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Brodeur's return, race to record better than expected

Wednesday, 03.18.2009 / 1:49 PM / Brodeur Watch

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"It was still unknown how well I was going to be able to come back. The players played for four months and I didn't, and this is a high tempo game," Brodeur said. "After I won my first four games I said (the record) is going to happen quicker than I thought. That's probably when I started thinking about it more, but not when I came back."
-- Martin Brodeur

NEWARK, N.J. -- In the days leading up to his impending return from elbow surgery, Martin Brodeur wouldn't stray from one core message.

Having never dealt with a major injury before, Brodeur had zero expectations for how he was going to play when he returned to the lineup after a 50-game absence.

He may have been telling the truth at the time; but we all should have known better than to believe him -- or at the very least, hang on his every word. This is, after all, Martin Brodeur, and following Tuesday night's 3-2 victory against Chicago, the stats finally prove that nobody has played the position better than him.

Not only did Brodeur win his record-breaking 552nd game Tuesday night, surpassing Patrick Roy; but he raced to the finish line of his historic chase in stunning fashion by winning eight of nine consecutive starts since returning to the lineup Feb. 26, when he posted his 99th career shutout.

"It was still unknown how well I was going to be able to come back. The players played for four months and I didn't, and this is a high tempo game," Brodeur said. "After I won my first four games I said (the record) is going to happen quicker than I thought. That's probably when I started thinking about it more, but not when I came back."

As soon as Brodeur was off the operating table Nov. 6, his doctors told him that he should be able to resume playing again in 16 weeks. As long as he rehabbed properly, he was assured he should feel no ill effects from the devastating injury.

The docs were dead on.

Exactly 16 weeks to the day of his surgery Brodeur was back in the net for the Devils. That morning Brodeur, who had already been skating for a month and practicing for two weeks, claimed he was just "happy that they feel that I'm good enough to get in there.

"We do something pretty cool, playing hockey, so I'm definitely excited to play," he added. "I just want to go out there and see how it's going to feel."

He barely broke a sweat in a 4-0 shutout against the Colorado Avalanche and afterward didn't need any ice for his surgically repaired left elbow.

"I tested it a couple of times, especially getting up and moving across the crease," Brodeur said after beating the Avs. "I felt pretty good. Even playing the puck I didn't feel anything."

With back-to-back afternoon games coming up that weekend, everybody was asking if Brodeur could handle playing twice in a 24-hour period? Devils coach Brent Sutter wouldn't tip his hand, but again, we all should have known not to be so naive.

Remember, this is Martin Brodeur, the guy who played in a record 78 games during the 2006-07 season and in 70 or more for 10-straight seasons. He's durable enough to handle back-to-backs, especially considering how fresh he was after a four-month absence.

Brodeur first beat the Florida Panthers, 7-2, on Feb. 28 and the next day recorded his shutout No. 100 with a 3-0 whitewashing of the rival Philadelphia Flyers.

Two nights later he did it again, besting Vesa Toskala and the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-2, at the Air Canada Centre for his first road win since Nov. 1 in Atlanta, the night his biceps tendon tore completely off his elbow bone.

At this point, Brodeur admits he started calling around to some friends and family in Montreal and telling them to grab some tickets for the March 14 game at the Bell Centre. He sensed maybe, just maybe, he could at least tie Patrick Roy's record that night.

"I never looked at Montreal (when I came back from the injury) because it was eight games and I didn't know how I would start my comeback from my injury," Brodeur said. "So, Montreal was never in my mind that much. After four-straight games it popped up. I thought, 'Oh, maybe Montreal could be the one.' "

He lost his bid to break the record a week before the trip to Montreal when the Devils put up a rare stinker and dropped a 7-3 decision on Long Island. However, back in Newark on March 10, Brodeur stopped 35 shots in a 3-2 victory against the Calgary Flames. Two nights later he and the Devils wiped out the Phoenix Coyotes, 5-2.

However, until that win against Phoenix, everything Brodeur had done was really only covered on a local level. With 550 wins and a trip home to Montreal on the schedule, hockey writers and fans across the continent began giving him undivided attention.

The Montreal radio airwaves were buzzing with Brodeur talk all day Friday and Saturday morning into the afternoon. Saturday at the Bell Centre, the media contingent was more interested in Brodeur than the struggling Habs. Even Roy took time out of his schedule to be in the building to see his record get matched by a fellow French-Canadian.

Brodeur didn't disappoint. He stopped 22 of 23 shots for a 3-1 victory and afterward was cheered by the sellout crowd as if he was wearing the Habs famous colors.

"It couldn't have happened for him to tie the record in a better place," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "It's his hometown and he gets a standing ovation at the end of the game and a standing ovation when he was named first star. It's unbelievable how it has unfolded."

Amazingly, the best was yet to come.

Brodeur relaxed with a day off Sunday before returning to the practice ice Monday. Save for the heavy media traffic there to cover history, Monday was a typical day.

Tuesday, though, wasn't.
"Eight wins away when I got hurt and now I was able to do it in nine games from my comeback, I didn't expect that. " -- Martin Brodeur
Instead of the normal five or six people who cover the morning skates, roughly 50 people and six television stations showed up for Brodeur's morning press conference. Later that night, the building was at capacity for the eighth time this season and the mammoth press box was near capacity.

The 17,625 chanting fans gave a regular-season game a playoff atmosphere. The Devils jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 6:01 into the game. They scored again with 3:04 to play in the second period to make it 3-0 before Chicago struck back 32 seconds later.

The Blackhawks scored again with 2:03 remaining in regulation. The tension mounted when with 8.9 seconds left Jonathan Toews won an in-zone faceoff. Troy Brouwer managed to snap off a 23-foot shot, but Brodeur kicked the puck into the corner.

And, that was it.

"Eight wins away when I got hurt and now I was able to do it in nine games from my comeback, I didn't expect that," Brodeur said. "It's been an awesome ride so far."

A short one, too.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.
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