Lemaire speaks to the press after beating his former team in his first trip back to Minnesota as Devils head coach.
It was a banner night for two Devils with strong ties to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Jamie Langenbrunner netted his first-career hat trick in Jacques Lemaire's first return to Minnesota, hoisting the Devils to an exciting 5-3 win over the Wild Saturday night in St. Paul.
Langenbrunner, a native of Cloquet, Minn., scored two power-play goals in the second period, when the Devils jumped out to a 2-0 lead. After Mikko Koivu's shorthanded tally tied it, 2-2, with 38 seconds left in the middle frame, Langenbrunner's second of the night put New Jersey back on top 34 seconds later.
Dean McAmmond and Jay Pandolfo also scored for the Devils, who won for the eighth time in their last 10 games. Patrik Elias matched a career high with three assists.
Martin Brodeur made his 19th straight start, and recorded 29 saves for his League-leading 26th victory.
Langenbrunner, who was named to the U.S. Olympic team on Friday, added an empty-netter with 17 seconds left in regulation for his 13th marker of the season. He has tallied five times in his last three contests, extending his points streak to four games (5g-1a).
The captain's stellar night helped make it a successful return to Minnesota for Lemaire, who served as Wild coach for the first nine years of the franchise's history.
"I know I have a few two-goal games and had a few opportunities to get it. It was definitely nice to get that third one," said Langenbrunner, who has collected 21 two-goal games since debuting with Dallas in 1994-95.
He got stuck on the ice for a long shift in the game's final minute.
"Too long," Langenbrunner said. "The reason I was in that position was I couldn't get off – I was too tired. I was trying to stay in good position so I wouldn't get in too much trouble."
The Devils (29-10-1) rebounded from a sluggish 5-1 loss at Chicago on New Year's Eve to end a string of back-to-back road defeats. Lemaire's squad will seek its 30th win of the season when it hosts Dallas on Tuesday. Last year's Devils, which set a franchise record with 51 victories, reached the 30-win plateau on Jan. 27.
The two points also moved them back into the NHL's top spot, pending the outcome of San Jose's matchup with Edmonton on the West Coast. With 59 points, the Devils were assured of no worse than a tie for the most overall with the Sharks, who entered Saturday's action with 57.
New Jersey improved its standing in the Eastern Conference by opening up a three-point cushion over Buffalo and Washington, which lost Saturday at Los Angeles.
McAmmond opened the game's scoring in the second period, when he flicked a nifty breakaway backhander over the catching glove of Niklas Backstrom, who finished with 21 stops. McAmmond slipped behind the Wild defense during a Devils line change to notch his fourth of the season and make it 1-0 at 5:13.
Elias set up Langenbrunner on the power play 1:44 later, threading a circle to circle pass for Langenbrunner to one-time his 11th of the season from the left sphere at 6:57.
The Wild buried the next two to knot the contest, 2-2.
On a 4-on-4, Eric Belanger broke up a 2-on-1 with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac and raced the other way to deposit Marek Zidlicky's pass through Brodeur at 9:08.
Koivu got the Wild's second goal shorthanded, redirecting Antti Miettinen's pass on Brodeur, who made an outstanding save before Koivu put home his own rebound at 19:22.
But Langenbrunner answered 34 seconds later with Zidlicky still in the box, flipping Mike Mottau's centering feed off of Kim Johnsson and into the net for his 12th at 19:56.
Pandolfo put the Devils ahead, 4-2, at 11:35 of the third. Rob Niedermayer skated the puck out of the right corner and passed in front to Pandolfo, who buried his third of the year.
Minnesota cut the lead to a goal with 3:51 to go in regulation. Zidlicky jammed the puck out of a netside scrum and off the helmet of Andrew Brunette for a 4-3 score.
Langenbrunner sealed it by intercepting a Wild pass in the neutral zone and skating in to score into the empty cage.
Langenbrunner had the shootout winner in the Devils' last visit to Minnesota on March 13, 2008. … Saturday's game was also Brian Rolston's first return to Minnesota, where he spent three seasons with the Wild before signing with the Devils in 2008. … Bryce Salvador and David Clarkson (both lower body) were out of the lineup. … Ilkka Pikkarainen replaced Andrew Peters, who was a healthy scratch.
1 - 0 NJD
2 - 0 NJD
2 - 1 NJD
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 NJD
4 - 2 NJD
4 - 3 NJD
5 - 3 NJD