The New Jersey Devils will hold a pregame ceremony Friday night to honor Martin Brodeur for achieving the all-time wins record. The future Hall of Famer's focus, however, may be elsewhere.
Brodeur looks to end a career-high six-game losing streak and help the Devils avoid their longest slide in more than 23 years when they meet the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Devils (47-26-4) will celebrate Brodeur's NHL-record 552nd win, which came in a 3-2 victory over Chicago on March 17. Brodeur, who passed boyhood idol Patrick Roy for the mark, followed up that performance three nights later with win No. 553 in a 4-0 victory over Minnesota. That pulled him to within two shutouts shy of Terry Sawchuk's league record.
Things haven't gone nearly as well since. Brodeur has posted a 3.65 goals-against average in losing a career-worst six straight games - a slide that is New Jersey's longest since an eight-game skid from Dec. 19, 1985-Jan.6, 1986.
"We're going through something that's not an easy thing to go through," said Devils coach Brent Sutter, who held an extended team meeting Tuesday. "We're dealing with it, we're going through it. That's the best way to put it. We'll deal with it. It's the hand we've dealt ourselves."
The meeting didn't immediately result in improved play, as New Jersey fell 6-1 at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. The Devils have been outscored 22-7 during their slide.
New Jersey has secured a playoff berth, but the skid has likely cost it any chance of catching Boston for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Devils may now be more concerned with hanging on to win the Atlantic Division, as they're six points up on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with five games remaining. New Jersey is three points behind Washington for the second seed.
The Devils hope a return to the Prudential Center, where they're 26-11-1, can help them halt the slide. Brodeur made 46 saves in the last game there Saturday but New Jersey fell 2-1 to Carolina, snapping a season-high 11-game home winning streak.
If recent history is any indication, a matchup with the Lightning (24-36-17) may also work in the Devils' favor as they try to stop the slide. New Jersey won all three meetings this season - each without Brodeur - to give them six consecutive victories in the series.
The Devils took the last matchup 3-2 in a shootout at Tampa on Feb. 19 and are 4-0 all-time versus the Lightning in Newark.
Brodeur has won his last three games against the Lightning, posting a 1.30 GAA.
Tampa Bay, last in the Southeast Division, dropped its fourth in a row Tuesday night, 3-1 defeat at Boston.
"You'd like to keep teaching and look for players that want to compete in the NHL. It makes your job easier when you see guys that are not competing," coach Rick Tocchet said. "It's the same kinds of things: We're not winning battles."
Rookie Steve Stamkos has been one of the few bright spots for Tampa Bay of late, scoring six goals in his last eight games. The center has 14 goals in his last 23 contests after recording six his first 51 games.
Stamkos has no points in three games against New Jersey.
The Lightning will be without captain Vincent Lecavalier for the last five games of the season as he'll undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right wrist. He leads the team with 29 goals and is second with 67 points, and played in all 77 games this season.