This is the Martin Brodeur the New Jersey Devils expected.
After a rough start to the season, Brodeur is finally playing to his usual All-Star level. It’s no coincidence that his improved play helped lead the Devils on an 8-1-1 tear. Tonight, Brodeur will go for his third straight win against the Florida Panthers at the Prudential Center.
Brodeur’s early season struggles were well chronicled. He looked slow in net, and his play rapidly declined. Every rebound turned into a goal, every wrist shot seemed to beat his glove. While there were some glimmers of hope – including two shutouts in October – he experienced the worst stretch of his career.
Injury problems further complicated the situation. A hard wrist shot from Patrick Kane on November 3 bruised Brodeur’s right elbow, limiting his effectiveness. He took practice time off and missed some games, but ultimately could not play. Brodeur re-aggravated the injury November 18 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team shut him down for over two weeks.
The recovery time did little to help Brodeur’s game. When he returned, Brodeur went 0-6-0 with a 4.21 goals-against average in eight games. Interim head coach Jacques Lemaire decided to give Johan Hedberg more starts, and Brodeur found a seat on the bench.
It seemed like an unlikely fall from grace for the future Hall-of-Famer, but a relief appearance in Philadelphia changed the course of his season.
On January 8, in an afternoon matinee, Hedberg struggled against the Flyers. After allowing two goals on 10 shots, Lemaire pulled Hedberg and put in Brodeur. The vintage Marty returned, making 19 saves in 44 minutes of play. He made sprawling saves, diving stops and finally looked like the confident goaltender of years past. Since that game, Brodeur is 7-1-1 with a 1.99 GAA and one shutout. He’s won games against the league’s best teams and even at Madison Square Garden, where he’s struggled throughout his career.
Brodeur has fared well against the Panthers in his career. He is 15-4-0 with a 1.90 GAA and three shutouts in his last 19 games against, which includes a 24-save performance in the Devils’ 5-2 win over the Panthers back on January 23.
Even with their recent streak, the Devils are 18 points out of a playoff spot. But if the Devils can make a miraculous run, they’ll have to credit Brodeur’s return for leading the way.