With the news of Martin Brodeur’s return to the organization where he rightfully belongs (sorry to any St. Louise Blues fans who feel otherwise) yesterday, I thought today would be a good day to take a look back at his time in red and black. For that, we’re going to go back to April 13th, 2014 in what wound up being Marty’s last time in a New Jersey Devils uniform.
Coming off of a lockout shortened (and dismal) 2012-13 season, the Devils had traded their #9 overall pick at the 2013 entry draft to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Cory Schneider. The trade was seen at the time as a victory for New Jersey, who had worried about the future of their goaltending; in hindsight, the trade is probably more even than it was seen then, as Bo Horvat has become a very good NHL player, but Vancouver’s current pairing in net is questionable at best.
The 2013-14 season saw a goalie controversy in Jersey for the first time in roughly two decades; while the team would post more wins playing in front of Brodeur, it was Schneider who owned the better individual stats. As the last season of Marty’s contract played on, more starts began to go to Schneider, and Brodeur’s stats continued to decline. At 41 years of age (and 42 on the horizon after the season’s end), no one knew what the future held for the man who still holds the NHL record for all-time wins.
While the Devils had improved from the lockout season, their attempts to return to the postseason fell short, and by the time Game 82 rolled around, they were officially out of the running. With nothing left to play for aside from pride, the Devils gave Brodeur their final two games of the season, both at home, against the New York Islanders and the Boston Bruins. He would come out with an overtime loss for the April 11th contest, leaving only the home (and season) finale.
Most of this game is a blur in my mind, partly due to seeing it in person, and partly due to it taking place four years ago; it was an emotional crowd at The Rock, mainly because of the aforementioned fact that no one knew what the future would hold for Marty. I do remember that the Bruins started their backup Chad Johnson, and had a number of their regulars scratched in preparation for the playoffs; however, this did not mean it was going to be a walk in the park for a Devils team still in transition.
Marek Zidlicky would open the scoring mid-way through the first on a nice wrap-around that sneaked under Johnson’s pad while both teams were down a man. Boston would tie the game just prior to the end of the first as Brad Marchand and Carl Soderberg made two quick, sharp passes that allowed Loui Eriksson to bang home a tying goal. Again, the Bruins still had some good, NHL caliber players in their lineup, and the teams would go to the locker rooms for the first time even at 1.
The second period had some eventful occurrences, but none that would affect the bottom line, and the pair of tallies from the first would not see any more added before they adjourned to their lockers again. The Devils wouldn’t wait long to regain the lead in the third, with Jaromir Jagr threading a nifty pass that Travis Zajac would tip home to put Jersey up 2-1. Mere seconds later Damien Brunner (remember him?) would turn the puck over to the Bruins and Brodeur would go back in time to 1995, making a crucial save to preserve the lead.
A couple of minutes would tick by before the Devils would receive a power play thanks to a tripping call on Gregory Campbell. Zidlicky would strike again, this time off a point slapper, to give the Devils a two goal buffer for the first time. The Bruins would bring the game within a goal on a Brad Marchand power play put back with 16 seconds left; the Devils would play well enough to finish the job and end the 2013-14 campaign with a 3-2 victory.
The Devils would come out to show their thanks for the fans in what was a disappointing end to their season. And then, in a mere instant, the game, the result and the season would cease to matter. The rest of the active New Jersey roster would cede the spotlight to the man who had backstopped the team for over two decades. Brodeur would salute the crowd, as the cheers grew louder and the chants of “Thank You Marty” began to rain down from every section of the arena.
I and many other fans recognized that more than likely we had just been witness to Marty’s final game and it would be so at least in a Devils uniform. While all we had was cheers, thanks and pictures being taken to commemorate the moment, I think everyone at the Prudential Center felt that we had to do whatever we could to let Marty know what he meant to us and how lucky we were that he was a part of this team. Oddly enough, one of the pictures taken that night is the one at the start of this article and on the right side of the image, the female in the red t-shirt above Brodeur’s blocker is my now wife, then girlfriend and the guy in the red/green retro jersey to her right, with his face being obscured by Marty’s stick, is me.
While this season finale was not my first time attending a Devils game in person, this was my first time seeing Brodeur in a game in person, and after reading weeks (months?) later that the Devils would not be re-signing him, I remember being glad that I was able to see one of the all time greats in action. We as fans sometimes idolize these professionals for their accolades, and I had to write about this game and being there for it because I grew up watching Martin Brodeur. I watched him lift the Stanley Cup all three times; I watched him and the team suffer a number of disappointing early playoff exits in the mid-2000s; I watched him fight off Father Time as the Devils marched to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. I idolized his play and how the game had to be changed because of how dynamic and unique he was. After 20 years, I had become accustomed to having Marty as a constant in goal for our Devils and change isn’t easy, especially when what you’re accustomed to is all you’ve ever known.
While he would serve a short stint with the St. Louis Blues before joining their front office for a few seasons, I think everyone including Marty himself knew that he was and always would be a New Jersey Devil. And when I saw the headline yesterday morning, I grinned like an idiot as one simple thought ran through my mind:
Welcome home Martin Brodeur; we missed you.