New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur set a single-season NHL record for wins this season with 48. He would have had even more if not for his continued struggles against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Brodeur and the second-seeded Devils (49-24-9) look to reverse their regular season fortunes against the No. 7 Lightning (44-33-5) when the teams open their first-round playoff matchup Thursday at the Meadowlands.
Brodeur once dominated the Lightning, winning 20 of his first 26 games against them, but the future Hall of Famer has had little success against Tampa Bay since, managing only four wins in the last 18 matchups. Brodeur went 1-2-1 in this season’s series, although he posted a 2.22 goals-against average and has a 2.03 GAA in 46 career games against the Lightning.
Tampa Bay is 13-4 with three ties in the last 20 matchups with New Jersey.
“You remember it, you learn and you try not to make those same mistakes,” Devils center John Madden said of figuring out how to beat the Lightning. “You take the videos and break them down and see what’s going on, the matchups and everything.
“At the same time, this is the playoffs and for the lack of a better cliche, it’s another season.”
Brodeur has been just as successful in that season as he has been in the regular season. He’s third all-time in playoff wins, going 89-64 with a 1.89 GAA in 153 games, and he’ll look to keep rolling in the postseason after his record-setting 2006-07.
Brodeur broke Bernie Parent’s single-season victory record from 1973-74 by one, finishing 48-23-7 with a 2.18 GAA.
Just as Brodeur was drawing close to the record, though, general manager Lou Lamoriello made what’s become his trademark - an unexpected coaching change.
On April 2, with three games left, Lamoriello fired Claude Julien and took over the coaching responsibilities. New Jersey went 2-0-1 under Lamoriello, who fired Larry Robinson in December 2005 and coached New Jersey into the playoffs.
Lamoriello also replaced Robbie Ftorek with Robinson with eight games left in the 1999-2000 season, and Robinson led the team to its second Stanley Cup title.
Lamoriello will have to find a way to stop Tampa Bay stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis if the Devils are to have a good chance of advancing. Lecavalier led the NHL with 52 goals and finished third with 108 points, while St. Louis was fifth with 103 points (43 goals, 59 assists).
Lecavalier (one goal, four assists) and Brad Richards (two goals, three assists) each had five points against New Jersey this season, while St. Louis finished with two goals and an assist.
“They try to get them out there in all situations,” said Madden, who’s likely to draw the defensive assignment on Lecavalier or St. Louis. “If they haven’t been on the ice in a while, they’ll throw them out there to kill penalties.”
While Brodeur led the Devils to their second straight Atlantic Division title this season and has extensive postseason appearance, Tampa Bay will rely on goalie Johan Holmqvist, who will be making his playoff debut. Holmqvist went 27-15-3 with a 2.85 GAA in 48 appearances this season, including 2-1 with a 1.30 GAA against New Jersey.
While the Devils went 6-1-1 to close the season, the Lightning struggled somewhat, going 5-6-1 and missing out on the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed with a 3-2 shootout loss to Atlanta in their season finale. A victory would have given Tampa Bay a date with the Thrashers, but the defeat allowed the New York Rangers to claim the sixth spot and gave the Lightning a chance to continue their success against New Jersey.
“We know they know how to win and play in the playoffs,” Richards told the Lightning’s official Web site about the Devils.
The Devils will be looking to rebound from last year’s five-game loss in the second round to eventual champion Carolina, while the Lightning suffered a first-round elimination in five games to Ottawa after winning their first Stanley Cup in 2003-04.
New Jersey and Tampa Bay have met once in the postseason, with the Devils winning in five games in the East semifinals en route to capturing the Stanley Cup in 2003. Brodeur posted a 1.36 GAA in that series.
“This is going to be one of the better series,” New Jersey center Scott Gomez said. “If things added up the way they should, this should be a seven-game series. While we struggled a little bit against these guys, every game we were right in it until the end. It was one mistake at the end, for both sides. You could not have matched up two more even teams for a two-seven series.”
Game 2 will be Saturday night at Continental Airlines Arena.