What a fantastic game for the New Jersey Devils. The Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins played one intense game right from the start. This was a game between the two best teams in the league and both teams left it all on the ice. And the Devils didn't just beat the Penguins. They Devils vanquished them by a score of 4-0. They conquered the Igloo. The Devils won all three road games in Pittsburgh.
It was a great, full 60 minute effort by the New Jersey Devils and it will never be forgotten. Tonight, Martin Brodeur earned his 104th career shutout. He is now the all-time leader in career shutouts, surpassing the ridiculous total put up by Terry Sawchuk. And to think, it came against a very hot (remember, they won their last 5 games prior to tonight) Pittsburgh Penguins team. A Pittsburgh Penguins team who was averaging over 3 goals per game on offense. A Pittsburgh Penguins team lead by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, two of the best hockey players on Earth.
And Martin Brodeur stopped them all. Brodeur made 35 saves and he was fantastic. 8 saves on the penalty kill. Shots from the slot, shots right in front, wraparounds, shots from the point, and point blank shots. The post had to make an appearance to deny Sidney Crosby late in the game, but Brodeur's glove was just as good near the end as it was all season long. Unlike his last shutout - against Buffalo - Brodeur truly had to be great against Pittsburgh. He was better - he was perfect.
And that's how he made history in becoming the all-time leader in shutouts. Thank you, Martin Brodeur.
Here's the recap from NHL.com. Visit Pensburgh for the Pittsburgh point of view, which surely must be filled with disappointment. If nothing else, WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS. Watch Brodeur make big saves. Watch the Devils score some fantastic goals. Watch the Devils triumph in Pittsburgh. All thanks to NHL.com:
The best part about this game going down as one for the ages after Martin Brodeur's record-breaking shutout was that the Devils played a great game against the Penguins. Both teams went hard after every loose puck, they went hard after each other, and only for the middle of the second period did one team fall flat - and the Penguins paid for it with two goals against.
The third line of Jay Pandolfo, Rob Niedermayer (9 for 15 on the faceoff dot), and Nicklas Bergfors was solid against Pittsburgh's top opposition. Pandolfo and Niedermayer in particular were great on the penalty kill tonight, as the Penguins were punchless yet again on the man advantage. The second line of Brian Rolston, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner had a few good chances (Langenbrunner struck the post with a powerful slapshot, he nearly made the game 5-0 New Jersey) and were able to keep up pressure when available. I wish Zajac didn't go 5 for 15 on faceoffs, but that can be forgiven tonight. Even the fourth line was noticeable, namely Vladimir Zharkov hustling all over the place.
But the line of the night wasn't on Pittsburgh. (Though Evgeni Malkin made his presence felt with 6 shots on net and 21:54 of ice time.) No, it was EMP. Patrik Elias-Dean McAmmond-Zach Parise. They were dominant for the first 40 minutes of the game and the only complaint I have for Jacques Lemaire is why did he switch up the top two lines for the third period? Not that ZZ Pops was bad; but there was no need to change. Nonetheless, EMP bombarded the Penguins in the second period. Zach Parise didn't score a goal, but you can't complain with nine shots on net and three assists. He will get his goals soon enough. Dean McAmmond continued to play out of his mind, surely making the fans at the Igloo wonder who in the world is Dean McAmmond. With two shots, two assists and swarming down low throughout the second, they will remember the name: McAmmond. And Patrik Elias did cash in on a rebound for the Devils' third goal and got the puck to Parise who made the rebound that Mark Fraser put in for goal #4 and to send Marc Andre Fleury to the bench. Elias had 3 shots along with his points and the line did as well as they did against Atlanta on Saturday. I don't know why Lemaire split them up, but he did. I want to see this line continue to flourish, if only while they are still hot.
Poor Marc-Andre Fleury! He had some sloppy defensive coverage in front of him, sure, but he was just beat by four great shots on net. Bryce Salvador put his shot perfectly from the point - his goal was certainly no fluke tonight. Niclas Bergfors came down hard on the wing and found the hole to the far post on the power play early in the second. Elias shot was perfectly placed from the loose puck, and Fleury got a piece of Fraser's strike from the high slot but not enough of it. Not even 32 minutes into the game, Fleury concedes 4 goals on 16 shots - two from defensive defensemen even! - and he was replaced by Brent Johnson.
Johnson didn't get to rest much. The Devils kept pushing forward throughout the rest of the game for that fifth goal and came close more than a few times. The Penguins defense righted themselves for the third period; but New Jersey did put 14 on the backup keeper. Jamie Langenbrunner came the closest by virtue of smacking the iron with a slapshot shortly after Fraser's goal. In a way, Johnson should be fortunate that the Devils missed a few passes and shots on scoring chances in the third period. A few other decisions on some of those odd man rushes and the Devils easily score another goal or two.
By contrast, the Devils defense held steady. With about 5 minutes left or so in the second, the Penguins started to bring more and more pressure to get, well, something. You can tell from their puck possession and their body language that they aren't ending the night with nothing. Thanks to Martin Brodeur and some clutch defensive work, the Penguins, of course, got nothing.
Despite the Penguins put 35 shots on Brodeur and the PK allowed 8 shots on net, the Devils made very few mistakes in their own zone. Only twice did they cough up the puck to a free Penguin in their own zone. First, early in the second, an errant pass went right to Evgeni Malkin but Brodeur stopped him cold to bail out the defense. Second, Oduya makes a bad clearance right to a Penguin in the high slot, but thankfully he decides to try and find Jordan Staal with a pass down low and Oduya is able to pick off the pass.
Outside of that, the Devils were dominant in the slot and cleaned up a lot of rebounds. Credit Brodeur too for controlling those rebounds so well, but the 6 blueliners did an equally good job in getting clearances, settling the puck, and getting the puck up to the forwards. They had 12 blocked shots total, and the Pittsburgh offense helped out with 17 missed shots and more than a handful of poor passes on offense that the Devils took away. Johnny Oduya, in my opinion, had a great game. He had 3 blocks, he gave 22:09 of solid work, he jumped up on offense at the right time and without getting caught, and he recovered from one of his few mistakes of the night.
While the year isn't over, this has to be one of the best games if not the best game I have seen from the New Jersey Devils in 2009. They went into the building of the defending Stanley Cup champions; a hot Penguins team, a high scoring Penguins team; and a Penguins team led by Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury having great seasons. A tall order for any team. And they gave a consistent 60 minute effort. They didn't sit on leads, the penalties they took were either necessary or just bad calls by the ref (someone want to explain what Zharkov did for his minor?), and they matched Pittsburgh in intensity and workrate. Even if Crosby scored at the end or the Penguins got a fluke goal, no Devils fan would be unhappy with how well the entire team played tonight. The 4-0 win by New Jersey was honestly earned by the whole team. A fantastic victory rewarded with a four day break through Christmas.
Of course, the star of the night was Martin Brodeur and that's the way it should be. A shutout against anyone is difficult. Moreso when it's on the road and against an elite opponent. But Martin Brodeur has always been a goaltender who doesn't let the hype go to his head. He focused giving his team a chance to win, he played his way and without nerves, and he got the desired result. And so we have seen history tonight.
Thank you all for commenting in the GameThread, thanks to Steve for putting it up, and again thanks to all the readers. Please leave your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
And again, thank you, Martin Brodeur. I don't care what others may say, you truly are the best goaltender of all time. Here's a short collection of highlight saves he's made in the past via NHL Network: