Devils legend Brodeur made Hudson Rivalry great

Martin Brodeur

Marty’s Better: For 20 years, nobody has been better than Martin Brodeur with the Devils. This is his moment.

It will be a special night in Newark. It’s already been memorable for Devils legend Martin Brodeur, who finally saw his statue unveiled Monday before a gathering full of a sea of black and red at The Prudential Center. As the Devils battled the Rangers across the Hudson in Manhattan, their fans were treated to An Evening With Marty. Doors opened at 5:30 PM and it didn’t end until the conclusion of the latest installment of the Battle Of Hudson.

When it comes down to it, Brodeur defined perfection. From the time former Devils architect Lou Lamoriello traded down with the Flames to select Brodeur 20th overall in the 1990 NHL Draft, he became the cornerstone who would turn the franchise into one of the most successful over the past three decades. Along with a smart trade with Toronto that allowed the Devils to grab Scott Niedermayer in the 1991 Draft third overall for Tom Kurvers, the seeds were planted.

The clincher was future captain Scott Stevens, who Lamoriello was rewarded by an arbitrator from St. Louis as compensation for signing Brendan Shanahan. The Blues countered with Rod Brind’Amour, Curtis Joseph and two draft picks. The decision came on September 4, 1991. The link between Stevens and Shanahan is legendary. While Shanahan went on to score 656 goals and win three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings after forcing his way out of Hartford following being dealt by the Blues for Chris Pronger, Stevens became the emotional leader of the Devils, leading them to three Stanley Cups while winning the Conn Smythe in 2000. Both are Hall of Famers. In another twist, Lamoriello and Shanahan are back together running the Maple Leafs with former Detroit coach Mike Babcock behind the bench.

It’s almost as if all the pieces fell into place. One by one, the Hall of Fame general manager turned the Devils into a juggernaut. With the Big Three on the same roster along with mainstay Ken Daneyko between ’93-94 thru ’03-04, New Jersey only missed the playoffs once winning three Cups, reaching four Stanley Cup Finals and winning five Atlantic Division titles. Following theĀ retirements of Daneyko and Stevens plus the departure of Niedermayer to Anaheim, Brodeur led them to four more first place finishes and five straight postseasons. He also won his final two Vezina Trophies as the league’s best goalie in ’06-07 and ’07-08.

Due in large part to Dominik Hasek, he didn’t win his first Vezina until age 31 capping off a memorable ’02-03 in which he backstopped the Devils past the Senators to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in hostile territory, and then shutout the Ducks at home 3-0 in Game 7 for the franchise’s third championship. Even though the Conn Smythe was awarded to Jean-Sebastien Giguere drawing boos from the crowd at Continental Airlines Arena, a sarcastic Brodeur made a cool gesture with his arms raising them to the roof in reference to the most prestigious trophy being handed out which turned the jeers to cheers. That kind of moment is what made him fun. He got it.

Following a disappointing ’10-11 in which they missed the playoffs for only the second time since ’89-90, Brodeur had one more run in him. At the advanced age of 40, here was the all-time winningest netminder and all-time shutout leader proving to doubters, he still had it. After the Devils ousted the Panthers in a tough seven-game first round with Adam Henrique playing the overtime hero, they took care of their Turnpike rival Flyers sweeping them to set up one more Conference Final versus the hated rival Rangers. Facing Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, the elder Brodeur outplayed a goalie 10 years younger helping the Devils pull the upset in a closely fought six games- finally avenging his worst defeat when the Blueshirts got the better of him as a rookie in an emotional seven games en route to the Cup in ’93-94. The Rangers didn’t go down easily, coming back from two goals down in the third forcing overtime. However, there was no Stephane Matteau this time. Instead, Henrique ended the series with former Hall of Fame Devils’ announcer Doc Emrick making the famed “Henrique! It’s over!” call that’s still replayed in Jersey living rooms.

Even though they fell short losing to the Kings in six for the Stanley Cup in 2012, Brodeur was brilliant. He only allowed two goals in bitter overtime defeats in Games 1 and 2. After the Kings blitzed the Devils 4-0 to go up 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, Brodeur and his teammates wouldn’t go down easily. Winning the next two behind Marty, who only allowed two goals on 48 shots, they forced the Kings to close it out at Staples Center. It took a controversial Steve Bernier major penalty and game misconduct for the Kings to finally put the Devils away cruising to a 6-1 win. In what felt like the passing of the torch, another goalie Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe. He’s since led the Kings to a second Cup in 2014 and they are strong contenders to win a third after missing the playoffs last year.

For Brodeur, it was the final time he ever made the postseason. Injuries limited him to 29 games in ’12-13. It was during the 2013 Draft that Lamoriello changed the direction of the team trading the Devils’ first round pick (Bo Horvat) to the Canucks for Cory Schneider. A move that was applauded by Devil fans at the Draft in Newark. The writing was on the wall. Eventually, the franchise needed to replace Brodeur in net. After an uncomfortable season in which he and Schneider split duty, the Devils didn’t re-sign him. He didn’t retire instead waiting until the Blues had a spot available signing with them. Though he only lasted seven games winning three while posting his 125th and final shutout, it was still odd to see him in another jersey. The experience gave him an opportunity to move upstairs and become the Blues assistant GM.

