Going into tonight's game I recall thinking how for once the pregame hype wasn't about Martin Brodeur's pursuit for shutout #104 but instead about a first-place showdown between two teams tied for first in the division, the conference and the entire NHL. With both teams playing well and now reasonably healthy - though the Devils still have three regulars on the shelf - this was going to be an epic showdown, especially with this being the last regular-season trip ever for the Devils to the Igloo.
Being the legend he is though, Brodeur still managed to steal the show in Pittsburgh, getting the shutout that finally broke Terry Sawchuk's record with a spectacular 35-save performance in a 4-0 win that was impressive in many ways.
Before talking about Brodeur more in-depth, the game itself deserves at least a little bit of a recap. And yes, it's true that I said in my last blog that it was unlikely the Devils would repeat their impressive performances on their first two trips into Pittsburgh, both 4-1 victories (though I did add the Devils have been doing the improbable all season). Who could have suspected they would improve on those two games though?
Early on, the Penguins came out determined to get off to a good start after those earlier losses, but while they outshot the Devils 10-5 in the opening twenty minutes a lot of their play seemed desperate and anxious. Yet it would be the Devils again striking first with Bryce Salvador (has he morphed into Mike Green somehow?!) beating Marc-Andre Fleury with a more typical goal than the one he scored two games ago against Ottawa, firing a slapshot through traffic in front. Salvador's second of the season at 4:29 was assisted by Dean McAmmond and Andy Greene, and the Devils maintained that one-goal lead throughout the rest of the period.
Shockingly, the Devils ended the game as a contest within 11:03 of the second period, and Nicklas Bergfors got the team off to a flying start with a power play goal just 23 seconds after the first intermission ended, beating Fleury with a long wrist shot that may have been partially screened. Incredibly the goal was Bergfors' 12th of the young season, with eight of them coming on the man advantage. Greene and Zach Parise got the assists on Bergfors' goal, which started the snowball rolling downhill. At 8:27 Patrik Elias would extend the Devils' lead to three with his eighth goal of the year, using Brooks Orpik as a screen on another wristshot, with McAmmond and Parise notching their second assists of the night.
Finally came the coup de grace, at least as far as the result went when Mark Fraser ironically scored his second of the season at 11:03 with a slapshot through traffic, ironic because his first came in his season debut at the Igloo nearly two months ago. Also it was interesting timing because the pregame did a feature on Fraser, who was leading the defense into plus-minus coming into tonight's game at least. Though you couldn't really blame Fleury for much of went on, clearly it was time to make a change as Doc Emrick noted, and so it went with Brent Johnson relieving him. Johnson would stop all fourteen shots he faced, but by now the Devils had more than enough to feel safe about the win - even against a high-flying Penguins team.
With the outcome decided, the real drama began. Given all the Penguins' pressure, which included double-digit shots in every period and five tense power play chances, #104 still seemed unlikely even as the minutes ticked down. After all, Brodeur had lost one shutout already this season in the final few minutes in one of those earlier games against the Penguins. Certainly the un-superstitious Doc and partner Chico Resch were setting the stage just in case this was the night, though I had to laugh when Doc wondered aloud how the Penguins would approach the final minutes, if they would try a little extra to spoil the moment. Yeah Doc, I think everyone in the building knew what was going on and didn't want to be part of history...the Penguins sure played the last period and a half like it was 4-3 instead of 4-0.
This time would be different however...but not without seemingly inevitable late-game dramatics. Sidney Crosby hit a post with less than three minutes remaining, and Brodeur had to make a sharp glove save on Evgeni Malkin in the final minute to preserve history. All told, a 35-save performance needed every bit of Brodeur's immense skill and focus to achieve the desired result.
When it was over, the classy Penguins acknowledged the achievement on their jumbotron and the fans and players gave Brodeur deserved recognition. And FSNY is still in the midst of a planned hour-long postgame on the night the record was set, with everyone having their say in interviews with Steve Cangelosi, from coach Jacques Lemaire to long-time teammates Elias, Brian Rolston, Colin White and Jamie Langenbrunner as well as Doc and Chico towards the end along with of course Brodeur himself.
As far as my own thoughts, I know one of these days I'll attempt to look up all of the Brodeur wins and shutouts I've been in attendance for. I do actually know the first shutout I was at live, because I marked the puck for some reason - it was maybe the second Devils regular-season game I ever attended and it was a giveaway puck night. A game way back on November 8, 1997 when Brodeur shut out the Bruins in a 2-0 win. In a true oddity, our coach then was Lemaire in his first tour of duty...and the Bruins' coach was none other than Pat Burns.
Certainly the most dramatic of his shutouts that I ever attended was last season, when he returned from a nearly four-month absence to blank the Avalanche by the same 4-0 score he won tonight's history-making game with. At least that was the most dramatic in the regular season anyway. I also attended four in the playoffs that aren't counted towards the official 104 number - the matching 3-0 Game 1 and 7 wins against Anaheim in the 2003 Finals were clearly the most meaningful. Surely the 3-0 blanking of the Leafs in 2000 was the easiest of his career, given the paltry six shots Toronto mustered in an elimination (for them) Game 6. And last season's intense 1-0 playoff win against Cam Ward in Game 5 was certainly the best goaltending duel I've ever seen in a 60-minute game.
Long story short, I've not only been priviledged to see a ton of wins from #30 but pure goaltending excellence to go along with it, wherever I've happened to watch his games. Maybe some people think it's too bad his record-tying and breaking shutouts both came on the road but so be it. You can't always have your cake and eat it too. Besides, today I received a nice little reminder of another record Mr. Brodeur set at the Prudential Center last season when the Devils sent me (and other season ticket holders) a framed picture of Brodeur cutting the net from win #552 last season...and a small piece of the net to go along with it!
I suppose receiving that today proved to be an omen of what was to come tonight.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Martin Brodeur (35 saves, record-breaking 104th career shutout)
- Patrik Elias (goal, assist, +3)
- Zach Parise (three assists, +3, 9 SOG in 18:06)