Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias Took Different Paths to Record-Breaking Night
Brodeur, you may have heard, set the NHL's all-time wins record, but it wasn't the only record broken on the night. With an assist on Brian Gionta's shorthanded, game-winning goal, Elias surpassed John MacLean with his 702nd career point, making him the leading scorer in franchise history ("I was very excited. I think you could see that in me right away," he would comment later). That the players' two careers dovetailed, leading them both to milestone moments on the same night, is pretty remarkable considering the paths both players took to get here.
First, some trivia. One player has played in more of Brodeur's 552 wins than anyone else, and it's not franchise icons Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, or Scott Niedermayer. It's Elias, who played his first NHL game in '95-'96, Brodeur's third full year in the league, and has been a part of 399 of Brodeur's wins. The two are lifelong Devils, so they've accumulated a lot of ice time together, but that's about where the similarities end.
Brodeur's career has largely lacked adversity -- building on his Calder Trophy award for rookie of the year in '94 and Stanley Cup championship in '95, the ensuing seasons have found Brodeur continuing an upward trajectory that has had few dips. Losing to Patrick Roy in seven games in the '01 Stanley Cup finals remains a sore spot, but if you could offer 95 percent of the leagues goalies that fate, they'd surely trade their current conditions for it. There were also the messy, public details of his '03 divorce, which was ill-timed to coincide with the playoffs that year, but that drama hardly spilled on to the ice, as Brodeur posted seven shutouts that postseason, including a record three in beating the Ducks in the finals. Otherwise, it's pretty much been nothing but great for Brodeur's NHL career.
Elias, on the other hand, has been a bit more star-crossed. A steady build in production led to a breakout season in '99-'00, when he posted 35 goals and 72 points as part of the A-Line (with Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora). Elias capped that season by dishing a double-overtime pass from the corner to Arnott in Game 6 of the Finals, clinching the team's second championship. He would better those numbers the next year, but that's when the struggle started.
Sykora, Elias' best friend on the team, and Arnott were both jettisoned two years later, breaking up the Devils' most famous line of all-time. During the lockout, Elias went to play in Russia, only to contract Hepatitis A, an illness which put his career in jeopardy and caused him to lose 30 pounds as well as miss the first three months of the league's return season. Though he posted 45 points in 38 games that year and dominated a first-round sweep of the Rangers, it was but a brief lift before the bottom dropped out again.
Coming off of that stellar return, then-coach Pat Burns named Elias the team captain, the first European-born captain in team history and successor of the legendary Stevens. Elias, better without the spotlight, didn't respond well to the captaincy or the pressure to replace Stevens, and his stats dipped significantly as he led a team that performed listlessly. The captaincy would only last a year, as incoming coach Brent Sutter would remove Elias' captaincy in '07-'08, giving it instead to Jamie Langenbrunner. While the move must have been a relief on the inside for Elias, who no longer had to be the face of the team, it was an embarrassing public turn of events. He responded with the worst season of his career last year, scoring just 55 points in 74 games. His legacy as captain caused some derision from fans, who misinterpreted Elias' reserved persona with indifference.
It's been a redemption year, though, for No. 26. He's on pace to post the second-best statistical year of his career as well as his fourth 30-goal season. He's been a big part of a Devils' squad which has absolutely owned the league's second half, posting the best record by far since the midpoint of the season. Elias' tenacity was questioned during his stint as captain, but to continue to fight through the ups and downs with one organization shows toughness, perseverance.
Elias may look at Brodeur's career and wish his was so seemingly struggle-free, but the past is the past and the present is all that matters. At present, both players are on top of their respective worlds. That they reached that point on the same night is just another testament to the fate and folly of life.
"It was great," said Brodeur of watching Elias break MacLean's mark. "It was great for Patrik, and I think the ovation was great when he got that point and it was announced to everybody what he accomplished. Definitely it's tough, he kind of got a little overshadowed because of what I accomplished, but it's a tremendous feat, what he did tonight. The relationship that I have with Patrik, he's one of the players who has played here the longest in New Jersey, so it's kind of nice that we got to share the same date on a big record like that."