By now, after 20 years in the NHL and 45 wins in Montreal, Martin Brodeur is used to sending the home fans at the Bell Centre streaming for the exits.
What he isn’t used to: being treated to a loud ovation after beating his hometown Canadiens.
It may well be that Tuesday’s 4-1 triumph won’t be the last that Brodeur savours in Montreal, but it certainly could be, which may have something to do with the decibel level when he was named the game’s first star.
“It was pretty special to see that in Montreal. It’s heartwarming, you never expect it, although this situation is a little different,” he said afterward.
Brodeur copped to making a particular effort to study the surroundings during the national anthem, but quipped that the reception after the final horn was particularly enjoyable because it was a rare occurrence.
“At least I’ve been applauded four times in Montreal in my career,” he laughed (the others being in the 2004 World Cup, when he was wearing a Team Canada sweater)
“I heard people applaud pretty loud, and I was like ‘well that’s kind of fun’ so I looked around a little. I had to give a pretty good performance to get it, though,” Brodeur said.
Yes, well, that’s old hat for Brodeur, who has always seemed to reserve his best performances for the city of his birth, against the team that employed his late father Denis as an official team photographer.
This night he turned away 29 of 30 shots in a 4-1 win in the Devils’ final visit to Montreal this year.
There are few certainties when it comes to the 41-year-old Brodeur, a cagey sort who says it could be the final year of his grand career – or perhaps not, we’ll just have to wait and see.
This much is clear: if it is the final go-round, he’ll have properly savoured it.
“It might be my last one, it might not be either. I just want to play well when I play, no matter what situation I’m in,” he said.
If Brodeur does end up hanging up his skates, it won’t be because he’s clearly past it as an NHL goalie – if he is, there was precious little evidence of it on Tuesday.
As fellow fortysomething NHL vet Jaromir Jagr said afterward “once you’re good, you’re good, man. If you love the game and work hard, you’re not going to lose it.”
Jagr knows a thing or two about veteran savvy, and he lavished praise on Brodeur, saying “we’ve got a great goalie, so we have to score goals.”
The Devils had a rare off-day in Montreal on Monday – Brodeur joked “that never happens” – and so he invited one of his brothers to snap a few pictures of practice from the spot where their father used to be stationed.
On game night, Brodeur took up his usual post in the visiting net of a building where he has compiled a 20-9-1 career record.
At 3:02 of the first period he made his first contribution of note, drawing a goalie interference penalty when Habs winger Brendan Gallagher crowded the net.
Four minutes later, Montreal’s Max Pacioretty scooped up a loose puck and stormed down the right side, and beat Brodeur over the glove with a blistering wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle.
Jagr tied proceedings after bamboozling the Habs’ Josh Gorges, the goal, his 695, moved him past Mark Messier into seventh on the all-time scoring list.
The milestone didn’t seem especially significant to Jagr, who was asked after the game if he ever considers that he’s making history every time he steps on the ice.
“I don’t. I’ve said it many times and I’m going to say it again: I’m not thinking about retiring yet. I’m not counting my games yet,” he said.
Brodeur made a nifty save on Rene Bourque during a Montreal power-play in the first, and kicked out a dangerous shot from former teammate Brian Gionta with the Devils up 3-1 in the second (Quebec-born Eric Gelinas made it 2-0 with a power-play rocket from the point that clanked in off the post at 1:20 of the period, Adam Henrique added to the lead less than three minutes later on a netfront scramble, Dainius Zubrus scored in an empty net).
Moments after stopping Gionta, Broduer was saved by his left-hand post on a sizzling Tomas Plekanec shot, and on the ensuing odd-man rush counterpart Carey Price made a miracle save on Michael Ryder.
In the third he would make several more important saves, none prettier than a sparkling blocker stop on Michael Bournival as he screamed in on a two-on-one with five minutes to play.
Asked what his most important save was, he said “Early in the (third), I made a save off Pacioretty and he took the rebound off the post, that was a pretty solid one, they score there and it’s a little different for the rest of the game.”
It was vintage Brodeur, even if it was his first start in a week.
Since last summer’s acquisition of Cory Schneider, Brodeur hasn’t been a full-time number one; still, he entered Tuesday’s tilt with a 12-9-4 mark on the season, albeit with a meagre .902 save percentage.
His .905 save percentage at even strength – considered by many stat-heads to be the most revealing goaltending stat – is 56 in the NHL, only Edmonton’s Devan Dubnyk has worse numbers among regular starters.
It also appears the Devils put in a little extra effort at the offensive end when Brodeur is in the cage – according to extraskater.com they scored 70 goals in his 26 starts, but only 36 in Schneider’s 22 starts.
Brodeur allowed that the tandem situation is “not perfect”.
In recent weeks Brodeur has suggested that if his health holds up he might entertain playing another season – and that he might even consider leaving the only franchise he’s ever known.
“If I decide to carry on playing, I’m going to need to be in a situation that’s comfortable for me, whether it’s here or elsewhere. Assuming I decide to play next year,” he said.
If this is to be his last year, it’s worth considering his magnificent 20-year career.
He has won the most games in history (682 and counting), saved more shots, played more minutes, and posted more shutouts (124).
That’s not going to stop some people from trying (there is a small, but tenacious group of Brodeur skeptics on the internet, who point to the fact he’s played much of his career in the overtime and shootout era and thus has far fewer ties than, say, his idol Patrick Roy).
Brodeur has four Vezina trophies, three Stanley Cups and a pair of Olympic gold medals.
He has also inspired at least one rule change – goalies are now forbidden from venturing into the corners to fetch pucks, mostly because Brodeur’s stickhandling proficiency essentially made him a third defenceman.
“He’s probably the best that’s ever played,” Gorges said before the game. “It’s hard to argue someone’s had a better career.”