Brodeur's return won't alter legacy

NASHVILLE -- The opening minutes of the game held promise.

Jaws were clenched and breath was suspended as fans waited to see what veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur would do.

There seemed to be almost a collective sigh of relief when he made his first save, denying Nashville's Colin Wilson on a partial breakaway just 49 seconds into play.

Maybe Brodeur's debut with the St. Louis Blues vs. the Nashville Predators would be the type of magical start many craved to see after he waited months for the opportunity to extend what has already been an illustrious career.

It wasn't.

In his first game since signing with the Blues, Brodeur made some terrific saves. But he missed some important ones, too. He gave up four goals on 24 shots.

"Marty was fine," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after his team's 4-3 loss.

If Brodeur had recorded a shutout, it would've been tabbed as a heroic beginning to a new chapter -- however disconcerting it was to see him in anything but a New Jersey Devils sweater after he switched allegiances following more than two decades with one team.

It might have been easier to digest if he had failed spectacularly, too -- a cautionary tale that superstars should have the grace to leave the game before their decline, lest they force us to squirm through their cringe-worthy regression.

But Brodeur's return is not about seamlessly fitting into some convenient, storybook narrative. He's doing this for himself. He's doing this because he wants to have fun and because he wants to win and because the Blues presented the best opportunity for him to do both.

Others might obsess over his legacy -- whether this new foray will hurt or hamper it -- but Brodeur doesn't seem to be concerned.

"I don't really care," Brodeur said before the game. "It's all about me. ... People will judge me for whatever they want to judge me on, if it's me coming back and trying something here in St. Louis and trying to have fun and have a chance to win the Stanley Cup or [thinking he] should have retired five years ago. A lot of people thought I wasn't going to make the NHL, so I'm living this dream, and when you are living this dream ... you really enjoy what you do. It's hard to let it go sometimes."

When asked earlier in the week, Brodeur directly addressed whether he's risking tarnishing his legacy.

"No, not really," Brodeur told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Ray Bourque has done it, Mike Modano, all these guys. You know what, it's hard when it happens, but looking back, it's my career, it's not the fans' career, or the people that are talking about these careers. It's me and I want to leave this game and be able to wash my hands and say I did it all. ... So this is what I wanted. At my prime, that's not the way that I was thinking. Older I got, the more I was intrigued about seeing other things. I want to stay in hockey after I'm done. And seeing another organization, seeing a different conference, I think it's going to be good for me."

And, honestly, how can anyone blame him? At 42, Brodeur has three Stanley Cups, four Vezina Trophies and a slew of other records to remind him that, even if he's not in his prime, he still possesses greatness.

And though he was saddled with a loss in his first game with St. Louis, it's not hard to imagine that he can still provide the Blues with some value as they compete for the top spot in the Central Division.

The Blues, save for some recent hiccups, are stout defensively. They have ample skill and depth. Brodeur provides success, experience and levity, too (as one team staffer joked, Jake Allen now has the best pickup line available: "Martin Brodeur is my backup!").

No one seems to doubt that Brodeur can play some sort of contributing role for a team that is regarded by many as a potential Stanley Cup contender.

"If anyone can go out there and pitch a shutout and play unbelievable, it's him," one NHL goaltending coach told ESPN.com. "He's got that unique personality and mental strength."

Ask other players what they will be doing at age 42 and they laugh.

The Predators' Eric Nystrom doesn't even entertain the notion of playing; he said he'll be "working somewhere else." Goaltender Pekka Rinne said the only way he could be blessed with such longevity is if "the stars are in place."

Yet Brodeur still has the requisite joy and fire to play at a high level, a fact that is already immediately apparent to his new teammates and new coach.

"You know [as] an older player, you can hardly wait to get off the ice, [but] he stays on forever," Hitchcock said. "First day on the job, he picks up pucks. It makes you want to play for the guy. The players really appreciate when you see a player that has so much fun."

There was a time, before the Devils' surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2012, when Brodeur felt that joy slowly siphoning from his reserve. But that spring reinvigorated him.

"I really thought, 'All right, that's enough,' but I think I have a little more life into me because of that run and how fun it was and everything," Brodeur said of that playoff stretch, which ended with a loss to the Los Angeles Kings. "That made me want to continue more and here I am now, so we'll see."

Can we really begrudge him of that opportunity? What's with our constant hand-wringing over "legacy"?

"Everybody talks about that with players that leave late. Modano's no different. [Joe] Nieuwendyk's legacy's no different. None of those legacies change. They are what they are," Hitchcock said. "It's the substance of your season and where your career is at. He's here to see if he wants to keep playing hockey and finish it on his terms, his note, but his legacy's not going to be affected by this. I've heard that story so many times. It's not relevant.

"Whatever's written, it's going to be about how many Cups, how many wins, how many shutouts [he had]," Hitchcock continued. "He's got numbers nobody's going to touch. And good on him, because he's earned and deserved every bit of it."

That desire for a fairy-tale ending will always exist, among fans and media members alike. It will follow Brodeur as long as he chooses to play. People want to see their idols go out on top.

That possibility comforted longtime Devils supporter Lyle LaFont when Brodeur signed with the Blues, no matter how bizarre it seemed to see him wear a different team's colors.

LaFont, who drove nine hours from Houma, Louisiana, with his wife and two children to see Brodeur play here Thursday night, wants to see him win one more Cup. He knows the Blues give Brodeur a better chance at this than the Devils.

"Shut 'em down!" LaFont yelled, breaking off conversation midsentence as a two-on-one rush develops in the beginning of the third period. Brodeur makes a sensational stop, and the ponytailed usher standing across the aisle from LaFont in section 115 just shakes his head at the save.

"He's a beast," the usher said. This is a good reminder.

The legacy is safe.