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Brodeur still a pesky Devil

4-time Vezina winner is last line of stingy D

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / October 29, 2009

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WILMINGTON - He is 37 years old now, which is considered long in the tooth for most professional athletes, but it remains true that no goaltender is more difficult to play against than Martin Brodeur.

For 16 years, Brodeur has been the heart and soul of the New Jersey Devils, who are in town to face the Bruins tonight at TD Garden.

The four-time Vezina Trophy winner has played more than 1,000 regular-season games (1,009 and counting) and another 176 in the playoffs that led to Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000, and 2003.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas said Brodeur has had to adjust his game because of the rule changes regarding equipment.

“Since the lockout [in 2004-05], the goaltending position is a lot more energy-consuming,’’ said Thomas. “I think that, along with not having quite as strong a team as he’s had in the past, has made him work harder, too.

“He had the [biceps] injury last year [which limited him to 31 regular-season games and seven in the playoffs]. I think, overall, the days of goalies playing 75 games a year, and then making it all the way through the playoffs, are over. They keep trying with a few guys like [Miikka] Kiprusoff [of Calgary] and even Brodeur and you get too worn out come playoff time.

“I think Brodeur’s style is conducive to hurting yourself less often, compared to the normal butterfly style.’’

The Devils, particularly under coach Jacques Lemaire, have long been known for their defense. Through 10 games this season, New Jersey has given up just 26 goals. Thomas said one reason for the Devils’ defensive success is the many players coming through the organization who are committed to keeping opponents’ scoring down.

“They have a lot of carryover of guys who learned that system early in their careers,’’ said Thomas. “So it makes it easy to carry over from year to year. [Jay] Pandolfo [who is out injured] has been there forever. Until this year, [John] Madden had been there. Even Zach Parise grew up learning how to play that system.

“A lot of guys there have been playing the same system for years and they’ve learned to play it well.’’

Through 10 games, the Bruins have averaged 3 goals per outing but have allowed 3.2. One thing they have focused on is shoring up play in their own zone.

“Have we tightened up defensively? Yes,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We needed to. I think that’s something we needed to do whether [Marc Savard and Milan Lucic, who are injured] were in the lineup or not. But what that has helped us do is stay in the game and give us a chance to win. [New Jersey] does the same thing. They’re going to make it tough to score.’’

In the offensive zone, the Bruins are going to have to work to beat Brodeur.

“He’s perfected his position,’’ said veteran forward Mark Recchi, who will play his 96th career game against the Devils tonight. “You don’t know whether he’s going to butterfly or stand up.

“He’s pretty amazing [in terms] of durability. He’s a strong guy. Obviously, he’s got to have some level of conditioning. I don’t know what his magic is, but he must do something right.’’

Recchi said the Bruins understand what the Devils will be trying to do. The trick is not letting them sucker the Bruins into playing into their hands.

“Against Jacques Lemaire teams, they’ll keep you to the outside as much as possible,’’ said Recchi. “You’re going to have to drive the net, you’re going to have to really get ugly.

“If you think you’re going to play a fancy game, you’re going to be in trouble. It’s the same with Marty. You’ve got to put pucks [on net] and create traffic. If you don’t, you make it a lot easier for them.

“When you play a real defensive system, you’ve got to stay patient, but for the most part, we’re a pretty patient team. We’ll stick with our program and do the things we have to do to be successful, and if it takes 60 minutes, it takes 60 minutes.’’

Recchi said the Devils, among other things, are very hard to battle when they are in the lead. Brodeur is one of the reasons.

“Any time you have Jacques Lemaire teams, No. 1, the goals-against is going to be low, and No. 2, when you have a goalie like Marty in there, he’s best when they’ve got a lead of 3-1 or 3-2,’’ he said. “You might score an awful goal on him to make it 3-2 but he’ll never let a bad one in to make it 3-3.

“He’s just got that mentality. He’s a strong mental person, obviously. He’s the goalie you want in there when you’ve got a 3-2 lead in Game 7.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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