For three hours, it was stroll down memory lane.
In what may have been his final game as a member of the organization, Martin Brodeur made 16 saves in the Devils’ 3-2 season-ending win over the Bruins Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center.
“It might be,” Brodeur said if he thought the matinee was the last time he played as a Devil.
If this was his final act as the masked face of the franchise, Brodeur leaves as the NHL’s all-time leader in wins, shutouts, minutes played, a four-time Vezina winner, three time Stanley Cup Champion and set the standard for what it means to be a Devil.
The last active member of the Devils’ “Greatest Generation,” Brodeur’s No. 30 will eventually reside next to Ken Daneyko’s No. 3, Scott Stevens’ No. 4, Scott Niedermayer’s No. 27 and the three Stanley Cup championship banners they won together.
“I’ve had eight years with him,” Travis Zajac said. “I’ve learned a lot from him just by watching in practice and games his competitiveness and how bad he wants to win. It’s been a privilege to play with him. He’s a true winner, a true leader and best goalie to ever play the game.”
After the game ended, the ovation continued unabated with his teammates standing and tapping their sticks on the ice.
“These things are hard,” Brodeur said. “I’ve spent all my life here. A lot of the fans that are out there know me. They think they know me by my name and I feel they know me. They’ve been calling my name for 20 years. … Every time they stop me and talk to me. They’re great.”
The 2013-14 season began with the blockbuster acquisition of goaltender Cory Schneider from Vancouver at the NHL Draft for the ninth-overall pick.
Schneider is 14 years younger than Brodeur, and by any appreciable measure has been better this season. Schneider finished the season with a 16-15-12 mark with a 1.97 goals against average and .921 save percentage in 45 games. Brodeur came into Sunday with an 18-14-6 record, 2.52 goals against and .901 save percentage in 38 games.
“It hasn’t been easy,” head coach Pete DeBoer said about the challenge of determining playing time for both goaltenders, following Friday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders which Brodeur started. “It hasn’t been easy on them. They deserve more starts. It hasn’t been easy.”
Brodeur is in the final year of a two-year, $9 million contract. He talked often this season about his desire to play, and expressed a willingness to play in a different market, specifically mentioning Minnesota and Ottawa as potential destinations.
Even Sunday, as he met with the assembled media, Brodeur mentioned his unhappiness at not playing as much as he is accustomed to, and what may come to pass when the free agency period begins on July 1 before acknowledging Schneider as the goaltender of the present and future.
“Those are all personal decisions, hypotheticals. So I’m not going there,” DeBoer said during his pregame press conference when asked if Brodeur should retire a Devil before attempting to describe what has driven the future Hall of Famer to the point where the goaltender is in the conversation for the best ever status. “Obviously he’s gifted physically, that he can still get out and get the job done physically at the age he’s at, at a position that is very physically tolling. [It] can take a toll on you. But I think what separates him is the mental part of the game. He’s really a coach in a goaltender’s body. He thinks the game, sees the game, his competitiveness, his ability to raise his level of play at key times, all those things are what separates him.”
Marek Zidlicky scored twice and Travis Zajac added a goal as the Devils finished the season with a 35-29-18 record. Loui Eriksson and Brad Marchand scored for Boston (54-18-9), which essentially treated the game as an exhibition since they enter the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s top seed. Chad Johnson made 28 saves.
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.