The timeless goaltending brilliance of Martin Brodeur

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Up close and in person, Brodeur looks like you or me -- or maybe your uncle who works as, let's say, a pipefitter. But after spending time during the offseason with a personal trainer, the burly Brodeur now appears to be more streamlined. This new attention to keeping at bay the effects of his usual heavy workload possibly accounts for his fabulous 4-1, 1.56 goals-against, .931 save percentage, one shutout start to the 2008-09 season.

On a more personal level, there is no haughtiness to Brodeur. No airs. There is just his trademark broad smile and genuine, congenial conversation. He is a bonafide superstar, yet no media horde surrounded his stall after the Devils' morning skate on the day he would record the 97th shutout of an NHL career that began on March 26, 1992. There is no Tony Romo soap opera trailing Brodeur. No T.O. press conferences for gawd knows what complaint or misadventure. There is just the soon-to-be most accomplished NHL goaltender of all time sitting and chatting with the radio play-by-play man for his opponent that night.

When I approach to say hello. Brodeur extends a hand and a hearty, "Good to see you."

Gracious he is, yes, but good to see me? No, Marty, great to see you, especially from my media perch as you perform in your element on the ice -- a perfect fit between the pipes. Later that night against the Atlanta Thrashers, Brodeur is brilliant in winning on the road, 1-0. It is a 25-save display that includes a varied array of his strengths: old school kick saves, perfectly placed quick ups to breaking forwards, and bursts of athleticism in moving laterally while making yet another quality save at a critical juncture.

So, while his off-ice demeanor is ingratiating, it is Brodeur's style of play that sets him apart from his netminding counterparts. He has the look and feel that transcends eras. You can just as easily envision him facing Turk Broda in 1948 as Vesa Toskala in 2008. That's why it is only fitting that this man for every era will soon own every meaningful goaltending record.

So, how important are these upcoming milestones to him? As Brodeur puts it on his website, "You know, winning the most games is what it's all about. For a goalie, it's all about wins."

There it is: winning is the simple underlying motivation masked by Brodeur's garrulous nature. He has a workhorse dedication to his excellence. He's played 70-plus games in 11 of the past 12 seasons and won more than 40 in seven of them. His Devils have made 11 consecutive playoff appearances, winning three Stanley Cups during his tenure.

This year, Brodeur started the Devils' season opener for a record 14th consecutive time, surpassing Tony Esposito's mark of 13 in a row with one team that was accomplished with the Chicago Blackhawks. Seven more shutouts and Terry Sawchuk's once-thought untouchable mark of 103 will have fallen. Ten more wins and Brodeur replaces Patrick Roy atop the all-time list, with 552.

Yet, excitement aside, Brodeur well understands his team's contribution to his individual accomplishments. Ever since he stopped splitting time with Chris Terreri and took over as the Devils' undisputed No. 1 -- a season that ended with their first Cup -- New Jersey's trademark has been an emphasis on stifling their opponents. No one has personfied that approach more consistently then the man who has been guarding their net.

"It has been a great ride," he says. "Playing for one organization, being so successful as a team. We have a chance to win every day. That's what you play hockey for."

Pretty heady stuff with well-grounded insight. It all adds up to the career of Martin Brodeur -- truly one for the ages.