NEWARK, N.J. – Martin Brodeur has been the masked face of the New Jersey Devils for 20 years.
But on the eve of the NHL trade deadline, both the goalie and the only team he has played for are contemplating an uncertain future.
“I don’t know,” Brodeur said about the possibility of being traded following a 20-save effort in a 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night that could have marked his final game with New Jersey.
“I had some good conversations with Lou (Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello) about what I want to do for the rest of the year and maybe next year. From there you know it’s up to him to make the decision that he wants. He knows exactly where I stand.”
Stephen Gionta scored the tiebreaking goal with under 37 seconds left to lift New Jersey to victory. Adam Henrique, Marek Zidlicky, and Travis Zajac also had goals for the Devils (27-23-13), who closed within one point of Detroit (28-21-12).
“That’s a game we can’t lose,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “I would have taken (a win any way). Winning in regulation was huge.”
Johan Franzen, Brendan Smith and Todd Bertuzzi scored for the Red Wings against Brodeur, who has been the subject of trade rumours leading up to Wednesday’s deadline.
“We’ll see what’s going to happen,” said Brodeur, who has a no-trade clause and stated he wasn’t asked to waive it.
Gionta put the Devils ahead for good when he tipped Mark Fayne’s point shot past Jimmy Howard for the winning goal.
“It’s always nice scoring goals, especially one that can help out the team in a big way,” Gionta said.
Howard finished with 25 saves.
“It’s not what we wanted to see happen here,” Howard said. “To let one slip away is frustrating.”
Zajac snapped a 2-2 tie with his 10th of the season 6:30 into the third period. Ryane Clowe forced a turnover in the defensive zone with a hit, and Zajac and Jaromir Jagr quickly moved the puck up ice.
But the lead lasted for only 3:13 when Bertuzzi tied it with a power-play goal.
Henrique opened the scoring 27 seconds into the game when his shot pinballed in off of the sprawled Howard. Franzen tied it for Detroit 11 minutes later with his 13th goal during a power play.
Franzen stole the puck from forward Dainius Zubrus in the left circle and manoeuvred along the goal line before snapping a quick shot past Brodeur.
Detroit went ahead 2-1 on Smith’s second of the season 7:03 into the second period, but Zidlicky got New Jersey even on a power play 42 seconds into the third.
The Red Wings were 2 for 4 on the advantage. New Jersey went 1 for 3.
Devils fans chanted Brodeur’s name during the national anthem and throughout the game.
“It was great,” Brodeur said. “I didn’t expect that. I think (reporters) did a good job to kind of create maybe a sellout for the Devils. But definitely it was nice that the fans reacted like that.
“I haven’t played since Jan. 7 here in this building. It’s been a while so I was happy to get back in here and play well enough to win.”
The 41-year-old goalie is the NHL’s career leader in wins, minutes played, games played, losses and shutouts. He has been awarded the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie four times and is a three-time Stanley Cup champion while playing his entire career with the Devils.
“I use consummate pro. “You never see any breaks,” DeBoer said of Brodeur, who is in the final year of a two-year, $9 million contract, and has lost playing time to Cory Schneider.
“I hope they don’t trade him,” said Babcock, who coached Brodeur on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team that won gold. “A decorated athlete like him … I hope he stays a New Jersey Devil.”
NOTES: The teams will complete their three-game season series on March 7 in Detroit. … Devils alumni will play a select group of Russian legends in a charity game on Wednesday at Prudential Center to raise funds for a New Jersey high school hockey player who sustained a broken neck in a game on Jan. 4. … Jagr’s assist on Zajac’s goal gave him 1,041 in his career, passing Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne for ninth on the NHL career list.