NEWARK, N.J. -- Tomas Plekanic scored on a deflection in front in the early stages of the third period and made a clutch defensive play with less than a minute to go, giving the Montreal Canadiens a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
The win enabled the Canadiens (19-5-4) to hold on to first place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Devils (13-10-6 ) fell out of a tie for fifth place with Ottawa, which defeated Buffalo earlier in the day in overtime. It was Montreal's fifth straight win and sixth in the last seven contests.
Plekanic scored his 12th goal and it was assisted by Jarred Tinordi, the 6-foot-6 behemoth making his NHL debut.
After the Canadiens dumped the puck into the Devils' zone, goalkeeper Johan Hedberg went to push the puck out of the zone, but it went to defenseman Adam Larsson, who failed to clear the puck. Plekanic made the steal, then went to the goal and got the deflection off Tinordi's shot for the game winner at the 6:49 mark of the third period.
Travis Moen was also in front, creating traffic to block Hedberg's vision.
The Devils had a good chance to tie the game once more with seven minutes left, but David Clarkson's shot from point blank range hit the pad of Carey Price, who made 30 saves to secure his 15th win of the season in just 22 games.
Price made a fine save on a Patrik Elias' wrist shot with 1:24 left in regulation, after Hedberg left the ice to give the Devils an extra attacker.
Hedberg made 20 saves in net for the Devils.
The Canadiens drew first blood on a first period goal from Colby Armstrong.
The Devils got a rare second period goal from defenseman Peter Harrold on a power-play.
The Canadiens got on the scoreboard first halfway through the first period. Off a faceoff, Armstrong secured the puck, moved freely to his right, then fired a wrist shot high to the left corner that Hedberg never saw. It was Armstrong's first goal of the year, an unassisted tally, and gave Montreal a 1-0 lead at the 9:08 mark of the first period.
Montreal held a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period.
The Devils tied the game in the second period with a power-play goal. With Ryan White in the box for a holding the stick penalty, Harrold took advantage, skating in on goal untouched. He fired a wrist shot that eluded Price just 3:54 into the period, tying the game at 1-1.
It was Harrold's first NHL goal since Dec. 2, 2010, when he was a member of the Los Angeles Kings' organization.
Harrold took a puck to the forehead in the opening minute of the third period, causing a major cut that resulted in a stoppage of play.
NOTES: Before the game, the Devils honored long-time goaltending coach Jacques Caron, who was the goalie coach on all three of the Devils' Stanley Cup championships. ... Caron has spent 21 years with the Devils organization and coached legendary Martin Brodeur, who remains out of action with a back injury. ... The Devils scratched center Andrei Loktionov, who has an undisclosed injury that he suffered in the Devils' 2-1 loss to Philadelphia on Friday night. ... Defenseman Mark Fayne was a healthy scratch for the Devils for the fourth straight game. Coach Peter DeBoer has been alternating his defensemen to keep them fresh. ... Rookie forward Stefan Matteau played for the Devils after being a healthy scratch for the last three games. ... Montreal scratched forward Michael Ryder, the team's leading scorer with 23 points. Ryder has a lower body injury. ... Jarred Tinordi, the Canadiens' first-round draft pick in 2010, made his NHL debut Saturday night. ... Harri Pesonen also made his NHL debut for New Jersey. ... The game was a showdown between the Gionta brothers, namely Brian, a former member of the Devils, and Stephen, currently on the Devils.