The hype started a month ago, when Martin Brodeur came back from a devastating elbow injury and immediately started shutting people out again. Forward-looking hockey people began to mentally tally how many games left and how many of those Marty might win before arriving in Montreal on March 14...perilously close to St.Patrick's Day. It was possible...just...that Brodeur could actually break Patrick Roy's all-time wins record right under Roy's retired number 33 at the Bell Centre. In Montreal, Brodeur's hometown. Against the team he's made his patsy all career long. A couple of poorly-timed losses to the Islanders spoiled the absolute perfection of the storyline though, and Brodeur and his adoring media entourage suit up tonight with only the opportunity to tie the record, instead of break it.
Brodeur will take the tie, if he can. Already the media are ignoring the flaw in the story...a tied record isn't quite the same as a broken one, but no matter...and hyping this game beyond belief. And you can bet Brodeur is enjoying every moment of it. He's always loved the idea that he owns the Habs. When the Canadiens seemed to have broken the spell last year by coming back against the Devils and beating them in their own barn right before the All-Star break, Brodeur was so mad he smashed his stick on the crossbar. Not a reaction typical to the usually-Pillsbury Doughboy-like, pleasant-natured Brodeur.
This year though, the Devils have taken every head-to-head matchup between the two teams, with Scott Clemmensen in net. It turns out, it's not Marty at all, although he certainly did his part. It's the Devils' system the Habs can't break, and never could. And that system and that team will come out tonight firing like a Gatling gun in the Habs end, while throwing a blanket over the Canadiens offence. The Devils want this one for their spiritual leader, and they want it badly. They're motivated and confident...and a better team than the Habs.
So, Bob Gainey, being the quietly fiery competitor he is, doesn't want Brodeur to get what he wants. Gainey would love to send Marty home to tie the record against Chicago on St.Patrick's Day. That alone will be enough of a coincidence for the story-writers to immortalize. Gainey's pulling all his arrows out of the coaching quiver and throwing them at the Devils.
Patrice Brisebois' thousandth NHL game will be honoured before puck-drop. Even though Ryan O'Byrne is the better defenceman, Gainey's hoping the well-liked Breezer's special night will motivate his teammates to show up and play the way they can.
Jaro Halak gets the start in goal...the coach hoping the kid can stand on his head like he did against San Jose two weeks ago. The goalie is looking to impress and prove he has just as much right to start big games as Carey Price does, so he'll be motivated.
The weapons Gainey's throwing out there in an effort to foil Brodeur's fairytale might be small ones, but they would serve to give most teams a bit of a boost; something to take their minds off the hype building at the other end of the ice and focus their own pride as they skate out tonight.
But these are the Habs. This is the team that loses to Atlanta with no apparent concern about it, but which also shut down the Detroit Red Wings and held on to beat the Sharks. I know one thing: There's not a Habs fan living who wants to see Brodeur tie that record tonight. I hope the Canadiens have the same idea.
If not, well, tying a record's not the same as breaking it, right?