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Brodeur, Devils focus on the task at hand

Monday, 03.16.2009 / 5:55 PM ET / News
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Brodeur, Devils focus on the task at hand
By SHAWN P. ROARKE Managing Editor

Brodeur celebrates victory No. 552 Saturday at Montreal.
Hockey history may be lurking in the Prudential Center, ready to take center stage Tuesday night when the Devils meet the Chicago Blackhawks (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network-U.S.), but it was not easy to find during the New Jersey Devils' practice here Monday morning.

"It's just another day, another day at the office," forward Brian Rolston said

The only hint goaltender Martin Brodeur is only one victory away from becoming all-time leader in career victories was the number of media on hand for an off-day practice session.

Brodeur tied Patrick Roy's record of 551 wins with an emotional victory Saturday night in Montreal, his hometown. He will stand alone atop the goaltending heap with his next victory. The first crack comes Tuesday night, when the Blackhawks visit.

Yet nothing was different Monday for the Devils, or Brodeur. Coach Brent Sutter put the team through a brisk 40-minute practice after giving the team Sunday off. Brodeur was all smiles throughout the workout, clearly back in his element, having processed the emotions of Saturday night -- a night that featured two standing ovations from the Montreal crowd at the game's conclusion.

"Yesterday (Sunday) was pretty quiet," Brodeur said after practice. "I was real tired from all the emotion of Saturday night and I was kind of happy just sitting back and hanging here in New Jersey. It was pretty good.

"Tomorrow's going to be another big day."

Brodeur prepared for another big day in his career the way he has for every big day in what already is a Hall of Fame career -- he worked his tail off in practice, trying to improve areas of his game he feels are lacking, contesting every shot from teammates and, generally, just having a blast.

He said the key is to focus on the goal at hand, to think only about those things that will help him attain his next goal.

"I try not to do too much," Brodeur said, discussing the off-ice demands. "I know there (are) a lot of demands for me to be everywhere because everybody loves to talk to me about (the record). I try to accommodate everybody as much as I can, but I have to stay focused on what I have to do -- and that's play hockey."

Still, Brodeur still took time out of his day to meet with a cancer patient from the Make A Wish Foundation, whose wish was to meet Brodeur.

Another day in the office, indeed.

"He's a special breed, obviously," said Rolston, who played with Brodeur for several seasons at the start of his career before re-joining the team this summer.

For Sutter, Brodeur's low-maintenance ways have been a blessing since the goalie returned from a long-term injury Feb. 26. Brodeur has surprised everyone -- except for himself -- by going 7-1-0 since his return and threatening Roy's record for wins far earlier than projected. 

Somehow, an event that could, and perhaps should, be a distraction, has become a unifying force for the team. The Devils have won 12 of their past 15 games -- including seven of eight since Brodeur's return -- without losing their focus in the face of history in the making.

"We didn't even discuss it in Montreal," Sutter said. "It doesn't need to be talked about. Everyone's aware of it. Obviously, the players are aware of it. That's a big, prideful group in there. We don't discuss it. As coaches, we focus on the things we need to do as a team and just stay the course and don't get carried away because when this is over you don't want the team (sinking), we want to stay where we are at."

Sutter actually believes his veteran-laden group has fed off all the hoopla surrounding their goalie's chase for immortality.

"Absolutely, we've used it all to our advantage," he said. "It's a good thing.  Like I always say, when you have momentum, you ride it. When things are happening around you in a positive way, you use it to your advantage. It's a long year and when circumstances like this come around, take advantage of it, use it."

Veteran forward Bobby Holik said that Brodeur's personal achievement has done little to deflect from the good the group has accomplished in 2008-09. He dismisses the notion that all the pomp and circumstance that will come with Tuesday's game could affect the team negatively.

"I think after Montreal, we can handle it," Holik said. "That's three levels from here. Again, we are winning; we want to keep it going and put ourselves in good position for the playoffs. There're a lot of things to focus on."

Even Brodeur is trying to distance himself a bit from the history he is about to make. He used the record as a motivational tool during the long and grueling rehabilitation of his biceps injury, but now it must take a back to seat to the day-to-day concerns of a hockey season still in progress.

"It's hard to reflect on anything when it's not over yet," Brodeur said. "I don't feel that point has arrived in my career. It's quite an accomplishment I'm going through right now; but personally, for me, it's just another game and hopefully we'll get through this and we won't talk about it (again) until I'm done.

"I'm going to set the bar as high as I can for everyone else to follow me."

First, he has to get that next win -- which could be the toughest of his career, considering what is on the line.

The Blackhawks, who sit fourth in the Western Conference, will provide a hearty challenge for Brodeur. The Hawks have a high-powered offense -- led by young guns Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews -- that will be hungry for a win after back-to-back losses.

"It's a tough team, young team coming in here and it'll be the first time I play against some of those guys, so it'll be an interesting game," Brodeur said.

Interesting? For sure. Historic? We'll see.

Rolston, though, likes Brodeur's chances Tuesday night.

"We just keep playing like we've been playing and he plays like he plays and we'll be just fine."

Author: Shawn P. Roarke | Managing Editor