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Atlantic: Brodeur's 500 wins creates plenty of debate

by Chuck Gormley

Even though Martin Brodeur has talked about reaching 500 for several weeks, actually getting there overwhelmed him.
Now that Marty Brodeur has climbed Mount 500, a place where only one other NHL goaltender has traveled, it is time to ask a few pertinent questions.

1. At age 35, and with four more years remaining on his contract, is there any doubt Brodeur will catch Patrick Roy’s all-time record of 551 regular-season wins?

2. While we’re on the subject of Saint Patrick, who will go down in history as the better goalie, Roy or Brodeur? And does anyone else deserve consideration?

3. Will there ever be another goalie who wins 500 games? Or, for that matter, 600?

Record-setting events have a way of bringing into focus the magnitude of a player’s accomplishments. But also, it has a tendency of blurring the past. That certainly was the case Saturday night when, after three failed attempts to scale Mount 500’s treacherous slope, Brodeur traded in his millstone for a milestone with a 6-2 victory over the Flyers in Philadelphia.

“It felt nice to get it over with,” Brodeur told a cluster of reporters inside the visiting dressing room. “To do it with the same organization says a lot about who I play for.”

Since joining the Devils full-time in 1993-94, Brodeur has averaged 63 starts and 38 wins a season. And since taking over as the Devils’ starter full-time in 1995-96, those numbers increased to 66 starts and 41 wins a season.

Even though Brodeur has talked about reaching 500 for several weeks, actually getting there overwhelmed him.

“It’s kind of hard to believe,” he said. “You go out and play every day to be successful. I’ve been fortunate to be healthy and be on good teams and all of a sudden you get these numbers. I don’t really see myself to be that big of a deal. I just go out there and compete hard.”

It is that competitive edge that separates Brodeur from the hundreds of goalies that have come before him. Even in his milestone victory, with his team leading by four goals, Brodeur made a diving catch of a Daniel Briere shot into a yawning net.

“I tip my hat to him,” Briere said. “He never quit on the play. It was probably one of the best of the year and it came in his 500th.”

“Every puck and every rebound in practice for him is just like it is in the game,” said Devils newcomer Dainius Zubrus, who played 10 years against Brodeur as a member of the Flyers, Canadiens, Capitals and Sabres. “The save he made (on Briere) he makes on me a couple times a week. You never know that until you play with him.”

Flyers goaltender Marty Biron said most goalies share Brodeur’s competitiveness, but very few can maintain the mental sharpness Brodeur has shown for the past 14 years.

“Whether he’s playing through a tough part of the game or a tough part of the year or playing in the Olympics or World Championships or World Cups or Stanley Cup Playoffs, he competes through everything,” Biron said. “You do that year after year after year after year, mentally, you have to be very sharp. He’s always there and he can always win games by himself. That’s a quality to admire.”

The question is whether Brodeur can sustain that level of concentration long enough to pass Roy’s record. Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello certainly thinks so since he gave him a contract extension that includes four more seasons after this year.

Assuming Brodeur plays through the end of his contract and averages 30 wins a season – a modest estimate by his standards – he would break Roy’s record sometime late next season and, at least theoretically, finish his career with nearly 650 wins.

“We’ll see,” Brodeur said of catching Roy’s record. “Hopefully I’m healthy and we’ll see what the future will bring. But I don’t want to put a date on it or how many years.”

“I think he has plenty left in him,” Zubrus said. “He’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play and I’ve played against him for 10 years.”

Flyers goaltender Marty Biron said most goalies share Brodeur’s competitiveness, but very few can maintain the mental sharpness Brodeur has shown for the past 14 years.

Not surprisingly, Brodeur would like no part of what will become an inevitable debate: Who will be remembered as the greater puck stopper of all-time, Brodeur or Roy?

Statistically, they are very close.

Brodeur is 500-273-105 with 15 overtime losses.

Roy was 551-315-131.

Brodeur has 92 career shutouts.

Roy had 66.

Brodeur’s career goals-against average is 2.21.

Roy’s was 2.54.

In the playoffs, Brodeur has gone 94-70 with 22 shutouts and a 1.93 GAA.

Roy went 151-94 with 23 shutouts and a 2.54 GAA.

Brodeur has won two Vezina Trophies and three Stanley Cups.

Roy won three Vezinas, three Conn Smythe Trophies and four Cups.

So who was better? As we mentioned earlier, recent history tends to blur the accomplishments of the past.

“I think Patrick revolutionized the game of hockey by playing the way he did and achieving what he achieved,” Biron said. “Patrick brought in the butterfly and everybody went to that. Marty is the total opposite.

“If Patrick had overtimes and shootouts the way they are now, he might have gotten to 600, who knows? There were a lot of ties when he played that would have been overtime wins or shootout wins.”

Having played with six-time Vezina winner Dominik Hasek in Buffalo, Biron thinks “The Dominator” also deserves a place in hockey history.

Devils assistant coach Larry Robinson, who played in front of both four-time Cup winner Ken Dryden and Roy, said there is no question Brodeur belongs in their class.

“He’s one of the best who ever played,” Robinson said. “He doesn’t have to take a backseat to anybody, whether it’s Patrick or Kenny Dryden or any of them. The one thing Marty does that is probably better than anyone is handle the puck. No one of his caliber can move the puck the way he does and that’s a dimension that sets him apart.”

Which leads us to this final, pressing question. Are any of today’s goaltenders destined to win 500 games?

Or, for that matter, 600?

“I don’t think you or I will ever see it,” Robinson said.

Around the Atlantic -- With their win over the Penguins Saturday night, the Rangers moved into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic, a position many expected them to be in at the start of the season. "If anything, we still feel like we're playing catch-up,” center Scott Gomez said. “We don't feel like we've done anything. I think Brendan Shanahan said it best: 'We want to start separating ourselves now.'" … The Flyers’ Simon Gagne is starting to see a light at the end of his concussion tunnel. He rode the stationary bike twice last week and on Sunday skated for the first time in more than a week. His next step is to practice with the team, which could come after Thanksgiving. … The Islanders are getting healthier by the day. Last week they added veterans Bryan Berard (groin) and Bill Guerin (eye) to their lineup. Guerin said the blurred vision that kept him out of one game reminded him of his teenage years. “It's kind of like you're sitting in your car and all your windows are fogged up, like if you're making out with a girl." … The Penguins have agreed to begin next season with a pair of games in Stockholm, Sweden. The Pens are expected to face the Senators. … RW Mark Recchi was a surprise healthy scratch on Thursday, but returned to the lineup Saturday against the Rangers.

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