NEWARK, N.J. -- Martin Brodeur has been the New Jersey Devils' center of attention since he arrived as a 21-year-old sporting a mustache and a flat-top. It's only fitting that he was again Sunday, this time as a 41-year-old legend in what might have been his final game with the only team he has ever played for in his NHL career.
Brodeur made 16 saves in a 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins, the 688th victory of his career, all with the Devils. Afterward, he stood at center ice by himself, his stick raised in the air, saluting the crowd as they chanted his name and gave him a loud standing ovation. He was later named the game's first star, and the fans continued to chant his name throughout an on-ice interview that was barely audible because of the noise.
"You know it was a little emotional," Brodeur said. "These things are hard. I've spent all my life here. A lot of the fans that are out there know me. They think they know me by my name and I feel they know me. They've been calling my name for 20 years. Every time they stop me and talk to me, they're great. I see their kids grow also. It means a lot because it's a relationship that [a person has] with the people that support him. It was definitely fun, but it was a little emotional."
With the rest of the team staying on the ice to honor him, Martin Brodeur salutes the fans after New Jersey's 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins in what might have been his final game with the Devils. (Photo: Andy Marlin/NHLI)
Brodeur is expected to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He said he will take some time to figure out his next move and decide if he wants to try to keep playing or retire. He knows if he wants to play next season he might have to do it with another organization.
The Devils have Cory Schneider signed for next season and will likely try to get him to sign a contract extension at some point during the offseason. Even Brodeur admits Schneider is the future, the Devils' No. 1 goalie.
"I think it's important when you have one good goalie you have to give him the bulk of the work, and Schneids will get that from now on," Brodeur said.
Brodeur said if he decides to keep playing he will look to sign with a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup. He wouldn't rule out a return to New Jersey, but added that he hasn't spoken to general manager Lou Lamoriello about his future.
Brodeur won the Stanley Cup three times with the Devils (1995, 2000, 2003) and lost in the Stanley Cup Final twice (2001, 2012).
"There's not many things but there are possibilities for me, and that will take a lot of sitting down and really thinking about it," Brodeur said. "But it might be the last game I played as a Devil, that's for sure."
Brodeur finished this season with 19 wins in 39 appearances, three shutouts, a 2.51 goals-against average and a save percentage of .901.
He said his biggest disappointment is not playing more this season, but added that he understood it was hard on the coaches to decide between him and Schneider, who appeared in 45 games, won 16 and posted a 1.97 GAA and .921 save percentage.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer also admitted the situation wasn't easy on anybody. He credited Brodeur and Schneider for staying professional through the entire season, saying that made it easier on him.
"I really felt for both guys for different reasons," DeBoer said. "Schneids is at that point in his career where he's ready to be a starter. He's been ready for a while. He deserves that opportunity to grab the net unencumbered, so to speak. And Marty is Marty. He still has a lot of gas left in the tank, showed that at different points this year, and obviously he still wants to be a starter too. I thought they both handled it exceptionally well."
Brodeur said playing time will be a big factor for where he plays next season -- if he signs anywhere. He will ask teams to give him a ballpark figure for the number of games he could play. He indicated at least 30 games would be ideal, adding that his body feels good and his four kids (Devils prospect Anthony Brodeur, twins William and Jeremy, and Annabelle Antoinette) still enjoy watching him play.
"If the body holds up I might as well [play], because when I'm going to say it's over it's going to be over," Brodeur said. "We'll see when that day will come. It could be sooner [rather] than later, you never know."
Sensing that this could be Brodeur's last game, his teammates and the sellout crowd of 16,592 gave him a memorable sendoff. He was cheered from the moment he was announced as the starting goalie to the time he left the ice after the game.
The fans chanted his name after he stoned Bruins forward Reilly Smith on a breakaway with 8:03 left in the first period. They did it again when he robbed Boston rookie Alexander Khokhlachev, who was making his NHL debut, with a glove save 4:03 into the third period.
With four minutes left in the third period the fans started chanting his name again. They did so for the remainder of the game. At one point they chanted, "Thank you Marty."
"These people are my family," Brodeur said.
Forward Dainius Zubrus said the Devils wanted to win for Brodeur. It was a point of emphasis in the dressing room after the second period, when the game was still 1-1.
"Every time they started cheering for Marty you feel like joining the party, get up and start banging the boards, just because he's Marty," Zubrus said. "There's a few moments in my career that I'll remember and this is one of the moments I will remember even though it has nothing to do with me. It's nice to be part of it."
Schneider, watching from the end of the bench, enjoyed being part of the moment.
"He deserves all of it," Schneider said. "He deserves every second of the cheering and the fan support and the support from us. It's been fun to get to know him. He's a great goalie and an even better person. He doesn't necessarily want all of it but he's going to get the adoration and applause he should. He deserves every second of it."
Center Travis Zajac said it was fitting that Brodeur got a win in what might have been his final game as a Devil.
"Obviously he's just the best goalie to ever play the game hands down and he deserves all the credit over the years," Zajac said. "People will remember him for his Stanley Cups, the championships and all those records. He'll always be a Devil."
But he might play for another team next season, if he plays at all.
"Just the thought about playing against the Devils will kill me," Brodeur said. "That's one of the things that bothers me the most."