NEWARK, N.J. – Standing on the podium after what might have been his final game of his record-setting, 20-year career with the New Jersey Devils, Martin Brodeur’s eyes welled with tears when he was asked to explain his emotions.
Just 15 minutes earlier, after a season-ending 3-2 win over Boston on Sunday, the soon-to be 42-year goalie stood at centre ice and gave a stick salute to the crowd as his teammates stood in front of the bench and tapped their sticks to honour him.
As he was interviewed the sellout crowd chanted: “Thank You Marty! Thank You Marty!”
“It was a little emotional,” said Brodeur, the NHL’s career leader in wins (688) and shutouts (124). “I have spent my life here. All the fans out there know me. They think they know me by my name, and I feel they know me.
“They have been calling my name for 20 years. Every time they stop me and talk to me, they are great. It’s a relationship that an athlete has with people. It was definitely fun, but it was emotional.”
Brodeur is in the final year of his contract and is likely to test the free-agent market now that he has become the backup to Cory Schneider. He clearly indicated he wants more playing time after going 19-14-6 in 39 games.
It is clear that the 28-year-old Schneider is the Devils’ goalie of the future.
“It’s not out of the question that the Devils will be in the running for me to come back,” Brodeur said. “I haven’t talked to Lou (Lamoriello) about what he wants to do with backing up “Schneids,” Brodeur said. “Again, if I am mentally ready to do that job, I am going to look for the Devils a little bit.
“Right now I’m keeping everything open. We’ll see what he feels is the best for the organization. It’s not about me anymore. I’m free. He’s not stuck with me anymore.”
Brodeur made 16 saves against the Bruins, who rested many of their stars in preparation for the playoffs. Loui Eriksson and Brad Marchand scored for Boston.
Travis Zajac, who put the Devils ahead 2-1 early in the third period, said the Devils’ goal was to send Brodeur out a winner.
“It just seemed like the right ending for everything he has done for this organization,” Zajac said after the Devils missed the playoffs for the second straight season after making the finals in 2012. “Whatever happens, it just seemed right to get him that win.”
Defenceman Marek Zidlicky scored twice for New Jersey and Jaromir Jagr earned two assists, giving him 1,050 and moving him past Gordie Howe for eighth on the NHL career list.
“He did something that no one is ever going to do again,” Jagr said of Brodeur. “I would say it’s comparable to Wayne Gretzky’s numbers.”
Boston rested eight starters, including Zdeno Chara and No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask.
“We had a real tough opponent, and for the most part I thought we handled it OK,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “For us it was just about playing a solid game.”
While Brodeur didn’t have a lot of work against the Boston lineup that included four players called up from the club’s Providence AHL affiliate, this was a love fest for the player who led the Devils to three Stanley Cup titles and five appearances in the championship round.
He was cheered from the opening introductions, and every save brought chants of “Marty! Marty!” Toward the end, the crowd just chanted his name.
Zajac broke a 1-all tie at 3:52 of the final period. He got inside position on Matt Bartkowski in front of goalie Chad Johnson and redirected a pass from Jagr into the net.
Zidlicky stretched the lead to two with a power-play goal that Jagr also helped set up.
Boston managed to take some of the enjoyment out of the closing seconds when Marchand scored a power-play goal to make it a one-goal game.
“If this is his last game, it is (cool) to have scored,” Marchand said. “I should have (grabbed) the puck.”
The Devils outshot the undermanned Bruins 24-9 in the first two periods, but the score was tied 1-1.
Zidlicky gave New Jersey the lead 7:12 into the game. The defenceman joined a rush late and took a pass from Zajac entering the Bruins’ zone.
He skated down the right side, went around the net and beat Johnson with a wraparound inside the post for his 11th goal.
Boston only had five shots in the period but the last one tied it on a power play. Marchand sent a pass from the right circle to Carl Soderberg in the opposite circle. He quickly found Eriksson with a pass at the right corner of the net for a slam dunk.
The Devils announced during the game that coach Pete DeBoer will return next season.
NOTES: Marchand played in his 300th game with the Bruins. … The Bruins, the Presidents’ Trophy winner for the best regular-season record also rested Jarome Iginla, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly. They recalled forwards Craig Cunningham, Justin Florek, Alexander Khokhlachev, and Matt Lindblad from Providence.