New Jersey Devils at Toronto Maple Leafs: Lemaire Goes For Win 600

You wouldn't know New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire was standing on the precipice of a coaching milestone.

When asked about getting his 600th career win, Lemaire didn't even know he stood one game away from the milestone.

"I didn't know," he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "It will be OK, I guess."

Lemaire will take his first shot at 600 tonight as the Devils (20-30-4) take on the Toronto Maple Leafs ((23-26-5) tonight at the Air Canada Centre.

Underscoring Lemaire's possible historic accomplishment is the hot streak both teams are on. After struggling to a 1-5-1 record before the All-Star break, the Maple Leafs have turned things around. They're currently 4-1-0 and averaging 3.6 goals per game to move within eight points of the eighth seed of the Eastern Conference.

The Devils have been the hottest team in the league over the past month. Since January 8, New Jersey is 10-1-2 and inserted themselves into the playoff race. They still sit 15 points away from the eighth seed.

Lemaire, 11-8-2 as interim coach, has been the catalyst for the turnaround. Facing one of his toughest coaching challenges, Lemaire took a floundering team and made them do a 180.

The Devils' players believe the milestone holds some significance for Lemaire.

"I'm sure it does on some level," Brian Rolston told Gulitti. "Regardless of how you feel about the game or anything like that, on some level you have to feel a sense of pride that you get to a number like that. It's definitely an accomplishment. I think he enjoys the daily basis of coaching and teaching. That's the most important thing and the wins come along with that."

Lemaire began his coaching career with the Montreal Canadiens in 1984-85 after winning eight Stanley Cups as a player with the organization. He only won 48 games in a season and a half before stepping away from coaching to work in the front office.

His career may have ended there if not for Devils' general manager Lou Lamoriello. The Devils' GM convinced Lemaire to coach the Devils in 1993 - eight seasons after he last coached.

Even after that, Lemaire wasn't convinced he wanted to coach.

"I wanted to work with the guys, but not as a head coach," Lemaire said to Gulitti. "But I wanted to work with the guys. I like that, the practices and all of that. I loved that."

Only seven coaches have reached the 600 win plateau - Scotty Bowman (1, 244), Al Arbour (782), Dick Irvin Sr. (692), Pat Quinn (684), Mike Keenan (672), Bryan Murray (620) and Toronto coach Ron Wilson (605).

In 1,234 career regular season games, Lemaire holds a 599-449-186 record.

The Devils hope they can get their coach the historic win tonight.

"That would be great to be part of that accomplishment," Johan Hedberg told Gulitti. "Hopefully, we can get it sooner than later."

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