NEW YORK – The place for comebacks was on the ice, not the links: Tiger Woods didn’t make it past the second round; Martin Brodeur looked as if he hadn’t missed a minute.
Brodeur made a smashing return from elbow surgery last week, and with each game seems closer to cementing his status as the best goalie in hockey history.
He’s the face of the New Jersey Devils franchise that has won the Stanley Cup three times since he made his debut during the 1991-92 season.
Dynamic doesn’t do him justice. Durable only scratches the surface. Determined tells only part of his story.
Brodeur was well on his way to breaking Patrick Roy’s NHL record for career victories when something popped in his left arm Nov. 1 as he reached to make a save.
After playing at least 70 games in 11 of 12 seasons, Brodeur suddenly faced a four-month layoff.
“It was a long process, something that hopefully I’ll never have to go through again,” said Brodeur, who had never sustained a major injury in 15 NHL seasons.
The 36-year-old goalie had surgery on a torn biceps, and missed 50 games until his return Thursday. That was the same day Woods, returning from knee surgery in June, was knocked out of the Accenture Match Play Championship.
Brodeur marked his comeback with 24 saves in a 4-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
“Obviously, he’s a great goalie,” Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. “He’s come back and done what he’s always done and it makes us a better team.”
Two days after his return, Brodeur was back in the net and coasted to a 7-2 victory Saturday against the Florida Panthers. Because he was hardly tested in his first two outings, coach Brent Sutter put him back in the next day.
Brodeur responded with another shutout, the 100th of his NHL career and his fourth this season in 14 games.
He stopped 27 shots in topping the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 on Sunday and earned the league’s first star honours for the week.
“He’s phenomenal,” Colorado forward Ryan Smyth said. “Obviously he’s got a great team in front of him, but the thing with him is he’s confident.
“He not only handles the puck well, he is like a third defenceman back there. He controls all different plays.
“He came in and looked like he was playing for the whole year.”
When Brodeur went down 10 games into the season, the fear was that New Jersey’s post-season hopes were doomed. Defence has always been the cornerstone of the Devils’ success, and without the four-time Vezina Trophy winner backing them up, a playoff spot seemed a long shot.
Instead, the Devils surged to the top of the Atlantic Division while Brodeur watched. They now have him back for what could be a run toward a fourth title.
“He is probably the best goalie to play the game. Not probably, I believe he is,” Sutter said.
High praise indeed from Sutter, a teammate of Hockey Hall of Famer Billy Smith, who backstopped the New York Islanders’ dynasty in the 1980s.
“Smitty obviously won four Stanley Cups, but Marty, when you look at the overall wins and shutouts … he’s got his share of Stanley Cups, too,” Sutter said. “I think it speaks for itself.
“Don’t get me wrong, Billy Smith was a great goaltender … yet Marty is a special player.”
Brodeur has renewed his chase for the biggest goaltending records – wins and shutouts.
Following New Jersey’s 3-2 overtime triumph at Toronto on Tuesday night, Brodeur’s fourth victory in four tries since returning, he stood four shutouts shy of breaking Terry Sawchuk’s career mark, and four wins from topping Roy’s record of 551.
“I’m concentrated on getting my game to the level that I need to be when the playoffs come,” Brodeur said. “It’s a great start for me, especially coming back from an injury I didn’t expect.
“I didn’t have much expectation about the way I would come back and how quickly I was able to get some wins.
“But definitely now, being on the eve of it, it’s always something that will be in the back of my mind. Hopefully we’ll do it really quick.”
When those marks inevitably fall, it will be hard to argue against the claim that Brodeur is the best to play the position.
“It’s never comfortable to hear that,” he said. “When people tell you stuff like that, you don’t like to believe it.
“I’m going to go and try to accomplish some pretty big milestones or establish some records. It’s normal that people will talk about it.
“But I don’t think as an athlete you can see yourself like that. If you do, it’s not the right way to approach who you are, where you want to be. You really have to stay humble when these things are approaching.”