NEWARK, N.J. - Out four months after elbow surgery, Martin Brodeur never doubted that Patrick Roy's NHL record for career wins by a goaltender would still be his.
After all, the 36-year-old Montreal native was only eight wins away from the mark set by his childhood idol when he returned from a 50-game hiatus late last month. It was just a matter of time, and it happened on Tuesday night when Brodeur recorded his 552nd win in a 3-2 decision over the Chicago Blackhawks.
There has been a surprise, though. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner has bounced back from the first major injury of his 15-year career in spectacular shape, and that could be the late-season nudge that starts the Devils and Brodeur on a run toward a fourth Stanley Cup.
"Well, right now it's time to relax and enjoy myself a little bit," Brodeur said after celebrating his milestone by cutting down the net and taking a lap around the ice while fans chanted his first name. "Not that I didn't take in everything that has been happening to me. But I think we have a few more, a little over 10 games to go for the playoffs. And it's going to be a run at the Stanley Cup. That's the bottom line."
The ride for Brodeur could get a lot better the way the Devils are playing. They have won eight of nine games since his return, are currently riding a franchise-record 10-game winning streak at home and still have a chance to catch the Boston Bruins for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
And Brodeur is fresh. In years past, the goalie has played roughly 70 regular-season games a season and he has looked a little tired in the playoffs.
Now he is peaking heading into the final weeks of the season, thanks in large part to a demanding rehabilitation. Brodeur was limited to skating during first few months after his surgery, and he looks quick in goal.
"When I got back working out and getting myself into shape, I just wanted to make sure I was ready to go when the time was there," Brodeur said.
The play of backups Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes allowed Brodeur to take his time returning, and the Devils did more than their share in not only staying in the playoff hunt, but taking control of the Atlantic Division.
Brodeur has only made the Devils tougher, and he had to be on Tuesday because the Blackhawks never gave up after falling behind by two goals early.
They drew within a goal when Dustin Byfuglien scored with 2:03 left in the game, making everyone in the sold out Prudential Center a little tense.
Brodeur had to make a pad save on forward Troy Brouwer in the waning seconds to preserve the historic win.
Then he let loose. At the final buzzer, he jumped the air and pumped his right arm after landing back on the ice.
"When I heard the buzzer, I was like: 'Wow, it's over now,"' he said. "This is good. And, again, I didn't want to be this chase to this record to be a disturbance to the team because we played so well all year and now we're coming into a last stretch here to get ourselves into the playoffs. And I didn't want to drag it too long.
"Now, I mean, it will be old news by the time the playoffs start and that's the way I wanted it to happen," said Brodeur, whose milestone overshadowed Patrik Elias' accomplishment on Tuesday of setting the franchise mark for career points with 702.
Forward Jamie Langenbrunner, who scored the Devils' first goal, said that the record chases have been emotional for everyone.
"It is something we are all going to look back on fondly," he said. "It's been a good ride, so far. Now that we have this past us, we can move forward. I think all the goals and records are past now and now we can move forward and focus on getting our team ready for the playoffs."
The only person who didn't get a chance to enjoy the celebration was Devils' defenceman Colin White, who missed the final two periods after aggravating a lower back injury. He watched the closing seconds from the tunnel near the bench.
White felt was it appropriate the Brodeur got the record with his 238th one-goal win.
"He is the best goalie in the world and no one can take that away from him," White said.
Zach Parise could only wonder how many wins Brodeur have when he calls it quits.
"There's going to be a lot more wins coming, so he is going to have that record for a while," Parise said.