-- In a scene similar to two prize fighters never revealing a weakness, goaltenders Martin Brodeur
of the New Jersey Devils
and Cam Ward
of the Carolina Hurricanes
refused to lower their guard Saturday night.
In the end, the future Hall of Famer, Brodeur, earned the knockout behind 26 saves against one of the League's finest young goalies in Ward on the way to a 2-0 victory before 15,021 at Prudential Center. The shutout enabled Brodeur, who is in his 16th season, to move one shy of tying the NHL record established by Terry Sawchuk, who recorded 103 shutouts over 21 seasons.
"(Shutouts) are a hard one to figure out because every game has its own story so you never know when the next one is going to happen," Brodeur said. "It's hard to look forward to it, but we're one closer. I mean, if the team gets shutouts it means we're winning so everybody's happy."
The goose egg was Brodeur's first since blanking Minnesota last March 20 and the triumph was New Jersey's first on home ice in four tries this season.
"When we play these guys it's always a tough game and we knew that we couldn't give them much," Brodeur said. "We had to stay disciplined and stay out of the box and I think they did the same, so it was a little bit of a chess match. It was fun because every little mistake could have been the difference and we got a lucky bounce on our goal and it was enough."
Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner gave Brodeur the only goal he would need 26 seconds into the third period when he barreled down the slot to deflect home a centering attempt by Rob Niedermayer. Ward actually got a piece of the puck before it ricocheted off Langenbrunner's upper body into the net.
"You're trying to do the right thing by deflecting the pass from coming in front and I don't even think Langenbrunner reacted to it; it went right off of him into the net," Ward said. "It was a bang-bang play that unfortunately wasn't the result we were hoping for."
Following Langenbrunner's spark, Brodeur took over, finishing with 10 saves in the final period.
"I felt good," Brodeur said. "I felt strong and sort of made myself be active and it's fun. At least I got some shots early on (nine in the first period). Against Atlanta (on Friday), I didn't get many shots (19) and it's hard to get going even though I should be used to it playing under Jacques (Lemaire) for so many years. But it was nice to get the work and I felt good."
Brodeur made a pair of huge stops on Carolina's Scott Walker and Chad LaRose
with less than 13 minutes remaining to keep his team in front. Ward would respond with 6:35 left in the third with a splendid stop on Devils rookie Niclas Bergfors off a breakaway to keep his team within striking distance.
"I've said it before, Cam is a good goalie and he's been sharp all year for us so I know it's frustrating for him," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "We've had only one game where we scored more than two goals this season (7-2 against Florida on Oct. 9) and that's just too much pressure to put on your goalie."
Still, Ward wasn't making any excuses.
"You have to be comfortable in a situation like this," he said. "In tight battles, and you have to rise to the occasion and I fell short tonight. We're struggling a bit as a team and we missed out on an opportunity to get one tonight."
Brodeur's finest stop might have come with 3:05 remaining in the third when he snared an attempt by Carolina center Eric Staal
, who looked up to the rafters after his blistering wrist shot from in tight off a screen was denied.
"I wasn't giving him the far side this time," said Brodeur, recalling Staal's goal in the final minute of Game 7 last April that eliminated the Devils. "He was going to have to beat me on the glove this time."
Well, he didn't. Lessons learned even by the NHL's winningest goalie.
"Marty was strong but that's to be expected," Ward said. "You know what you're up against when you face a guy like that and he looked solid in there."
Ward, who took a page out of Brodeur's repertoire by using his stick to effectively poke-check pucks throughout, finished the game with 27 saves. Brodeur lauded Ward's performance.
"Every time I play against him and watch him play I'm impressed," he said. "(Carolina goalie coach) Tom Barrasso is doing a great job with him because he's playing a lot like Tommy -- aggressive. He made some big saves to keep his team in the game. Any time you play against one of the top goalies, you always want to play well because you're team isn't going to get much."
The fact both goalies -- each of whom was starting his seventh straight game to begin the season -- were strong early and often meant it was going to be a tough night for both offenses.
"You kind of had that hunch (that one goal would decide the game)," Ward said. "Obviously, when they scored early in the third, you hoped we'd still have time. I thought it was a big momentum boost when we killed off that 5-on-3 disadvantage (in the third) and hoped we would get rewarded for our strong PK, but once again, we just didn't have it. We have to compete much harder on a nightly basis and try to get those goals in those dirty areas."
Maurice was vividly disheartened with his team's effort in front of Ward.
"You never want to take anything away from (Brodeur's) effort, but I felt we didn't do enough to make it more difficult on him," Maurice said. "He had some good saves, but we didn't generate enough. And while he got the shutout, we wouldn't walk away and say Brodeur stole the game from us."
A scoreless first period was highlighted by nifty denials at both ends. Ward was particularly alert with 9:20 remaining in the first when New Jersey's Travis Zajac
slid a pass to Bergfors off a 2-on-1 but Ward moved across left-to-right and stacked the pads to deny him at the post.
Ward was also called upon to make two saves during a New Jersey power-play at the 12:13 mark. The Devils would go 0-for-4 for the game with the man advantage, including a two-man advantage for 1:43 in the third. Lemaire's club is now empty on its last 13 power-play attempts.
The contest marked the fifth straight game against a Southeast Division opponent for the Devils. After winning three road games against Tampa Bay, Florida and Washington, the Devils dropped a 4-2 decision to Atlanta on Friday before defeating Carolina on Saturday.
--Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com