As I sit here at the airport, bleary eyed after only a few hours sleep, it feels like a good time to reflect back on an historic night Tuesday at Prudential Center.
This was the night The Rock arrived for the Devils. They've had eight sellouts this year, equallng their total from the building's inaugural 2007-08 campaign. Other than the building opener against Ottawa -- which ended in a loss -- there was no night at The Rock that came close to Tuesday night. There was a split crowd for the playoff series against the Rangers, but Tuesday was all Devils' fans, wearing red, black, white and green -- for St. Patrick's Day. The green served as a little bit of a reminder of the team's original jerseys.
Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and their teammates made sure it was a special night. Elias took care of his end of history by becoming the Devils' all-time leading scorer with his assist on Brian Gionta's shorthanded goal in the second period. The reaction of the fans, who raised their level every time Elias had a chance before that, put aside any worries that Elias' milestone would be swallowed up by Brodeur's.
As it turned out, it worked out pefectly that both lifetime Devils got their milestones on the same night. They both received the ovations they deserved.
Brodeur's 552nd victory wasn't the Devils' best effort of the season. They came out flying, but had to hold on in the third period. They got the job done, though, and Brodeur came up with one last save with his stick with three seconds remaining.
As awkward as the net cutting became, the spontaneous, unscripted postgame celebration was far better than some regimented ceremony would have been. There will be time for that before an upcoming home game -- it almost definitely won't be before Friday's game against Minnesota, though.
Brodeur's teammates lended a hand -- as the always do -- and the crowd did the rest.
Brodeur and Elias did their jobs, but the fans deserve credit for taking the night to a higher lever. As maligned as Devils' fans sometimes are, they came through big time Tuesday. So much so that Brodeur said the night topped Saturday's record-tying win in his hometown of Montreal. It would be difficult to argue with that.
Looking ahead, Brodeur won't play tonight in Carolina. Kevin Weekes will get his first start since Feb. 19 at Tampa Bay. Weekes has won his last five starts.
Defenseman Colin White did not make the trip after sitting out the final two periods Tuesday because he aggravated a lower body injury. Andy Greene is expected to take his place in the lineup.
The Devils have won four in a row and eight of their last nine games to pull within four points of Boston for first in the Eastern Conference, so they can't afford a letdown tonight. They still have two games in hand on the Bruins and a huge game in Boston coming up Sunday afternoon.
They now hold an 11-point lead over Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division.
With 46 wins, they are four away from breaking the team record of 49 established two seasons ago when Brodeur won 48. With 13 games left, the team record of 111 points (2000-01) also is in jeopardy, but, remember, it was around this time last season that the Devils lost focus and couldn't find their game in time to beat the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
Now that the records are out of the way, the real push to the playoffs begins. This season has already been a special one because of the milestones and the way the team pulled together when Brodeur was injured. A lot of that will be forgotten, however, if the Devils don't follow up with a strong playoff run.
Only a few players are scheduled to skate this morning in Raleigh. I'm supposed to get there in time, so I should be able to post an update after the skate.
FYI: You can e-mail your congratulations to Brodeur at firstname.lastname@example.org