By Larry Brooks
It wasn’t just another duel from approximately 190 feet apart between Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur. It was, in fact, certainly the last in this Battle of the Hudson between the masked men who are the faces of their respective franchises, because let’s face facts, if Brodeur plays next season, he won’t be with the Devils.
And it sure was a memorable one, with Brodeur throwing out a Last Hurrah that wasn’t quite good enough, not on this night, not against Lundqvist and the Rangers, not even in allowing only one goal.
Because The King did the Great Brodeur one better. He allowed none. And eight seconds after an empty-netter sealed it for the Blueshirts at 2-0, Lundqvist had set yet another franchise record with his 50th career shutout, surpassing Eddie Giacomin at the top of the leader board.
Oh, and this too: when it was over, when the Rangers stayed in the frantic hunt for a playoff spot by following Friday’s emotional night in Columbus with their second black-and-blue victory in 27 hours, Lundqvist’s head-to-head record against Brodeur was 26-10-5.
The Devils are all but done now, on the verge of their third playoff miss in the past four years, about to finish behind the Rangers for the fourth straight season, a dubious distinction that has no precedent in the Brodeur Era that commenced 20 years ago.
“It was an exhausting game but a fun game,” Lundqvist said, emotion and pride obvious in the post-game room. “It was intense.
“It was just fun to be out there battling. [Brodeur] made some great saves to keep them in it.”
Brodeur made 25 saves. But the one that got away decided it, and it came from a sharp angle from the left wing boards off the stick of Rick Nash at 10:33 of the second period when the goaltender was down on his knees after Chris Kreider had nicked him while flying over his pads driving to the net.
“I took a quick look and saw that he wasn’t back at his post yet, so I shot it,” said No. 61, who played with the same determination and effort as he had the previous night in Columbus.
“When we play against that goalie, we want to fire it from everywhere,” Nash said. “He made some unbelievable saves, but he didn’t get that one.”
He didn’t get that one and Lundqvist got every single one of the 21 shots he faced, notably including a semi-breakaway right pad save on Jaromir Jagr midway through the first period despite a breathtaking tuck back to the short side by No. 68, who was the Devils’ best player by leaps and bounds (again).
Then there were a couple of saves from Lundqvist while on his back as the Devils — Jagr and Travis Zajac — jammed and poked at a puck in the crease with 39 seconds to go.
In the land of the Devils, the King was making snow angels.
“I knew where the puck was, but they were hacking and whacking, so you never know,” Lundqvist said. “It was a relief when we got the puck out of the zone [after a faceoff that followed a video review].”
Lundqvist is at the top of his game. The struggles of November and December have receded into a distant memory.
What didn’t kill him made him stronger, oh yes, it did.
Once upon a time, Brodeur tormented the Rangers, once stringing together a 23-game unbeaten streak (15-0-8) against the team he loved to hate.
But that was then, when the Devils ruled the Hudson.
The victory was the 303rd of Lundqvist’s career. That brings him within 353 wins of Brodeur’s all-time record. Earlier this week, Brodeur — who has rarely missed a chance to deliver a verbal jab to the King — was quoted as saying he hopes Lundqvist can get to at least 500 victories.
Asked if he thought Brodeur meant it, Lundqvist smiled.
“I think so,” he said. “I hope so.”