- Terry Frei, Special to ESPN.com
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NEWARK, N.J. -- The situation is not without potential awkwardness, even if this is Martin Brodeur, the man who until Thursday night was only seven career victories short of both eclipsing and making history.
In their 50 games without him available this season, the New Jersey Devils went 32-17-1. Scott Clemmensen made the most of his emergency recall, transforming his reputation from an organizational-insurance type to at least provisionally proven commodity as he and Kevin Weekes filled in at goalie.
If it eventually became arguable that Brodeur came back too soon from his elbow injury or that the Devils would have been better off, at least in the short term, if he had been held out a little longer, it could have been slightly embarrassing.
So as Brodeur sat in the Devils' locker room following his 24-save shutout and New Jersey's 4-0 win in his return against the now-woebegone Colorado Avalanche, he didn't blanch when we brought up the issue of pulling his weight.
"Definitely," he said. "Like we like to do, we put expectations high for our hockey club. Weeksie and Clemmer did that by the way they played in the last 50 games. I don't want to be different. I have these expectations for our team to be a top team. It was an unfortunate situation for me to get hurt, but this is my place, and I'm happy to be back."
Across the room a few minutes earlier, Zach Parise -- who had his 36th goal of the season and two assists in the win to provide support for Brodeur -- said, "Clemmer's a good friend, and you want to see the best for him. I know it's a cliché, but it is a business here, and things are done for whatever reason. You can't tell Clemmer anything but, 'You did a good job.' I mean, he played unbelievable for us, and good things are going to happen for him. He definitely showed that he can be a good goalie in this league."
But Brodeur, of course, is much more than that, which is why by the end of his return night, he had 545 career wins, six short of catching Patrick Roy, and 99 career shutouts, four short of matching Terry Sawchuk. The Devils have 21 games remaining, including back-to-back contests over the weekend against Florida and Philadelphia.
"You're getting the best goalie who's played back," Parise said, "and he looked as sharp as ever tonight. He played really well, and we did a good job as a team of limiting their scoring opportunities."
In one historical sense, it was a bit weird, at least for those with very long memories. It was reminiscent of the night 29 years ago when the Devils' predecessors, the Colorado Rockies, were what amounted to the Washington Generals, when they were the foils in "Miracle on Ice" hero Jim Craig's NHL debut for the Atlanta Flames on a flag-waving night in the old Omni. The Rockies put little pressure on Craig, and the first shot took forever to come, and it came from roughly Augusta.
On Thursday, another Colorado team minimally tested Brodeur, at least for much of the night. Chris Stewart got the Avalanche's first shot from near Weehawken -- OK, it was near the red line -- six minutes into the first period. This wasn't going to go down as the most heroic of Brodeur's three shutouts in his 11 games this season.
"There was a little dump-in, I touched it with my stick and I kind of moved the puck a couple of times before I got that long shot from between the red and the blue," he said, smiling. "But it was still nice to stop the first one."
All that led a cynic (us) to wonder whether he had picked the Avalanche for his return because of the irony tied to his chase of Roy and the likelihood he wasn't going to need anything near the sharpest game of his life to make a triumphant return.
You know, kind of like walking before you run.
"It was just a good game for me to come back, as far as in the schedule," Brodeur said. "As far as chasing the record, every day I'm going to have to deal with it. I'm excited about that, and I just want to get back. What's in my mind right now is getting back in top form for the playoffs. Winning it is what we're in the business to do, and hopefully, we'll get it done."
Brodeur said he didn't feel any rebellion from his surgically repaired elbow.
"There were a couple of times I went down on my butt and I had to really hold myself on my arm, hitting it," he said. "But that was one thing when I started my rehab or coming back and playing. I practiced that a lot, falling down to see how I felt. That's something where you can't be in the gym and say, 'Well, I'm going to fall down.'
"These are things you do in hockey games and stuff, and it never was a concern of mine to be able to sprawl around. Part of my game is trying to recover from the mistakes you make, so you have to move around."
This much was indisputable, too: Brodeur looked good. He looked like the man who will force the fiercely competitive Roy to accept that his record, the one he so hungrily sought and coveted, is going to be broken and last only a little more than eight years.
So soon, very soon, Roy -- now the part-owner, general manager and coach of major junior's Quebec Remparts -- is going to be congratulating the son of the Canadiens' former team photographer who once revered Montreal's No. 33.
"Patrick and I get along real well in different events that we've played together," Brodeur said. "I know the commitments of people are the commitments of people. ... But I'm sure we'll talk about this before or after."
Once the record business is taken care of (and it most likely will happen in this stretch run), it will be on to the postseason for the Devils, who again are hoping to capture more of the spotlight in the area either one or two stops on the New Jersey Transit train -- depending on whether it's an express run -- from Madison Square Garden and Manhattan's Penn Station.
With the Rangers in turmoil and in danger of missing the playoffs altogether, and with the Islanders at the bottom of the NHL standings, and especially because Brodeur is back, the Devils have another chance to deliver a facewash to their area rivals.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."
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