PITTSBURGH – Martin Brodeur’s teammates crowded around in the tiny visitor’s locker-room at Mellon Arena, eager to share in the celebration of a record that once looked like it would never be broken.
The New Jersey Devils goaltender sat smiling in his stall, holding a puck inscribed with “104” – the record number of shutouts he reached with Monday’s 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It moved Brodeur past Terry Sawchuk on the all-time list and gave him the only major goaltending milestone missing from his resume.
Even after three Stanley Cups, four Vezina Trophies and numerous entries in the record book, the weight of the latest accomplishment was felt by the 37-year-old late in the game.
“I don’t get nervous, but today (I) was a little nervous,” said Brodeur, who finished with 35 saves.
These record-breaking moments might not be new to the Devils, but there was no sense that anyone was taking anything for granted. Most of Brodeur’s teammates watched as he posed for photos – and a few later jumped in to grab a souvenir shot of their own.
They seemed a little in awe of a goalie who has spent his entire career with the Devils.
“I don’t think much needs to be said, it’s pretty self-explanatory,” said fifth-year forward Zach Parise. “All the winning that he’s done, the shutouts, the Cups, it’s unbelievable. It’s great for a guy like me – and all of us at this time – we’re on the ice when all these records are happening.
“I mean, it’s pretty fun. I’m sure it’s fun for him but it’s pretty cool for us too.”
The importance of helping him break the record could be seen late in the game, when the Devils did everything they could to tighten up defensively. It wasn’t easy against the high-powered Penguins, who saw Sidney Crosby’s shot ring off the post with less than two minutes remaining.
Brodeur could sense that his teammates were giving a little extra effort.
“It was almost like winning a playoff game,” he said. “The guys kept chipping the puck out and everybody was blocking shots everywhere. It was a great effort from my teammates.”
Bryce Salvador, Niclas Bergfors, Patrik Elias and Mark Fraser had goals for the league-leading Devils (26-8-1), who won all three visits to Mellon Arena this season.
Pittsburgh, which dropped to 25-11-1, was held off the scoresheet for the third time this season.
There was at least one reminder of Brodeur’s achievement left behind at Mellon Arena as someone had written “104” in red marker across a whiteboard in the visitor’s dressing room. It was the last major record missing from the league’s all-time leader in wins, appearances and minutes.
The shutout mark was long believed to be the most untouchable of goaltending records and stood more than 39 years after Sawchuk’s last season with the New York Rangers. Coincidentally, his final shutout came against the Penguins on Feb. 1, 1970.
“This record was held so long by Terry Sawchuk,” said Brodeur. “When you do break records and you see how long they’ve lasted, it’s pretty cool. Tying it was pretty amazing in Buffalo a couple weeks ago and now surpassing it, it’s a great honour for me to be in that position.”
Brodeur broke Sawchuk’s shutout on his seventh attempt since tying the mark in Buffalo. It was New Jersey’s final game before the Christmas break.
He had to make a couple tough saves in the third period, turning aside chances from Malkin and Crosby on an early power play. With the Devils already leading 4-0 at that point, the only real point of interest was whether the Penguins would find a way to score.
It didn’t happen.
“It’s pretty incredible what he’s done,” Crosby said. “He was on tonight and he’s been a great goalie for a long time.”
The game wasn’t filled with very much drama.
Salvador opened the scoring at 4:39 of the first period with a point shot that found its way through traffic and past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Bergfors, Elias and Fraser then scored in the opening 11:03 of the second period, chasing Fleury from the goal in favour of Brent Johnson.
Brodeur is enjoying one of the best seasons in his 16-year NHL career. He leads all goaltenders in victories (23), is tied for third in shutouts (three) and boasts a 2.10 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
When Monday’s game ended, he celebrated modestly with teammates while the few remaining fans applauded. Devils veteran Jamie Langenbrunner handed him puck after win.
“He just smiled,” said Langenbrunner. “We had the homestand where he wanted to get it and it just didn’t happen. I think it’s a little bit of relief for him to finally just get passed it. Tonight was one of those special nights when you knew he was seeing the puck well and you knew it was going to take a pretty good play to beat him.”
It’s been a pretty special season for a Devils team that is an impressive 13-2-1 on the road this season. Three of those victories have come here against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The team couldn’t have gone into the Christmas break on a much higher note.
“It’s a great Christmas present for him,” said winger Jay Pandolfo. “It’s nice for him to get it out of the way now. It’s a record that’s going to stand for a long time. He has a lot of records that are going to stand for a long time.
“This is just a testament to what kind of competitor he’s been in this league.”
Even Brodeur isn’t sure if there are any more records out there for him.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You guys will tell me.”