NEWARK, N.J. – Martin Brodeur has found the New Jersey Devils have changed during his almost four-month injury absence. This is a team that not only plays defence, it scores early and often.
Brodeur earned his 100th NHL regular-season shutout with a 27-save effort as the Devils extended their lead in the Atlantic Division with a 3-0 victory over the second-place Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
The shutout was the second in three games since Brodeur returned Thursday following recovery from elbow surgery, and this one moved him to within three of tying Terry Sawchuk’s mark of 103. It was also Brodeur’s 547th career victory, moving him to within four of tying Patrick Roy’s league record.
“It’s a big number, it’s kind of hard to believe,” Brodeur said of his shutout total. “You get to different numbers and at times you think, ‘OK, it’s just another one.’
“When you get to a round number, it looks more impressive.”
Brodeur has been very impressive in his return, posting two shutouts and winning three times in four days. He has stopped 46-of-48 shots, and has four shutouts in 13 games this season.
“This is as good as it gets,” he said.
The potent scoring is definitely new for Brodeur, who was used to winning one-goal games in helping the Devils capture the Stanley Cup three times, the last in 2003.
New Jersey outscored Colorado, Florida and Philadelphia by a combined 14-2 margin since Brodeur returned.
“Any goalie, that’s your dream team in front of you, one that scores goals and is responsible defensively,” the four-time Vezina Trophy winner said. “I don’t think we are cutting corners in our own zone.
“We’ve been really disciplined in these three games and that makes a big difference in keeping the puck out of your net.”
Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Gionta and Johnny Oduya scored as the Devils won for the eighth time in 10 games to open a nine-point lead in the division with 19 games left in the regular season.
The loss was the fourth in 11 games (7-3-1) for the Flyers, who welcomed back Danny Briere to the lineup after he missed 36 games following abdominal-groin surgery. Philadelphia has played two fewer games than New Jersey.
“Not a very good one from our part,” Flyers left-winger Simon Gagne said. “If you shoot 25 or 26 shots, it’s tough to win hockey games, especially against Martin Brodeur.
“We did not test him enough and they got the best of us.”
After Brodeur had relatively easy wins over Colorado and Florida, the Flyers had several quality chances against the 36-year-old goalie. Philadelphia captain Mike Richards had the best two.
Brodeur, who missed 50 games after having surgery to repair a torn biceps in his left elbow, protected a 1-0 lead when he slid across his crease to stop Richards in close after he was set up by Gagne.
“I was by myself with Brodeur and saw Richie on the corner on the left side. I thought it would be open net for him,” Gagne said. “I thought he read the play pretty good and Marty made a great save on that.”
Richards also had a deflection early in the third period.
Briere added a good wraparound attempt during a first-period power play. Brodeur made a couple of good stops against Scottie Upshall late in the game. Brodeur saved the shutout stopping Mike Knuble in close with 5:46 to go.
“I definitely feel more tested today than any of the other games I played so far,” Brodeur said.
As in the other two games since Brodeur returned, the Devils scored early.
Zach Parise, who had two goals in Saturday’s 7-2 win over Florida, chased down the puck in the right corner and sent a cross-ice pass to pass to Langenbrunner in the left circle. The Devils captain blasted the first shot of the game past Martin Biron for his 20th goal of the season and the 200th of his career at 3:51.
“It’s easy to play in this league when you have the lead and you are not down right away,” Parise said.
Gionta doubled the lead 37 seconds into the second, deflecting a point shot by Oduya for his 14th goal.
Brodeur even had a hand in the final goal that extended the Devils’ home win streak to seven. He waved his stick over the top of his head to swat away a loose puck and that set up a quick counterattack that Oduya finished with a 35-foot shot that beat Biron, one of 44 directed at the Flyers goaltender.
Notes: The Flyers loaned D Lasse Kukkonen and F Claude Giroux to the Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL) this weekend and recalled D Nate Guenin, who played in his first game of the season. … New Jersey is 3-2 against the Flyers. … Devils D Paul Martin was hit in the mouth by teammate John Madden’s stick in the second period and later struck in the helmet by a Flyers stick in the corner. … The Devils (41-19-3) assured themselves of a 17th straight season of .500 or better. … New Jersey is 29-0-1 when leading after two periods.