The list of accomplishments are endless. He also won Olympic gold twice with Canada helping his home country finally win gold in ’02 defeating classic rival Mike Richter and USA in the Salt Lake Winter Games. The all-time leader in games played (1,266-1,259 with Devils), wins (691) and shutouts (125) also holds the regular season record for most consecutive seasons of 30 wins-or-more (11) and most 40-win seasons (8) and 30-win seasons (14). He also has the most career losses (396). Brodeur’s playoff record 24 shutouts including the most in a single postseason (7) and series (3) in ’03 give him a record 149 combined shutouts regular season and playoffs.

He’s also one of only two goalies to ever score a goal in the postseason doing so against the Canadiens in ’97, joining the Flyers’ Ron Hextall. Brodeur’s amazing puck handling skills gave opponents fits. Eventually, led by former Flyers GM Bobby Clarke, they changed the rule post-lockout forcing goalies to adjust to the trapezoids which limited their ability to come out and play the puck. Known as the “Brodeur Rule,” it didn’t hinder Marty much. He found a way to get to pucks in the corner quicker before they reached the designated lines which allowed him to transition with smart outlets.

There’s so much to this man. His competitiveness and fire are second to none. His pride certainly was on display any time he faced the Rangers. Losing to them twice (’94 and ’97) made him want to beat them more than any other opponent. For a while when the Rangers became bad following the departure of Mark Messier, it was easy for Brodeur and the Devils to win games versus their Hudson rival. At one point, he held a long unbeaten streak (15-0-8) in which he never lost a game. It started on Feb. 17, 1997 and ended Mar. 31, 2001.

The rivalry intensified after the lockout. Lundqvist became Brodeur’s adversary bringing the Blueshirts back to respectability. At one point, he dominated Brodeur head to head in the regular season. In their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade, Brodeur and the Devils exacted revenge sweeping their rivals in the first round.

Following ’05-06, the rivalry heated up due to the Rangers’ acquisition of Sean Avery. A known pest throughout the league, he made an imprint right away crashing into Brodeur after a scoring chance. The play in question saw Avery go around Colin White and force Brodeur into a difficult save. Unable to come to a full stop, Avery collided with Brodeur knocking him over. The Devils’ goalie shoved Avery resulting in Avery shoving Brodeur down. Avery quickly became public enemy number one for the Jersey side.

In a first round playoff rematch in ’07-08 also featuring ex-Devil Scott Gomez, Avery was again the story. During Game 3 at MSG, while on a 5-on-3 power play, Avery waved his stick at Brodeur in an attempt to screen him. The odd tactic worked with him eventually getting set up for a goal. However, Avery was harshly criticized by announcers and of course Brodeur and the Devils. It led to the NHL creating the Avery Rule preventing opposing players from waving their stick like that at a goalie ruling it “unsportsmanlike conduct.” After the Rangers won the series in five games, Brodeur refused to shake Avery’s hand dodging him. That only led to Avery ripping him.

There’s no doubt the rivalry was at its best with both teams competitive. Whether it be the mid-90’s featuring key actors Richter, Messier, Brian Leetch, Jeff Beukeboom, Adam Graves, Esa Tikkanen and Alexei Kovalev on the Ranger side compared to key Devils Brodeur, Claude Lemieux, Bobby Holik, Randy McKay, John MacLean and Stephane Richer. Or the past decade with the Rangers featuring Lundqvist, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander, Martin Straka, Petr Prucha, Michal Rozsival, Avery, Gomez, Ryan Callahan, Shanahan, Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and the Devils featuring Brodeur, Jamie Langenbrunner, John Madden, Gomez, Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador, Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, Jagr, Andy Greene, David Clarkson.

It always felt bigger and better with Brodeur part of it. He went from going mono y mono with Richter to going up against Lundqvist and getting the better of him in two of three playoff series despite the age gap. Even with the Devils having a nice season under rookie coach John Hynes due in large part to Schneider and key contributors Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and the injured Mike Cammalleri, the games don’t have the same juice. Perhaps it’s due to there not being as much hatred on the ice. While the stands haven’t changed much, there’s a missing ingredient. Aside from no Marty to spice things up, you no longer have coaching adversaries John Tortorella and Pete DeBoer with each sending out fourth lines to start games with fireworks. There’s no Brandon Prust, Stu Bickel or Mike Rupp on the Ranger side. Just as there’s no Carter, Cam Janssen or Eric Boulton.

The constant to the Hudson Rivalry was Brodeur. Love or hate him, he made the rivalry great. Honestly, Devils/Rangers hasn’t been the same since. I really enjoyed attending games at MSG knowing the familiar “Mar-ty” serenade was coming. It was all in good fun. Though one fan always let him have it drawing stares and laughter from the regulars. There was an intensity to those games as soon as each team took warm ups. Both on the ice and in the stands. When the teams met in Jersey, the familiar “Marty’s Better” was the chant. The same one he’ll hear tonight when his number 30 joins former Devil teammates Daneyko, Niedermayer and Stevens in the rafters. Call them the Four Horsemen. They are the Devils. Adjoined at the hip. Eventually, Elias will join them. Maybe one day MacLean will too now that Lamoriello works for Toronto.

Brodeur is special. Even from the other side, I saw and respected it. Tonight is all about one of the all-time greatest goalies. Marty finally gets his moment. It should be cherished.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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