Like all New Jersey Devils fans, for the last few years I've lived in perpetual fear of the day when Martin Brodeur finally decides to hang up his skates.
Having watched him carry the team for the last fifteen years, many of us couldn't imagine what would happen when he wasn't there to do so any more.
Unfortunately, a torn biceps tendon brought that fateful day to us this season, leaving us Brodeur-less and hopeless for almost four months.
I was more than a little afraid.
With famously slack defense, youngsters up front, and a "boring" style of play, I wrote off this season as soon as we lost the big guy between the pipes.
Yet, something miraculous has happened.
While I've been bitching about how bad we are without Brodeur, the Devils have crawled up to the top of the division, third overall in the conference.
Evidently, losing Monsieur Brodeur hasn't been that much of a bad thing.
It has forced coach Brent Sutter to reassess his team's strengths and weaknesses, and pushed Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, and Zach Parise to run amok in the offensive zone.
It has allowed both Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes a significant amount of ice time, building both skill and confidence out of the shadow of the NHL's best goalie.
It has made the defense sit up and work harder, as they don't have the usual brick wall behind them to cover their mistakes.
It has meant that the team on the ice of the Prudential Center are the New Jersey Devils, not Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils.
So, just as we're taking back our original lamentations, Brodeur is training again and, I imagine, is raring to go.
But is this such a good thing?
It seems to me that things can go one of two ways:
He could come back, light a fire under everyone else's ass, and help them ride a hot streak right into the postseason.
On the other hand, he could come back, give the rest of the team enough confidence to stop working so hard, and let them limp through to the playoffs, crashing out in the first round.
Let's hope, for all our sakes and for Brodeur's deservedly stellar reputation, that it'll be the former.
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