When the New Jersey Devils take the ice tonight at PNC Arena, a familiar face will lead the team out of the visitors locker room.
Martin Brodeur will make his first start in 13 games as the Devils face the Carolina Hurricanes in an important matchup between two teams in the thick of the playoff race. A pinched nerve in his neck/back sidelined the Devils goalie for 13 straight games
It will be his first game since a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on February 21.
“For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to be that long,” Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “I know it’s been a lot of games and stuff, but I’m just excited to be back. It’s been almost a week and a half, two weeks I’ve been on the ice. It’s nice that my symptoms all went away and I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
His injury coincided with the Devils slide out of the playoffs. At the time of his injury, the Devils were second in the Eastern Conference and first in the Atlantic Division. A 3-8-2 record in its last 13 games pushed New Jersey out of the playoffs and into ninth in the Eastern Conference. They’ve won just once in regulation, and have scored more than two goals three times over that span.
The Devils have also allowed the first goal in 12 of its last 14 games. While Devils coach Pete DeBoer is excited for the future Hall of Famer to return, he warned that it won’t solve all the Devils issues.
“I don’t think you can make that statement,” DeBoer told Gulitti. “He’s obviously an important piece. I don’t think there’s any way of denying or sugar coating that. The way he handles the puck, relieves pressure for us, his composure back there. He’s arguably the best goaltender of all time. Do you miss him when he’s not there? Sure, but it’s not an instant cure for where we’re at.”
The Devils face another important test tonight in Carolina. The Hurricanes are ahead in standings though both are tied with 32 points. The Canes won the previous two meetings over the Devils, including a 6-3 win on March 10. Carolina scored five goals in two periods, chasing Johan Hedberg and sending New Jersey to an embarrassing loss on the road.
“It’s not long ago that we went into that building and we lost a pretty tough one,” Brodeur said to Gulitti. “I think it’s fresh in the (minds) of most of the guys that played that game. I know I watched it and I didn’t like it because it brought back a lot of bad memories, so hopefully that’s going to make us accountable to whatever we need to do. Sometimes it takes things like that to really pay attention to who you play against and it’s not just another game.”
Both teams are looking to snap losing streaks. The Hurricanes have dropped four straight games, sliding out of the top spot in the Southeast Division. Their offense, one of the ten best in the league, failed to score more than two goals in any of those losses. Opponents have outscored Carolina, 13-5, during its losing skid.
Its latest loss cost the Hurricanes more than two points. Justin Faulk left Tuesday’s 4-1 loss with a sprained MCL and will miss the next two to four weeks. The defenseman leads all Carolina skaters in ice time and is tied with Joe Corvo for the most points among Canes defenseman.
Carolina trails the Winnipeg Jets by two points for the division lead.
The Devils have lost three straight games, including a 3-2 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday. The current streak is the third three-game losing skid of the season for New Jersey, who slipped out of the playoffs for the first time on Tuesday night.
New Jersey will be without Alexei Ponikarovsky. The Devils left wing left Tuesday night’s loss in the second period and did not return. Its been labeled a lower-body injury, and he did not make the trip to Carolina.
Even with that loss, the team is excited to get Brodeur back in net. The Devils goalie, however, doesn’t see himself as the savior to the season.
“I’m just going to go out and play,” Brodeur told Gulitti. “They’re important, but that’s what you play hockey for to be in that position and perform when it’s important. I think you have to take pride and not shy away from these type of situations. It shows what kind of leadership (you have) and what kind of players you are when you’re able to perform under these type of circumstances. There’s other teams that are in a lot worse situation that we’re in. We’re right in the mix. We just can’t afford to slide down much more.”