Martin Brodeur is destined for the Hall of Fame, but it was still tough to tell how the star goaltender would perform in his first start after missing 50 games due to left elbow surgery.
It turned out it was just like 98 other games in his career - flawless.
New Jersey (39-19-3) was 1-5-0 in its first six games without the four-time Vezina Trophy winner, but hardly struggled at all after a four-game losing streak in mid-November. The Devils went 31-12-1 in their last 44 contests with Brodeur on the shelf, compiling the second-most points in the league during that stretch and seizing command of the Atlantic Division.
Even with the stellar work Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes did, New Jersey was thrilled to get Brodeur back Thursday night, particularly considering how he looked in his return to the ice. Brodeur stopped 24 shots in the Devils’ 4-0 victory over Colorado in his first game since Nov. 1.
“It was an exciting night to get out there and perform,” Brodeur said. “I was really anxious all day, more nervous than I thought I was going to be. We pulled it off. It was nice to score early in the game. I didn’t get much work. It was a nice game to play.”
It was Brodeur’s third shutout of the season and moved him within four of Terry Sawchuk’s regular-season NHL record of 103. The victory was his 545th, putting him six back of Patrick Roy’s league record.
“You just go out there and play,” said Brodeur, who’s 6-4-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average in his last 10 starts against Florida. “Sometimes it happens. I never really think about it and I don’t want to jinx myself thinking about shutouts.”
None of Parise’s team-high 36 goals this season have come in New Jersey’s three meetings with Florida (31-22-8), and he hasn’t scored in the last nine games in the series.
The Devils scored three goals in each of the first two matchups this season and won both, then Tomas Vokoun made 36 saves in Florida’s 4-0 home win on Feb. 17.
Aside from that victory, the Panthers haven’t recorded more than two goals in any of their past seven games as they’ve alternated wins and losses.
They trailed the New York Rangers 1-0 after two periods Thursday at Madison Square Garden, but David Booth and Nathan Horton scored a minute apart in the third to give Florida a 2-1 win. That vaulted the Panthers into a tie with the Rangers for sixth place in the Eastern Conference despite being outshot 41-22.
“The Rangers played a great hockey game,” Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. “We’re fortunate to get out of here with two points, but we’ll take it.
“We’re all in such a close battle. That’s a four-point game and everybody on both sides knows it.”
Craig Anderson made 40 saves Thursday while subbing for Vokoun, who’s been battling an ear infection and his missed the past two games.
Vokoun, who has three of his six shutouts in his past six starts, should return Saturday.