Jacques Lemaire never thought he would return to the New Jersey Devils after he resigned following the 1997-98 season. Now that he's back, he'll return to Minnesota on Saturday night for the first time since coaching the Wild for the past nine seasons.
Lemaire led the Devils from 1993-98, guiding them to the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 1995. Lemaire, though, resigned following the 1997-98 season after the top-seeded Devils were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by No. 8 seed Ottawa.
"I said at that time when I was leaving after five years, and it was five great years, I wanted to cherish this for the rest of my life and the rest of my career, but I never thought one day I would come back," Lemaire said in July after signing with New Jersey.
Lemaire returned to coaching in the 2000-01 season and led the expansion Wild for the next nine seasons. Minnesota advanced to the playoffs three times under Lemaire, but after the Wild missed the postseason in 2008-09, Lemaire resigned, giving way to current Wild coach Todd Richards.
"Last year, right after the season, I never did close the door on coaching," Lemaire said. "I just said that my time in Minnesota is over and it's time to go on and do something else."
Lemaire's Devils (28-10-1) lead the Eastern Conference with 57 points and have allowed a conference-low 85 goals. New Jersey, though, is looking to bounce back from one of its worst defensive efforts of the season -- Thursday's 5-1 loss at Chicago. It matched the most goals the Devils have allowed this season.
"Tonight we didn't play well, that's the bottom line," said captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who scored with 1:33 left to help New Jersey avoid its first shutout of the season.
The Devils are 0 for 7 with the man advantage in their past two games, but Minnesota's opponents are 3 for 7 on the power play in the last three contests.
Martin Brodeur, 0-2-0 with a 4.50 GAA in his last two road games, is expected to make his 19th consecutive start Saturday. He has won three straight starts over Minnesota and is 6-1-2 with a 2.15 goals-against average in nine career games against the Wild.
In the teams' last meeting, Brodeur made 35 saves in a 4-0 victory over the visiting Wild on March 20. Patrik Elias scored twice while Devils leading scorer Zach Parise added two assists.
While New Jersey looks to improve upon its NHL-best 13-4-1 road record, Minnesota (20-18-3) is trying to get back on track following two losses to end December.
After their three-game winning streak was snapped with a 4-2 loss at Anaheim on Tuesday, the Wild fell to Los Angeles 5-2 on Thursday. Minnesota, which was 7-1-1 in previous nine home games, is currently in 11th place in the Western Conference.
"We've got to find a way to get ourselves out of the funk if we want to be making our way up to the top, or moving ourselves up into a playoff spot," Wild defenseman Greg Zanon said Thursday. "We're going to have to be winning games. We can't be losing back-to-back games."
Niklas Backstrom, who is expected to start Saturday, is 11-4-1 with a 2.35 GAA since Nov. 18. He is 0-1-1 with a 3.75 GAA in two career starts versus the Devils.
Minnesota has lost three straight to New Jersey since a 4-4 tie on Feb. 17, 2004.