Martin Brodeur posted his NHL-best 10th shutout of the season and the 90th of his career on Thursday night, stopping 25 shots to lead the stingy Devils to a 2-0 victory over the New York Islanders. The 34-year-old Brodeur is within 13 shutouts of Sawchuk, who played 21 seasons in a career that ended in 1970.
"When you think about it, it's hard to believe it's that high," Brodeur said. "You never expect to do that, but that's where I am now."
Goal scorers Jamie Langenbrunner and Jay Pandolfo could only shake their heads when asked about Brodeur's accomplishment, which puts him four behind George Hainesworth for second in league history.
"It's a full season of shutouts and then some," said Langenbrunner, who broke a scoreless tie midway through the second period. "It's pretty amazing, the consistency night in and night out."
Pandolfo, who iced the Devils' fourth straight win and 15th in 20 games with a late short-handed goal, said it's hard to put things in perspective.
"Guys who played with him will realize he will probably go down as the best goaltender of all time," Pandolfo said. "It's great to play with a guy like that, knowing you have a chance to win (the Stanley Cup) every year."
The Devils moved to within four points of the Buffalo Sabres for the best record in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey has played one fewer game.
Brodeur, who benefited from a shot off the post by Jason Blake in the second period, had to work hard late to preserve his shutout. He made a great glove save on Brendan Witt's slap shot with about six minutes to play, before stopping Tom Poti, Blake and Mike Sillinger during the power play on which Pandolfo scored.
The loss overshadowed an outstanding 35-save performance by Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, who posted his 11th NHL shutout Wednesday. It also marked the first time in nine games that New York failed to earn a point (5-1-3).
DiPietro didn't think the Islanders were tired.
"This is a tough time for us. We need all these points," he said. "If you are a little tired and don't feel you have your best game you have to play smarter, and that's what Jersey does so well and so consistently."
Langenbrunner started and ended the play on the Devils' first goal. He sent a back pass from along the boards in the New Jersey zone to Paul Martin. The defenceman made a quick cross-ice pass that sent Zach Parise and Travis Zajac on a break.
Islanders defenceman Bruno Gervais prevented Parise from getting a good shot, but DiPietro seemed to lose his footing. Langenbrunner swatted the loose puck past him on the second try.
"He just kept banging away on the first goal," DiPietro said. "They went to the net hard and got rewarded and we couldn't get anything by him."
Langenbrunner's goal came a little less than three minutes after Blake clanged a shot from the circle off the right post.
Pandolfo's goal iced the game.
DiPietro kept the Islanders in it in the first period when New Jersey took advantage of four power plays, including an early two-man advantage, for a 15-3 edge in shots.
Brian Gionta had five shots in the period, three from point-blank range.
New York didn't record a shot until Randy Robitaille and Blake had chances with a little more than six minutes left in the period.
Notes: Linesman Jay Sharrers and Jonny Murray also worked the Devils' game on Tuesday against the Rangers. ... New Jersey has a 4-1 lead in the eight-game season series. ... Islanders C Alexei Yashin missed his fifth straight game with a knee injury. ... Devils D David Hale returned to lineup after missing one game with the flu.