It didn’t take more than a few words between goaltender and head coach. After a quick exchange, it was decided that Martin Brodeur
would make his return to the Devils' lineup.
Following weeks of grueling rehab, Brodeur will make his first start in almost four months when Colorado visits Prudential Center on Thursday (7 p.m., MSG PLUS, WFAN 660 AM).
“We just talked briefly after practice and I just asked him how he was,” head coach Brent Sutter said. “He said he was good, and I asked him if he was ready to play and he said yes. So I said, ‘Well then you’re playing [Thursday].’ Pretty brief conversation.”
Just like that, the first-place Devils added one of the best in the NHL at arguably the game’s most important position.
Brodeur has missed 50 games since suffering a left elbow injury on Nov. 1. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner underwent surgery to repair his left distal bicep tendon on Nov. 6.
With Brodeur projected to miss three to four months, the Devils rallied behind Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes to go 33-17-1 and take a six-point lead in the Atlantic Division entering Wednesday’s action.
Brodeur was upbeat and ready to go.
“We’ve talked about it,” Brodeur said. “It was a big possibility [Tuesday] and [Wednesday] we just confirmed it on the ice after practice. I had a good feeling about it. It’s amazing when I turned it on and had more practice time how much better I felt. They saw it too, and just felt it was good timing. We took our time, and it was a long time coming.”
Three days of uptempo practices helped Brodeur decide he was ready.
“I’ve been pain-free all week,” he said. “No tweaks, nothing; knock-on-wood. I’ve worked on a lot of movement, but I might do something in a game or even in practice that I haven’t done yet. As of now it feels real good.”
Part of this week’s evaluation process involved the Devils’ coaching staff making a determination on how Brodeur looked in drills and game-like scenarios.
Sutter saw all the right things from his No. 1 goalie.
“He practiced like Marty practices,” Sutter said. “He treats practice like games. He doesn’t want to be scored on. His competitive nature kicks in big time in practice. You can tell. After being around you can tell when he’s sharp in practice and when he’s not.”
Next, the Devils find out what impact Brodeur can have for a team already sitting in the division’s top spot. New Jersey is looking to shake off a 1-2-0 road trip that ended with Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Long Island.
“They’ve worked so hard all year long to get to this position, and I want to make sure that I’m going to contribute to the success of this hockey club for the next 22 games and into the playoffs,” Brodeur said. “I just want to get my game to the level I need to in order to bring this team as far as possible.”
After Wednesday’s practice, captain Jamie Langenbrunner said Brodeur bolsters a group that has learned to believe in its own potential.
“As a team, [Brodeur's return] can’t mean anything as far as the way we need to come play. We need to play our game and let Marty come do his job,” Langenbrunner said. “We know how good he is and how excited he is to be back. As a team, we can’t sit there and watch him, expecting him to carry us. We have to do our job and play the way we’re capable and he’ll be a big addition.”
Langenbrunner, whose 50 points (18g-32a) are third on the team, believes that learning to win without Brodeur was invaluable for Jersey’s Team as it enters the homestretch.
“We had confidence in ourselves and we believed we could win without him,” he said. “Did we want to have to do it? No. You want to have all your players there and he’s obviously a very big part of this team. We all thought that we had a good team and we got the opportunity to prove it. Now we have a great goalie coming back to our lineup and can continue looking forward.”
How much Brodeur will be used over the remainder of the regular season remains to be seen. Historically one of the League’s most durable netminders, Brodeur started 70 or more games in 10 straight campaigns entering this season. He led the NHL in each of the two previous seasons with 78 and 77 starts, respectively.
“I’m taking it game to game,” Sutter said. “Yes, Marty looks really good now, but we have to be patient through this too. Decisions are made daily based on what’s right for the team. We have to see him get in there and see how he does. Obviously, he’s still got to play. How much that is, I can say it’s not going to be every game.”
As Brodeur returns, so does the record watch. He needs seven wins to match Patrick Roy’s all-time record of 551, and sits five shutouts shy of Terry Sawchuk’s career mark of 103. At the moment, however, Brodeur is focused on keeping his team at the top of the division.
Despite two shutouts losses in their last three games, the Devils are 14-4-0 in their last 18 contests.
“Right now I just want to concentrate on getting back to where I was when I left the game in November, feeling good and playing the game,” Brodeur said. “If the record happens, well great, if not, it is what it is. Right now that’s way back in my mind. A lot of people will put emphasis on it because it’s something that’s pretty amazing, but for me personally, I just want to get back to playing well.”