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Brodeur little nervous heading into first game back

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK -- The smile on his face and the relaxed manner in which he answered questions from the larger-than-normal media contingent Thursday morning at the Prudential Center showed that no, Martin Brodeur is not nervous about returning to the New Jersey Devils' net Thursday night.

Well, not yet, at least.

"I will get there," Brodeur said. "Tonight I'm sure I'll get excited about it. I'm definitely excited about it now, but I'll get nervous probably when I get to the rink tonight."

Brodeur will play tonight against the Colorado Avalanche for the first time since Nov. 1, when he tore his left distal biceps tendon. He had surgery Nov. 6, and all that remains now is a three-inch purple and pink scar.

The goalie, who is eight wins shy of breaking Patrick Roy's all-time record for wins, says he is pain free and ready to go. He has been working out for more than a month, and practicing full-time with the Devils since Valentine's Day.

Thursday, he was back to his normal game-day routine.

"I try to make it just another day. That's the bottom line," Brodeur said. "I can't get overwhelmed by the situation. I'm happy to be back and I know it's going to be a different feeling. I feel it now just being at the rink and knowing what I'm going to do tonight. I haven't had that feeling in a while. After today it will be old news so I'm just going to take it in and get myself as ready as I can to do well tonight."

How much Brodeur will play at the start -- the Devils have back-to-back afternoon games this weekend against Florida and Philadelphia -- is not something coach Brent Sutter wants to talk about right now.

"I'm not going to go into that because I don't think it's right," Sutter said. "I think we're going to take it day to day and game to game here and we'll move forward on that. Today is today and we'll know more tomorrow how he responded from today."

There isn't much time to let Brodeur get acclimated again. The Devils lead the surging Philadelphia Flyers by only four points in the Atlantic Division with 22 games to play.

"I'm coming into a season when the points are the toughest to get," Brodeur said. "You are playing teams that are desperate to make the playoffs, fighting for positioning. It makes it hard, and it's a situation that will be tough a little bit, but I feel with what I can bring and the way the team can play, we'll be alright."

The return of Brodeur also brings back the Record Watch. He left with 544 victories and 98 shutouts. Patrick Roy is the all-time wins leader with 551 and Terry Sawchuk the all-time shutouts leader with 103.

Both records certainly could have fallen already this season had Brodeur remained healthy. Now that he's back, the record talk will gain steam again.

"I don't want to deflect it away. It's a pretty great thing," he said. "I was excited early this season to talk about it and try to achieve it. Now that it's coming up seven to eight wins from now, it is what it is and I'm OK to deal with it, but I'm not looking forward to it now. I'm looking forward to coming back and playing hockey, feeling comfortable in the nets and getting myself ready for the playoffs, and then it will come.

"I know I'm going to have to answer questions when I get closer and I'm fine with it."

Perhaps the most amazing thing in all of this is Brodeur returns at a time when the Devils lead the division and are third in the Eastern Conference.

Except maybe for the players and coaches in the Devils' dressing room, no one could have predicted that would be the case when news broke that Brodeur would be lost for four months.

"It's probably been in one sense a confidence thing for the team, but I also believe the team inside the dressing room always believed it was a good team and that it was about more than one person," Sutter said. "Marty always believed that, too, but on the outside some had a different perception of it. That's been proven differently now and I'm glad it has because maybe everyone in that dressing room will get a lot more credit."

Sutter reminded everyone that the Devils were 6-2-2 before Brodeur got hurt, so they were a good team already. They were 32-17-1 without him as Scott Clemmensen won 25 games and Kevin Weekes seven more.

"I can't get overwhelmed by the situation. I'm happy to be back and I know it's going to be a different feeling. I feel it now just being at the rink and knowing what I'm going to do tonight. I haven't had that feeling in a while."
-- Martin Brodeur

"It's not like we went from one extreme to the other," Sutter said. "We had different guys playing goal for us, but we were still doing what we were supposed to be doing and the accountability was still there from the players to the coaches and the coaches to each other."

Even Sutter knows the Devils rallied around the fact that no one believed in them once Brodeur went down. The perception was the bubble popped on the Devils' season the moment Brodeur heard that pop in his elbow.

With him back, what's the rallying cry now?

"Stay with it," Sutter said. "The biggest thing is for us to just continue to play well."

The Devils lost two of three last week, including a pair of 4-0 defeats at Florida and on Long Island, but they haven't played since Saturday, and arguably the greatest goalie of all-time is coming back into the net fresher than he's been in a long time.

"This has got to be our biggest game of the year to date and Marty happens to be back in goal for it," Sutter said. "That's certainly a positive thing because we're getting an elite athlete and a superstar of a goaltender back and that's huge."

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