With Martin Brodeur in net, the New Jersey Devils have been one of the NHL's dominant franchises. Without him, they may be just another team.
After learning Brodeur will be sidelined for three to four months, the Devils try to adjust to life without their goaltender Wednesday night when they host a Tampa Bay Lightning club seeking its fourth straight win.
Thanks in large part to their four-time Vezina Trophy winner, the Devils have been among the league's elite for years, winning a pair of Stanley Cups this decade and reaching 11 consecutive postseasons. Brodeur, a 15-year veteran, has been between the pipes for virtually that entire run.
He hasn't missed more than 10 games in any season since 1998-99, while amassing 544 career wins - seven shy of Patrick Roy's NHL record. He needs five shutouts to match Terry Sawchuk's record of 103.
Since the start of this decade, the Devils have won 323 games with Brodeur in net - nearly double their 165 regulation losses with him. On the rare occasions when Brodeur hasn't played, New Jersey has lost more than it has won, going a pedestrian 26-24-8 with three ties.
The Devils (6-3-2) now must try to thrive without Brodeur, who is scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday to repair the distal bicep muscle in his left elbow - injured during Saturday's 6-1 victory over Atlanta.
"It's shocking because you expect my knee is going to go or my groin or my thumb, something I use as a goalie," Brodeur said Tuesday in a conference call. "I didn't expect my biceps could be a big factor in an injury. It was a freak accident. That's why I am shocked about the injury. That's not something I expected to hurt."
Eleven-year veteran Kevin Weekes, who has 98 career wins but started only five games with New Jersey last season, turned in a gallant effort Monday night in Brodeur's absence. He made 28 saves, including 19 in the first period to keep the Devils close, but was outplayed by Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller as the Devils fell 2-0.
"I think it's a great opportunity for him to go out and prove himself to be the top goalie," Brodeur said of Weekes. "He is going to play in front of a great team like I did for a lot of years and, hopefully, he will do well for us and hold the fort until I come back."
The loss to the Sabres was the fourth in five games for the Devils, who now must compete with a Tampa Bay team that has won three straight and four of five since opening the season with five consecutive losses. The Lightning (4-3-3) beat Ottawa 3-2 at home on Saturday night when Evgeny Artyukhin scored in the eighth round of a shootout.
Tampa Bay trailed for much of the game and appeared headed for defeat until Matt Carle's goal tied it at 13:48 of the third period.
"Coming from behind like that, a big goal with a few minutes left, is a huge morale boost," said Lightning goalie Mike Smith, who made 29 saves in regulation and overtime.
Captain Vincent Lecavalier scored the other Tampa Bay goal, his sixth of the season. He has three goals and five points during the three-game winning streak.
Wednesday's game opens a five-game road trip for the Lightning, who are 2-1-0 away from home this season.
The Devils took three of four games from the Lightning in 2007-08, including both meetings in New Jersey.