PITTSBURGH -- Johan Hedberg enters Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh's Uptown neighborhood, takes a peek across Center Avenue and sees an expanse of asphalt.
"It's hard to imagine what was there when you just see a parking lot," Hedberg said, referring to the former Mellon Arena.
Less than 12 years ago, the now-New Jersey Devils goalie was living one of the top feel-good stories of the Pittsburgh Penguins' 46-year-history on that very site. Acquired for seldom-used defenseman Bobby Dollas from the San Jose Sharks' International Hockey League affiliate in Winnipeg in March, Hedberg quickly became the go-to goalie for the Stanley Cup-contending Penguins over the next two months.
"It's been (12) years, but for me it's a special place to come back to," said Hedberg, who will start against his former team Sunday night. "(The Penguins) always are going to be special for me."
Hedberg made his NHL debut four days after the trade and went 7-1-1 down the stretch for a Pittsburgh team that boasted Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Alex Kovalev, but had a question mark in net. He immediately filled that need and was a big reason why the Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
He became a folk hero in Pittsburgh. The trade went down so fast he was still wearing the powder-blue helmet of the Manitoba Moose for the Penguins. Fans at Mellon Arena chanted "Mooooooooose" after Hedberg saves. Some wore foam moose ears.
"I thought it was a great story back then, especially because of the Moose chant," said Martin Brodeur, the player Hedberg now backs up on the Devils.
Brodeur's Devils ended Hedberg's run in 2001 with a five-game series win in the conference finals.
"We knew they were riding a hot goalie," Brodeur said Sunday. "We were fortunate enough to be able to solve him, I guess, in that series."
Hedberg said that as time goes by, he gets asked about his magical run less and less. He added that trips to Pittsburgh aren't nearly as emotional for him now that Mellon Arena has been razed.
"It doesn't have the same feeling with the new building," Hedberg said. "Not like coming back to the old Igloo."
The results haven't been the same, either. Hedberg has never won in Pittsburgh since being traded by the Penguins to the Vancouver Canucks for a second-round draft choice in August 2003.
He allowed four goals on 29 shots of a loss in his most recent start here on Oct. 22, 2011. Hedberg also made two starts in the three-year-old building during the 2010-11 season. In all, Hedberg is 0-3 with a 3.35 goals-against average and .889 save percentage at Consol Energy Center.
At Mellon Arena after leaving the Penguins, Hedberg was 0-1-1 with a 4.87 GAA and .848 save percentage.
The Devils are out to complete a home-and-home weekend sweep of the Penguins, with whom they are in a tight battle for first place in the Atlantic Division. With Brodeur in net Saturday, New Jersey went 2-for-10 on the power play in a 3-1 win.
"I don't think you're going to see the same kind of game tonight as we did last night," Hedberg said. "I'm sure they don't want to spend the time in the box as they did. We have to clear our minds and know what their tendencies are, but it's more focusing on what we want to do."