Jacques Lemaire earned a milestone and the Devils remained on a roll.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored at 4:36 of overtime and the Devils coach became eighth coach in NHL history to reach 600 wins in New Jersey’s 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
“Not really,” Lemaire said when asked if he’s proud of the mark. “I’m only as good as the players are and I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good people around me. I thank them.”
The 65-year-old Lemaire knows something about good players, he was one.
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He spent 12 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1960s and ’70s, winning eight Stanley Cups. His 835 career points are seventh in Montreal history and helped him get inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.
Dainius Zubrus also scored for New Jersey (21-30-4), which improved to 11-1-2 in its past 14 games.
Nikolai Kulemin scored for the Maple Leafs (23-26-6), who moved within seven points of Carolina for the final playoff spot in the East. The Hurricanes lost 2-1 to Philadelphia on Thursday.
“I don’t count it as a loss, we got a point,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “We moved another step closer — now we’re seven points back of Carolina because they lost in regulation. Obviously, I wish we’d had the two points, but the Devils are playing great right now.”
Lemaire is a two-time Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year and has another Cup as a coach under his belt, during his first go-around with New Jersey in 1995.
He has helped turn the team around since taking over from John MacLean on Dec. 23, leading the Devils to a 12-8-2 record that has lifted them out of the NHL’s basement.
“I know we can play better than we are right now,” Lemaire said.