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Since returning from an injury that cost him most of the season, Martin Brodeur has shown just how valuable he is to the New Jersey Devils. The Philadelphia Flyers hope the return of Danny Briere will help move them closer to the Atlantic Division leaders.
If he gets the start Sunday, Brodeur will try to avenge two of the worst outings of his shortened season as the first-place Devils wrap up a three-game homestand against the Flyers, who expect Briere to play for the first time in nearly three months.
Back after missing 50 games due to elbow surgery, the 36-year-old Brodeur has looked a lot like a four-time Vezina Trophy winner.
On Thursday, he stopped 24 shots in a 4-0 win over Colorado for his 99th career shutout, leaving him five shy of breaking Terry Sawchuk's NHL record. Brodeur came back on Saturday, and was barely tested in a 7-2 rout of Florida, making only 15 saves.
Brodeur, who posted his 546th win and needs six more to surpass Patrick Roy's career record, is already looking ahead to what will be New Jersey's 12th straight postseason appearance.
"That's how you want to be successful, going into the playoffs with good habits defensively," he said. "It shows. If you play well defensively you can still score four goals and seven goals. Our coach wants us to play well defensively in our own zone because that will make us better offensively."
He's 8-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and three shutouts in 2008-09, but two of Brodeur's worst games came in a home-and-home series against the Flyers.
On Oct. 24, he permitted a season-high five goals in a 6-3 loss. The next night, Brodeur stopped 30 shots, but yielded Jeff Carter's goal 3:44 into overtime of a 3-2 defeat in Philadelphia.
Despite those results, Brodeur's 42 wins against the Flyers remain the most he's recorded against any opponent.
He was helped Saturday by Zach Parise, who had two goals and an assist for his 22nd multipoint game this season. New Jersey (40-19-3) is 20-2-0 in those contests, including 18 wins in a row.
The Flyers activated the oft-injured Briere from injured reserve Saturday, and Philadelphia (33-17-10) hopes he can help close a seven-point deficit in the Atlantic.
Last season, Briere had 31 goals and 72 points to help the Flyers go from the worst team in the NHL to an Eastern Conference finalist. He has five goals and four assists in nine games this season, but hasn't played since injuring his groin on Dec. 2, and missed time earlier with a torn stomach muscle.
Though Briere is expected to contribute, Philadelphia may look again look to Carter for offense.
The Flyers' leader with 36 goals and 65 points, Carter has two goals and four assists in a four-game point streak. He has three goals and two assists in four games versus New Jersey this season.
Philadelphia has picked up points in seven of its last eight games, but will try to avoid losing two straight for the first time since Jan. 31 and Feb. 4. On Friday, the Flyers squandered an early two-goal lead at home and fell 4-3 in overtime to Montreal.
Joffrey Lupul and Mike Richards helped stake the Flyers to the lead in the opening nine minutes. Antero Niittymaki, battling Martin Biron for the starting goaltender job, gave up three goals in a 2:04 span late in the first.
"I think we thought it might be an easy game after the quick start, but they did good things, they capitalized on their chances and we didn't," Richards said.