NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Martin Brodeur set the NHL record for most career victories and staked his claim to the title of greatest netminder to play the game as the New Jersey Devils beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Tuesday.
It was the 36-year-old’s 552nd career win and snapped a tie on the all-time list with his boyhood idol Patrick Roy, who played for Brodeur’s hometown Montreal Canadiens.
Brodeur, in winning for the eighth time in nine games since returning to the ice after missing 50 contests because of an elbow injury, turned away 30 of 32 shots to the delight of a sold-out home crowd of 17,625.
After a last-second save to end the game, Brodeur cut off the net as a memento and skated around the rink to take in the adulation from the cheering crowd.
“I‘m happy it’s done and over with,” a relieved Brodeur told reporters. “The ovation from the crowd and me skating around the rink ... it was a great moment for me.”
Devils coach Brent Sutter summed up a rousing night that felt more like a Stanley Cup playoff joust than a regular-season game.
”A record like this speaks for itself. The most wins of all time by any goaltender who ever played the game.
“It’s special. There was so much emotion in the building.”
The arena shook with excitement before the game began.
Brodeur drew a standing ovation when he led the team out on the ice for pre-game warmups, and another roar sounded when his face was shown in a close-up during the national anthem.
Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac took some of the pressure off Brodeur with a quick pair of goals in the first period, both off pinpoint passes from Zach Parise.
Langenbrunner scored just 38 seconds into the game when he one-timed the puck past Blackhawks netminder Nikolai Khabibulin and Zajac stuffed another home from close range at the 6:01 mark.
Patrik Elias then gave Devils fans another milestone to celebrate when he assisted on a shorthanded goal by Brian Gionta in the second period to make it 3-0 and surpass John MacLean as the Devils’ all-time leading points scorer with 702.
But Chicago battled back.
The Blackhawks scored 32 seconds later when Cam Barker’s drive got past a screened Brodeur. Then with two minutes left Dustin Byfuglien fired a rocket over Brodeur’s right shoulder to make it 3-2.
A face-off in the Devils’ zone with 8.9 seconds left led to a furious assault on Brodeur, who held firm to close out the victory, clutching the puck as the final buzzer sounded.
The Devils lead the Atlantic Division with a 46-20-3 record.
“With two minutes left they made it tough a little, but we got it done,” a smiling Brodeur said.
Brodeur, who helped New Jersey to three Stanley Cup titles, won four Vezina awards as best goalie and is four shutouts away from the all-time NHL record, is confident he can add many more victories to his total.
“Hopefully I’ll play a few more years and get this record as high as possible and make it harder for the next guy that come around,” he said.
Editing by Peter Rutherford