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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Lundqvist vs. Brodeur Rivalry Continues Tonight


It looked as if it was finally over, but hockey’s best and longest running goaltender rivalry is back. Better yet, it now has a bit of an edge.

Martin Brodeur of the Devils and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers will meet in a regular-season game for the 38th time Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, renewing for a ninth season an often spectacular duel of great neighboring goalies.

When the two teams met for the first time this season, on Oct. 19, it seemed as if their personal contest might be finished. That night, in Newark, Brodeur, 41, sat on the bench as Cory Schneider shut out the Rangers, 4-0. It was the first time a healthy Brodeur had missed a Devils-Rangers game since 1993. Not long after, Brodeur said Schneider was “in the net now to stay,” sounding like a man who saw retirement looming.

Brodeur was slumping at the time and so was Lundqvist. But the two goalies are again riding hot streaks. So, after the Rangers practiced on Monday and Lundqvist answered a question about the Devils’ Jaromir Jagr with warm praise, he was asked how he felt about facing Brodeur again.

“We’ll see,” Lundqvist said, adopting a more standard tone. “He’s been playing well. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

That brief answer from Lundqvist, who is usually more reflective and discursive in what he says, may be a reflection of some cross-river sniping that he and Brodeur engaged in during training camp in September.

The more chatty Brodeur started it when he observed that new rules shortening leg pads by two inches might affect some goaltenders more than others.

“There’s goalies — I won’t name names, but they’re not too far — they have different padding that it’s not about protection,” Brodeur said, and it was pretty clear he was talking about Lundqvist.

“I know I’m ‘not too far,’ but I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Lundqvist said in response.

That barbed exchange receded into the background when both teams started the season terribly: the Rangers at 2-6 and the Devils at 0-4-3.

Lundqvist and Brodeur were awful, too. In his first eight games, Lundqvist was 2-5 with an .895 save percentage; Brodeur was 1-2-2 with an .871 save percentage.

But as their teams revived, so did they. The Rangers entered Tuesday’s game at 9-8, hoping to climb into second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Devils were at 5-7-5, hoping to jump into fourth.

In the five games he played leading up to Tuesday, Lundqvist was 4-1 with a .949 save percentage — back in the form that won him the Vezina Trophy two seasons ago and made him a Vezina finalist last season.

Brodeur was even better. Playing behind the kind of stingy defense that helped him and the Devils win three Stanley Cups from 1995 to 2003, he came into Tuesday’s game with back-to-back shutouts. Going back four games, he had a 3-1 record and a .973 save percentage.

Given that kind of work from Brodeur, Devils Coach Peter DeBoer said Monday that the decision to start Brodeur again did not take “a ton of thought.”

And so the rivalry will be renewed: Brodeur, the future Hall of Famer who has repeatedly engraved his name in the N.H.L. record book, versus the 31-year-old Lundqvist, hockey’s most consistently excellent goalie.

Lundqvist has the advantage in the 37 regular-season games they have faced each other, all with the Rangers and Devils.

Lundqvist is 24-8-5 with a 1.65 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and 5 shutouts.

Brodeur is 13-19-5 with a 2.22 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and 3 shutouts.

In shootouts, each goalie is 4-4.

Maybe it is good that Brodeur and Lundqvist will be at opposite ends of the ice at the Garden; that will keep them from inspecting each other’s pads and trading more barbs. But despite whatever enmity might now exist between Brodeur and Lundqvist, the fans at the Garden will be the lucky ones: they will see two great goalies, neighbors and rivals, matching their remarkable skills one more time.

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