|With Martin Brodeur between the pipes, the Devils are always a threat to win the Stanley Cup.
Was this really going to be the season they’ve feared, the one in which Martin Brodeur becomes a mere mortal?
The excitement over their new, state-of-the-art arena was tempered when reliable old Marty stumbled to a 2-6 record through his first eight games. Concern grew when he was 5-10-1 after 16 games.
“Usually that bad stretch that I will have, I get it in the middle of the season somewhere, but this year I got it right from the get-go,” Brodeur said. “You know, I’m human.”
Could have fooled us, Marty.
Brodeur got out of his slump by mid-November, when he went on a nine-game win streak. The Devils shot up the standings and wound up being one of the most dominant teams in the NHL over the final five months of the season behind the always-impressive play of their star goalie.
“It’s pretty rare that someone is going to come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re losing it,’ ” Brodeur said. “They’ll write it in the papers, but it’s pretty rare that someone will come up and tell me. My friends, though, they get it, and for them to react by saying, ‘See, he showed you again,’ I really can appreciate that.”
New Jersey fell to 7-10-2 after a 1-0 loss to the Islanders on Nov. 17, but didn’t lose in regulation again until Dec. 10 against Washington.
During that 10-game stretch, defenseman Colin White returned from a career-threatening eye injury and Jamie Langenbrunner, who missed the first 17 games of the season while recovering from sports hernia surgery, was named captain.
Zach Parise had nine goals and eight assists, including his first career natural hat trick in a 4-0 win against Montreal on Nov. 30, in that stretch, while Langenbrunner posted 10 assists during the streak, including seven points in the first five games.
“As you get older you realize more and more that the best leadership is always by example, and that’s what Jamie does,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “It’s just not a coincidence that with him in the lineup things changed. There’s a reason why.”
The Devils even withstood a serious groin injury to stalwart defensive forward Jay Pandolfo, who went down against Dallas on Nov. 28 and didn’t return until Feb. 4. He missed 28 straight games after playing in 307 in a row.
They found some defensive depth, which was an early-season concern, by bringing in Sheldon Brookbank and giving serious ice time to Mike Mottau and Johnny Oduya, who has turned into one of the better offensive defenseman in the East.
After beating Philadelphia, 4-2, on Dec. 16, the Devils embarked on a Western Canada trip. It began terribly, as Brodeur was roasted by Vancouver in a 5-0 loss, but ended wonderfully, with a 3-1 win in Edmonton and a 1-0 overtime victory in Calgary.
The win in Edmonton started the Devils on a 10-5 run entering the All-Star break, pushing them up to fourth place in the Eastern Conference and into a tie for first in the Atlantic Division at the break.
The Devils’ consistency continued when play restarted. They went 9-3-3 in February, including a five-game win streak from Feb. 16-24. They picked up more defensive depth on trade-deadline day by acquiring Bryce Salvador from St. Louis.
Salvador gave New Jersey nine defensemen.
“Competition is good for everybody,” Sutter said of having that many blue-liners.
Parise potted his 30th goal March 8, and Brodeur picked up his 40th win March 15.
What started by looking like the beginning of the end of a goaltending era in New Jersey finished with yet another vintage season by Brodeur and the Devils.
What’s even better is that due to the tight race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division title, the Devils essentially have been embroiled in playoff hockey for the last month.
They’re doing it with one of the best ever backing them up and owning his crease.
“When you play a lot, you’re going to reflect what the team is,” Brodeur said. “That’s the bottom line. When you’re playing every day, you really are the image of what the team is.”
And right now, that team is looking pretty good.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.