GARDEN STATE SUPPORTMartin Brodeur wants Rick DiPietro back at his best

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Martin Brodeur shook his head in disappointment over what might have been, or at least what he thought was going to be these last few years.

“I really thought me, Henrik Lundqvist and him were going to be part of an era in New York-New Jersey hockey,” Brodeur said last week.

“Him” is Rick DiPietro, the former NHL all-star and U. S. Olympic goaltender Brodeur has always viewed as a friendly rival. After averaging 63 games over three years from 2005-2008, DiPietro has played a combined 39 games for the Islanders over the last three seasons. He has been limited by a series of injuries, primarily to the hips and one – the devastating one – to his left knee.

Brodeur, who turns 39 in two weeks, is the ultimate competitor – with three Stanley Cups as proof. However, he wishes the Devils’ rival in Nassau County was complete with its No. 1 goaltender.

“I really feel for him,” Brodeur told Point Blank in a recent one-on-one interview. “He is one of the most talented goalies we have in the game. I can’t even imagine what he is going through. All of the rehab, all of the scrutiny that comes with being injured a lot…it’s had to be really rough. I have all the respect in the world for the guy.”

Brodeur, for two decades one of the most candid and thoughtful stars in the NHL, continued.

“Two of the last three seasons, I had injuries that cost me a lot of time (three months in 2008-09, 20 games this season). Still, they were nothing compared to what DiPietro has gone through. People have to understand: any time a goalie is out for a while, it’s going to take some time to find your game again. But my big injury two years ago was to my arm. With Ricky, you’re talking about a goalie who has had hip problems and a major knee injury. Do you understand how much of a challenge it is for a goalie to come back from stuff like that? That’s a guy who should get complete support and respect.”

Brodeur could not predict the future for DiPietro, who turns 30 in September, but he did share his hopes for the opponent who once graciously slid the puck down the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum ice to him in the final seconds of one of his NHL-record 116 shutouts.

“I want to see him back at his best,” said Brodeur. “He plays for one of our division rivals, but I like Rick. When he broke in, I admired how he played with so much enthusiasm, so much skill, so much flair. Beyond all that, he’s a good person. At the end of the day, we’re goalies. Nobody understands us better than each other. I guess that why I consider Henrik a friend, why I think of Rick as a friend.

“I hope all three of us can get our teams back in the playoffs.”

As far as the future first-ballot Hall of Famer is concerned, it’s not too late to still see that era.

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