a 2-on-1 with Ladd and Patrick Sharp. Ladd netted Sharp's rebound for his seventh, making it 3-0 at 2:12.
Madden tallied his eighth with 4:49 remaining in regulation, using Mike Mottau as a screen to score from the slot.
The Devils avoided being shutout for the first time this season when Langenbrunner pressured Duncan Keith deep in Chicago territory to create a turnover, and stuffed his 10th of the season, and second in as many games, past Huet with 1:33 left.
Defenseman Bryce Salvador traveled to Chicago, but did not play (lower body).… David Clarkson, who left Wednesday's game in the second period (lower body), did not make the trip. The right wing returned Monday after missing 13 games with a leg injury, and although Devils' President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello reported that Clarkson is sore, he said everything is structurally sound.…Forward Andrew Peters was back in the lineup for the second time in the last three games.
1 - 0 CHI
2 - 0 CHI
3 - 0 CHI
4 - 0 CHI
5 - 0 CHI
5 - 1 CHI
Interference on goalkeeper