The Devils honored Brodeur before Friday night's game against Tampa Bay, celebrating his record-setting 552nd career victory with a brief ceremony before giving him the night off. At least that was the plan -- until Kevin Weekes went down with a leg injury in the first minute of the second period and had to be helped off the ice, forcing Brodeur take off his baseball cap, put on his mask and enter the game with his team trailing 1-0.
Despite making only seven saves on 10 shots, Brodeur was credited with his 554th career victory when Zach Parise scored 1:21 into overtime to give the Devils a 5-4 win, snapping their six-game losing streak. Brodeur had been in goal for all six games during the 0-5-1 slide.
"There certainly was a lot of drama out there tonight," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "There was really a strong focus here, and a sense of urgency. It was a positive, and having Marty come in like that, he did a good job, too.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction. It hasn't been a pleasant feeling around here for a couple of weeks."
"I don't know if we caught them on a slow line change," Parise said. "We got them 2-on-1, and it was a really good play by Travis."
That gave the win to Brodeur, who admitted that making his first relief appearance in more than 11 years wasn't his idea of a fun night.
"It's tough," Brodeur said. "Usually when I have days off, they're days off. Injuries -- you can't control that. Sometimes when someone is having a tough game, you can kind of prepare yourself a little bit for it. But when someone gets hurt; the amount of times it's happened in my career you could probably count on the fingers of one hand."
Evgeni Artyukhin, who gave the Lightning the lead on their first shot 1:38 into the game, turned Brodeur from spectator to participant when he fired a puck from the left circle that appeared to hit Weekes on the left leg above the goal pad. Weekes made the stop but pitched forward, face down on the ice. He was helped off, unable to put weight on the leg.
But Brendan Shanahan energized the Devils and the crowd by scoring on a penalty shot at 13:05. The penalty shot was awarded when Ramo fell while attempting to clear the puck behind his net and threw his stick. Shanahan's wrist shot beat Ramo cleanly, giving the Devils a spark.
"We worked hard, we said the right things and did the right things in preparation," Shanahan said. "Then we find ourselves down 2-0 and we're just wondering when that dark cloud's going to go away. Once we got a little bit of life, suddenly we had a whole bunch of life."
Added captain Jamie Langenbrunner: "Shanny's goal really got us going. It really took a weight off our shoulders. The excitement on the bench was really evident after that goal. From that point on, we really played well."
Jay Pandolfo tied the game at 14:50 with a slap shot from the left circle over Ramo's left shoulder. Langenbrunner's power-play goal with 1:31 gave the Devils a 3-2 lead.
The Lightning tied it 2:41 into the third period when Ryan Malone scored on a breakaway backhander. Langenbrunner banged in Travis Zajac's rebound at 10:35, but Martins Karsums tied it again at 14:06; pouncing on a rebound in the slot to force overtime.
"I couldn't wait for the game to end," Brodeur joked.
Lightning coach Rick Tocchet was encouraged by his team's effort.
"That was one of our better games in about a month," Tocchet said. "We battled. It was nice to see. It was a good taste for guys coming back next year -- that a team wins, not individuals. This was the best we've played as a team in a long time.
"We have a long way to go. I'm not saying we were unbelievable, but we were more on the team side than we have been in a long time."
All Florida needed to pull even with the eighth-place New York Rangers was a victory over Atlanta, which has been out of the playoff race for weeks. But the Panthers couldn't get it; instead, Rich Peverley scored twice and Johan Hedberg made 35 saves as the Thrashers won their fourth in a row.
"This is one that we definitely thought we needed," Panthers defenseman Bryan McCabe said. "At home against one of the bottom teams in our conference. I don't think we played that bad, we just couldn't put the puck in the net."
Peverley, who had gone 10 games without a goal, broke a 1-1 tie with 8:54 left in the third period when his wrist shot from close range went over Craig Anderson's left shoulder. He had opened the scoring at 2:23 of the second with a wrist shot from the slot that beat Anderson to the short side.
"We don't have the playoffs, so April 11 is our last game of the season," Peverley said of the Thrashers, who've also beaten Buffalo and the Rangers in the past eight days and have won eight of their last 11. "I don't want to stop playing hockey, but we have to. We're just trying to make the most of it. It's too bad because we have a pretty good team going forward."
Gregory Campbell scored at 6:17 of the second to get the Panthers even, backhanding his own rebound into the net from a sharp angle for his first goal since Feb. 12.
After Peverley's second goal put the Thrashers ahead to stay, Todd White iced the win with 1:03 left while Anderson was trying to get off the ice for an extra attacker. Anderson was close to the bench when White stole the puck near center ice; he dove toward the net but couldn't get there in time to stop White's long shot.
The sight of Anderson's desperate, unsuccessful dive summarized the night for the Panthers.
"It was a frustrating night," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Nothing seemed to be working and we didn't feel that mojo on the bench that we've had in the past, for whatever reason, I don't know what it was. But we're still alive here in the last week of the season. We're two points out of a playoff spot and a lot of hockey left."
The sellout crowd at the Wachovia Center had to be glad the Flyers didn't sit back after taking a 5-0 lead into the locker room after the first period. Jeff Carter scored once in each period, helping the Flyers survive two sloppy periods after taking their big lead and avenge a loss at Toronto two nights earlier that drew criticism from GM Paul Holmgren.
Daniel Briere added a goal and three assists as the Flyers moved ahead of Carolina and back into fourth place in the East. Philadelphia has 94 points, one more than the Hurricanes and two in front of Pittsburgh. They are one win away from clinching a playoff berth.
"We were sitting comfortably in fourth place and sometimes you lose that intensity," Briere said. "That was a wake-up call, and we responded."
"Obviously, Homer said we needed to play better," Flyers coach John Stevens said of Holmgren, who on Thursday made it clear that the team's best players had to step up their performance after three losses in four games. "It was a wake-up call."
When Carter scored again 6:48 into the second period, Flyer fans probably had visions of double figures dancing in their heads. But the Leafs got on the board at 16:05 when Luke Schenn scored on the power play, then added goals by Boyd Devereaux and Mikhail Grabovski to make it 6-3 after 40 minutes.
Carter completed his hat trick with his 44th of the season at 4:37 to make it 7-4.
"I've had a lot of two-goal games. I'm just happy to get it out of the way," Carter said of his hat trick.
The five goals were no consolation to Leafs coach Ron Wilson.
"We had some guys who basically mailed it in tonight and didn't want to compete," Wilson said. "We knew that they would come hard."
Christian Hanson, the son of "Slapshot" star Dave Hanson, played his first game for the Leafs after signing a two-year deal on Tuesday. His father sat in the stands and drew loud applause when he was introduced in the third period.
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report