Tonight will go down as a milestone as the victory was Brodeur's 600th win of his career. 600 wins. Last season, he broke Patrick Roy's mark of 551. And he's already soaring past it just over a year later. He got the job done with his 110th shutout - another record that Martin Brodeur broke earlier this season and is just surging past. (By the way, the win was Brodeur's 43rd of the season and the shutout was his 9th - both lead the NHL.)
Brodeur has simply been on fire as of late. In his last 4 games, including tonight, he has faced 105 shots and gave up only 2 goals. He was less than a minute away against Boston and Chicago of picking up a shutout, and neither goal against was his fault. Now, he has two straight shutouts. Against Atlanta, he made an impressive save early - robbing Jim Slater on a rebound - and then had a reasonably good outing on the other 18 shots against in the game. Just like he did in Carolina, only the Hurricanes actually put up a fight in the third period.
Going back to Brodeur, this is exactly what Devils want to see - one of the best of all-time just getting hot before the playoffs. 600 wins. 110 shutouts. There's only One Martin Brodeur.
Of course, this game featured more than just Martin Brodeur. There were three goals. There was the return of Ilya Kovalchuk. There was a defense without Mike Mottau. There is plenty to discuss about the game that the fans just witnessed, be it in person, on the radio, or on TV in non-glorious SD. NHL.com has this recap up, as well as links to all of the stats from tonight's game. Check out Bird Watchers Anonymous for the Thrashers' take, where I'm sure disappointment will abound. Please continue after the jump for my additional thoughts on tonight's game.
I honestly feel bad for the Thrashers fans. It was a must-win game for the Thrashers and, well, they had the better start and played about even with the Devils for the first 40 minutes. The Thrashers outshot the Devils early until a Devils power play helped New Jersey get rolling on the ice, still ended up 8-8 and getting a few chances at the end of the first. Despite an early goal given up, the Thrashers powered on throughout the second period and had plenty of possession in New Jersey's end. The two teams traded off chances, fed off each other's turnovers, but Atlanta had a shot. At that point, the shots were 19-17 in favor of New Jersey, the score was 2-0 to New Jersey, but you wouldn't think the Thrashers were defeated after the first two periods. They just needed that one break, that one great open shot to get something going.
It never happened. Not only did Atlanta not get those chances, they didn't work hard to try and make them happen. Atlanta just completely gave up in the third period.
Travis Zajac scoring 10 seconds into the third (his first point after 4 games without a point) was apparently a backbreaker. You'd see players in blue rushing forward but they was no communication. Passes fell apart, the Devils in their own zone battled twice as hard as the Thrashers for pucks, and even when the Devils botched a clearance - the Thrashers never took full advantage. I mean, you're down 3-0 and literally fighting for your playoff lives in the third period - just bomb away off a turnover!
Pulling Johan Hedberg with over a 100 seconds left was a bold idea, only the players didn't realize they had 6 skaters on the ice until about 30 seconds left. Their performance with the extra man was horrid, just horrid. The Devils just cleaned up everything that they did. Even when a Thrasher realized that, since he's the extra man, he should be on the point to intercept clearing attempts; there was no real danger felt. Atlanta head coach John Anderson was desperate and had to do it; someone should have told the players this.
For New Jersey, that the Thrashers were devoid of the was fantastic. It allowed the defense stepped up more, the forwards backchecked with more success, and Brodeur didn't have to do anything ridiculous to preserve the shutout. The Devils should leave Atlanta with confidence. As for the Thrashers, they end the third with no goals, 2 shots on net to finish at 19 for the night, and they are officially eliminated from the playoffs. Not with a bang, but out with a literal whimper.
No wonder there were audible "Fire Waddell" chants at the end of the game. UPDATE: I heard wrong. User nygNJD'cuse was at the game and has the facts on what was yelled.
At this juncture, here are the highlights to tonight's game via this embedded video from NHL.com:
Speaking of the Atlanta faithful, Ilya Kovalchuk got audibly booed whenever he had the puck. Maybe that threw him off? Kovalchuk didn't have a good game. He was skating hard, he had the right idea on the ice, but his execution and decision-making was just off tonight. He duffed shots, he had three attempts all night and all were blocked, passes went to the defending Thrashers or were slowed down by them. Kovalchuk had a big rush in the third period with Jamie Langenbrunner - who was also having a quiet night, but at least had 3 shots on net - and instead of ripping it on Hedberg, he looked for the pass. Sure, the pass got to Langenbrunnner and attempted short shot that was stopped. But it wasn't the right decision up 3-0. Just put it on net.
