New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur at practice earlier this month. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Bill Kostroun, File
NEWARK, N.J. - Brent Sutter skated over to Martin Brodeur after the New Jersey Devils practised Wednesday and had a couple of easy questions for arguably the NHL's top goaltender.
The Devils coach asked him how he felt and was he ready to play? The answers were 'Good' and 'Yup.'
With that, Brodeur was told he would be returning to the nets on Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche for his first game since undergoing elbow surgery almost four months ago.
"We do something pretty cool playing hockey, so I am excited every game to play," Brodeur said. "But definitely there is a little more emphasis on this. I have not played in a long time and I want to get out there and see how it goes."
Brodeur was hurt Nov. 1 in a game against Atlanta and had surgery days later to repair a torn biceps muscle in his left elbow, the first major injury of a 15-year career that has seen him lead the team to three Stanley Cups.
"Until something is taken away from you, you don't appreciate it," Brodeur said. "I think it (the injury) puts stuff in perspective. You sit back for so long and wait and look at people, and guys having fun and you're like sitting there, and you'd like to have fun with them but you can't. It's tough because I never lived that before."
Brodeur started skating about six weeks ago, practised with the team for the first time since the injury on Valentine's Day and then got the bulk of the work in practices the past three days, a period during which the four-time Vezina Trophy winner, including last season, was evaluated by the staff.
"I feel good," Brodeur said. "I feel I haven't lost much out there practicing and moving around and then feeling the puck and controlling my rebounds and all that. It's a question of seeing game action and I am sure that will take a bit."
Sutter would not speculate how much Brodeur, a workhorse in his career, would play over the final 22 regular-season games, saying the decision will be made on what is best for the team.
"Nothing changes," defenceman Bryce Salvador said. "The way I look at it, we just added another layer of Kevlar around us. We can't start think Marty is back and he is going to do everything for us. Marty adds a presence for us and we want to take advantage of that."
The Devils hold a six-point lead over the second place Philadelphia Flyers in the Atlantic Division, thanks in large part to the play of backup goaltenders Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes.
Clemmensen, who has been the backbone of the effort with a 25-13-1 record, was returned to Lowell of the AHL on Wednesday. He had been called up on an emergency basis when Brodeur was hurt so he does not have to clear waivers.
Weekes might have been lost to waivers had he been sent to the minors.
"I am sure he is disappointed, but he got a great chance to prove what he was able to do not only to the Devils but the entire league and I think he made his point," Brodeur said.
The 36-year-old Brodeur said he has spent the past month studying videotapes of potential upcoming opponents, focusing on Colorado and the Florida Panthers (Saturday) in recent weeks.
Brodeur, who has 544 career wins, seven shy of Patrick Roy's NHL record for wins, expects some butterflies. He plans to take his game-day nap and is anxiously looking forward to playing after the long road back from the injury and rehabilitation.
"The first couple of months you didn't see anything," Brodeur said. "You get up in the morning and you don't feel good. You can't function. People do everything for you, not that I was that bad. The first two months were really hard. When I was able to put my jacket on by myself and able to function a little bit by driving, after that the road was great. It got better and better."