Martin Brodeur has played in many big games during his illustrious career with the New Jersey Devils. His next, however, might be the one he'll remember looking forward to the most.
On Thursday night at home against the Colorado Avalanche, the four-time Vezina Trophy winner will be in net for the first time since an elbow injury kept him out almost four months.
Brodeur, whose 544 career wins are seven short of tying Patrick Roy's NHL record, was hurt against Atlanta on Nov. 1 and had surgery to repair a torn biceps muscle in his left elbow. He missed 50 games while recovering and rehabilitating from the first significant injury of his 15-year career.
"We do something pretty cool playing hockey, so I am excited every game to play," said Brodeur, who is 6-2-2 with a 2.16 goals-against average this season. "But definitely there is a little more emphasis on this. I have not played in a long time and I want to get out there and see how it goes.
"Until something is taken away from you, you don't appreciate it."
Thanks to solid play in goal from Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes, New Jersey went 32-17-1 without Brodeur and leads the Atlantic Division with the third-most points in the Eastern Conference.
While Devils coach Brent Sutter would not speculate on how much Brodeur will play in the final 22 games of the regular season, Weekes will serve as the backup. Clemmensen - who went 25-13-1 with a 2.39 GAA - was returned to Lowell of the AHL.
"Nothing changes," New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador said. "We can't start (to) think Marty is back and he is going to do everything for us. Marty adds a presence for us and we want to take advantage of that."
Brodeur is 15-5-1 with five ties and a 2.28 GAA against the Avalanche franchise.
Goaltending wasn't entirely the problem as the Devils were shut out twice on a 1-2-0 road trip.
New Jersey (38-19-3), which had won 13 of 15 before the swing, lost 4-0 at the New York Islanders on Saturday and was outscored 10-3 on the trip.
"This road trip should be a good wake-up call for these guys," said Sutter, whose team fell 4-0 to Florida on Feb. 17, and has allowed 79 shots in the last two games.
Zach Parise scored his team-leading 35th goal in a 3-2 shootout win over Tampa Bay last Thursday. It's his only one in the last five games.
Parise had an assist in New Jersey's 4-2 win at Colorado on March 15, in the teams' most recent meeting.
The Devils look for a fifth straight win at home as the Avalanche (28-32-1) visit New Jersey for the first time since winning 4-3 in a shootout on Dec. 9, 2005.
Colorado fell to 1-2-0 on its six-game road trip with a 4-3 loss at Atlanta on Tuesday. Milan Hejduk scored twice, but the Avalanche continued to struggle on the power play and lost for the sixth time in nine contests.
The Avalanche went 1-for-6 with the man advantage and allowed two short-handed goals against the Thrashers.
"That is unacceptable," Hejduk said of the Avalanche, who are 1-for-16 on the power play in their last four games. "It's one thing to be on the power play and not score goals, but you shouldn't give up goals."
Andrew Raycroft will be back in goal after sitting out Tuesday. He's 12-8-0 with a 2.99 GAA this season and 4-4-0 with a 2.77 GAA versus New Jersey.
After missing 26 games with a broken arm, Paul Stastny returned Tuesday and assisted on the first goal by Hejduk, who has three goals and four assists in his last five contests.
Stastny, who had a team-leading 71 points in 2007-08, has 10 goals and 22 assists in 35 games this season.