"It is a pleasant surprise for us and for a lot of people," Koivu said. "There were some question marks for this team because of the young players coming from the minors, but those guys have done an excellent job coming in here and wanting a big role, not being happy just to be in the lineup."
Mark Streit also scored for the Canadiens, who have won three in a row and seven of their last 10 to give them 81 points -- one more than the Devils and Ottawa Senators.
This is the first time the Canadiens have been first in the conference after the All-Star break since March 1993 - the last time Montreal won the Stanley Cup.
"We played really good hockey in the first half of the season," said Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, who was the captain of the 1993 team. "But ever since Christmas, we've been playing really great hockey."
Montreal's 20-year-old rookie Carey Price made 31 saves to win his third straight start and improve to 15-9-3. Price has allowed only four goals on 92 shots during his three-game streak.
Brian Gionta scored for the Devils, who lost their third straight. It was only New Jersey's third regulation loss in 16 games.
"They didn't give us much, we barely had three or four really good scoring chances on Price," Brodeur said. "We're just having problems scoring goals and creating chances of late, and it was the same thing tonight.
The Canadiens' league-leading power play connected for the 17th time in 19 games, scoring twice on six opportunities. Montreal has scored 27 goals in 92 chances during those 19 games.
The Canadiens were unable to capitalize on that opportunity, but while still on the man-advantage, Kostitsyn pounced on a loose puck behind the net and banked a wraparound try in off Brodeur's stick for his 20th goal of the year at 14:17 of the third.
Twenty goals isn't enough for Kostitsyn, whose parents were at the game.
"I want more," he said.
The Devils had a chance to tie it when Mike Komisarek took a hooking penalty just 17 seconds later, but Price was solid for Montreal.
Streit opened the scoring on the power play at 6:11 of the second period. Alex Kovalev collected his NHL-best 40th power-play point on the play, centering a pass for Koivu in front that was stopped by Brodeur, but Streit batted in the bouncing puck for his 12th goal.
The Devils tied it while the teams were playing 4-on-4 as Price made the initial save on Mike Mottau's shot. While he searched for the puck, Gionta came and fished it out from next to Price's blocker and put it in an open net for his 18th goal at 13:37 of the second.
It was Gionta's fifth goal in his last 10 games since snapping a 13-game goal drought.
- Brodeur dropped to 34-14-5-0 in his career against his hometown team.
- The Canadiens had the same lineup as in their 6-2 win Friday in Buffalo, meaning D Patrice Brisebois and wingers Tom Kostopoulos, Mathieu Dandenault and Steve Begin (groin) sat out.
- Devils defensemen Vitaly Vishnevski, Andrew Greene and Paul Martin were healthy scratches. D Karel Rachunek was back in the lineup after sitting out the last six games.