So Kovalchuk didn't have a great game. Neither did the former Devil Niclas Bergfors. Only once did I notice him with a big scoring chance, getting the puck all alone at the front of the net. While Brodeur was prepared, it was a great chance...that he backhanded over the net entirely. Poor Bergfors. Only one shot on net from him. Johnny Oduya was the best of the traded players, leading the Thrashers in ice time with 22:55 and was good on the penalty kill.
You know who did have a great game for the Devils? The first line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus. The ZZZ-Unit, if you will. Parise scored with an excellent deflection early in the second period, put 4 shots on net, and was just buzzing all around the net. Zajac got a great bounce when Dainius Zubrus knocked a puck ahead that went off the linesman and put it into space for him. Zajac was the first to the puck, cut past the defensemen, and beat Hedberg from the left side for the Devils' third goal. Zajac went 8 for 10 on faceoffs, as well, which was excellent. Dainius Zubrus helped make that line work with his size and space. Strong along the boards, calm with the puck, and he picked up two assists. He tossed a dandy of a pass to Dean McAmmond in the first period and he knocked the puck ahead for Zajac early in the third. Big Z nearly scored before Parise's goal when Zajac set him up in the slot, only for the shot to hit the inside of the left post but never cross the line. Great stuff from all three.
The only time where they didn't shine was on the power play. The first power play for the Devils was pretty good and got a few shots on net, including a deflected one by Zajac that Hedberg did well to stop. The second was uneventful as the Thrashers set themselves up impeccably on the PK. I will say that the first PP helped the Devils' offense get a foothold in the first period, utilizing some momentum from that to put up more shots later - including the first goal of the game. Still, in terms of special teams, once again, the Devils' PK had the better night than the PP.
In terms of the defense, while they looked shaky to start, the defense held up pretty well for the most part. They really nailed the game down in the third - helped along by the Thrashers' lying down in the final 20 minutes. Colin White made an impact with 3 hits, 5 blocked shots, and plenty of broken-up plays in his 22:04. Surprisingly, while Paul Martin was back and set up Parise's goal as it was his shot that was deflected in, he wasn't the top man tonight. Martin Skoula got the most time with 22:21 and played his usual solid game that he has been playing since becoming a Devil. Bryce Salvador also played an important role, notably on a penalty kill (he led in SH time with 2:18) that just defanged the Thrashers. The first one stopped their aggressive start to the game, the second one allowed nothing by the Thrashers. Good work by the unit.
Mark Fraser was just OK tonight. He got 15:32, which is good for him and amazingly had 6 shot attempts on net (2 on net, 4 blocked). He wasn't nearly as physical as he was on Saturday, though. My most memorable Fraser moment was early in the game; where he nearly bowled over Martin Brodeur as the goalie was trying to get in position on Jim Slater pouncing on a rebound. Of course, Brodeur made the save and all was well; but if he hadn't, well, we'd all be screaming at Fraser. Still, he was decent on his 19 other shifts in the game. I think he's the #7 at this point, just based on the fact that Lemaire didn't give Anssi Salmela a shot tonight.
Lastly, I do want to point out how well the fourth line of Dean McAmmond (1 G, 3 SOG), Rod Pelley (2 SOG), and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (1 A, 1 SOG) performed tonight. They didn't go out and bonk some heads, but they created energy just by playing simple hockey. All three were skating hard, making simple passes, and putting together some simple shots. Just by pushing ahead, they created a few chances and forced Atlanta back a bit. Later in the game, Lemaire switched Brian Rolston with Leblond, I suppose to mix things up - not that it did much. Still, while those three players didn't get a lot of ice time - McAmmond led with 10:13 - they put out strong shift after strong shift. That's what you want out of the fourth line; not necessarily dominating a game, but keeping the opponents honest at the very least.
What I really liked about the Devils' effort tonight was that in the third period, they didn't sit back after Zajac's goal. The Devils set up plays and struck forward whenever they could looking for a fourth goal. Johan Hedberg had to work all night long, but he and the Atlanta D couldn't relax in the third period despite the rest of their teammates taking the final 20 off. That's a big difference from a team that seemed to play down to a team's level. No, they didn't get that fourth goal - but I'm sure the continued attacks served to demoralize Atlanta further. They were definitely demoralized, as they couldn't even get a shot off when the Devils turned the puck over in the slot!
Getting a second straight win is good, getting a second straight road win is good, and showing up in the third period whereas the opposition did not is simply academic. The two points puts the Devils temporarily ahead of Pittsburgh in the Atlantic, as Washington beat the Penguins 6-3. Yet, Martin Brodeur's milestones in wins and shutouts will make this game memorable.
Thanks to Steve for the GameThread and thank you all for reading and commenting. Please leave all of your thoughts, concerns, complaints, questions, corrections, compliments, and feelings in the comments.