NEWARK, NJ – The hockey world anticipated this day for four months. How would Martin Brodeur respond to being in net for the first time after a substantial injury?
In Thursday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche, the New Jersey net minder gave his answer.
Brodeur stopped all 24 shots he faced in his return, a 4-0 win at the Prudential Center, for his 99th career regular season shut out.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner led the Devils out of the locker room to a thunderous applause, and received another ovation the first time he handled the puck 36 seconds into the game.
“I kind of moved the puck a couple of times before I got that first long (shot) from between the red and the blue, but it was still pretty nice to stop the first one,” said Brodeur.
Brodeur did not see much action in the beginning of the first period as the Devils kept offensive pressure on Colorado’s goalie, Andrew Raycroft.
A Johnny Oduya shot from the left wing hit the crossbar and shot out two minutes in, but New Jersey was not going to take rejection and at 4:38 the Devils’ offense gave Brodeur a lead to work with.
Travis Zajac brought the puck up the ice on the right wing and made a drop pass right onto the stick of Jamie Langenbrunner. Langenbrunner let a shot fly from the right circle and the puck zinged through the legs of Raycroft for the captain’s 19th goal of the season.
Zach Parise pushed the puck up to Zajac and was credited with the secondary assist, one of two on the night.
With Ryan Smyth banging in front of the net, Brodeur was tested as the first period went on. At 17:20, he stopped the Avs’ Milan Hejduk from point blank on the left side of the net.
The second period opened up with more of Colorado’s offensive pressure, but Brodeur was able to handle everything thrown at him.
With 5:40 gone in the second session, Wojtek Wolski moved the puck all the way around the crease and put the puck on goal from the left post, but the puck hit the crossbar and Parise was able to clear it out of harm’s way.
“He made a great play and came across and the guy was coming in and there were a lot of people. He hit his shot, and I got a little lucky,” explained Brodeur.
The Devils played strong defense in front of Brodeur, which pleased Coach Brent Sutter.
“We don’t want to make things hard on our goaltender. We take pride in that. When there were scoring chances, Marty made the saves and was under control. He was very poised. He didn’t get a lot of work, but when it was there he made the save,” explained Sutter.
The lack of action for Brodeur turned into quite a lot of work for Raycroft, who faced 32 shots on goal, eight more than Brodeur.
One shot that did not make the stat sheet actually became a great assist for the Devils.
Moments into a power play after Ruslan Salei was called for hooking, Paul Martin fired a shot from between the circles at the blue line. The puck caromed off the back boards to the left of Raycroft. Zajac looked like he was going to play the puck, and Raycroft turned to stop him, but the puck slid past to Patrick Elias, who was able to back hand the puck into the net behind Raycroft.
Later in the second period, after facing some sustained traffic in front of him, Brodeur made his first glove save, testing the repaired arm on a shot from the left wing by T.J. Hensick.
The crowd roared with approval and chanted “Marty! Marty! Marty!” in support of the net minder.
“I heard it, it was fun. The fans were great, and I expected that too. I’ve always had a great relationship with the fans and for them to show up, there were a lot of people out there and they were all into my comeback, and it was nice,” said an appreciative Brodeur.
The crowd received another chance to chant eight minutes into the third period, but this time the call was “MVP.”
Parise took control of the puck at the center line with Colorado’s Brett Clark hanging all over him. Parise out-skated and out-muscled Clark while taking the puck all the way up the right wing. He skated in front of Raycroft and roofed the puck over the goalie and in for the team’s third goal of the night.
The same line of Zajac-Parise-Langenbrunner also hammered the final nail into the Avs’ coffin at 16:47.
Martin fired a shot from the right point and Raycroft made the save, but Zajac was there to gather the rebound and put the puck in the net from the left side.
Martin, who was returning from being sidelined four games with an injury, had two assists, and was on ice for all four Devils goals.
Zajac and Langenbrunner each finished with a goal and an assist, while Parise had a goal and two assists. Oduya was also credited with an assist on Zajac’s goal.
With the win securely in place, focus turned to keeping Brodeur’s shutout bid alive.
Coming into the game, he was only five blankings away from trying Terry Sawchuk’s
all-time record of 103.
When asked after the game when he started thinking shutout, Brodeur replied, “Last night when I was dreaming.”
He added, “When you play games, you don’t really necessarily want a shut out but you go out there and you play. Sometimes it happens. I don’t ever really think about it, I don’t want to jinx myself. I just want to go out and win the game.”
And for the first time since October 22, 2008, that’s just what he did.