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Devils know they can lean on Brodeur
Always one to keep things in proper perspective, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur quickly dismissed any suggestion Friday night that New Jersey’s Eastern Conference Final win over the New York Rangers somehow served as retribution for the events of 1994.
It was during the conference final that year that the Devils, with a 22-year-old Brodeur in net, choked away a 3-2 series lead to Mark Messier and the Rangers, handing a coveted spot in the Stanley Cup Final to their rivals across the Hudson River.
"We've won three Stanley Cups since then," Brodeur noted calmly, with his tone teetering between friendly and mocking — and without mentioning that New York hasn’t lifted a trophy since their 1994 title, mostly because in these parts, that goes without saying.
Now 40 years old and veteran of 19 NHL seasons, Brodeur has better things to worry about than a couple bad games 18 years ago, and over the last six weeks, the lifelong Devil has put together his best individual postseason since New Jersey’s last championship in 2003.
Brodeur has been impenetrable in net, with a 2.04 goals against average and a .923 save percentage in 18 playoff games, and, more importantly, he’s emerged as a calming influence for an underdog team in need of a veteran presence.
"He's been playing great for us," said Devils captain Zach Parise. "Even when they put their pressure on and people get a little antsy, you've got a guy back there that's been through this all before, makes big saves at the right time (and) has the ability to calm a bench down. So that goes a long way for us. "
A long way? Try all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where the Devils will take the ice in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. It’s a matchup very few expected to see, and Brodeur’s contributions to get his sixth-seeded team to this point cannot be overstated.
“He's the reason why we're in the position we are,” said rookie center Adam Henrique, who scored the series-clinching overtime goal in Game 6 against New York. “He was there for us all year. There’s a reason why he's the best goalie to play the game. And he gives us that extra confidence every night when we got him back there.”
Ask around the Devils locker room and everyone will tell you the same thing: New Jersey always has a chance to win, no matter how poorly everyone else is playing, as long as the future Hall of Famer Brodeur is in net.
“I don’t think you want anybody else back there besides him,” said Ryan Carter, who also scored in Game 6. “It’s confidence, and it starts from your goaltender and moves out. And having that goaltender back there and his pedigree, it’s great.”
Even fellow superstars, including three-time All-Star and former Richard Trophy winner Ilya Kovalchuk, can’t help but appreciate what the breadth of Brodeur’s experience brings to the team.
“Marty is such a competitor, he just wants to win,” said Kovalchuk. “Everybody says he’s old, he’s that, he’s this, but he shows a lot of patience with the game, and you see him every practice working so hard.”
Brodeur, of course, is modest about weight his history carries — never mind the fact that he’s a four-time Vezina winner, 10-time All-Star, the NHL’s all-time leader in wins, saves and shutouts, and the league’s active career leader in goals against average.
"Every team writes their own stories," Brodeur said. "I was fortunate to be part of great teams that had success, and I was part of great teams that didn't have success. Right now, we're having a lot of fun doing what we're doing. The success is coming with it right now.
“We have a lot of guys contributing, and I think that's what's making a winning team. It's not just a one-man show out there."
But it can be when it has to be, and it was at times during the third period of Game 6, when Brodeur slid and dove and sprawled out on the ice with the flexibility a player half his age, making eight stops to keep the scored tied and send the game to overtime.
“I thought Marty tonight was outstanding,” head coach Peter DeBoer said after Game 6. “When it got 2-2, there was half a dozen opportunities where the game was on the line, just like Game 7 in Florida in overtime when they took it to us. … He finds a way to make a save at the right time.”
After nearly two decades in the NHL, Brodeur is certainly entering the twilight of his long and illustrious career, but he says he has no intention of retiring just yet, and you can bet that, as long as he can keep helping the team grow — and leading them to Stanley Cup Final — he’ll keep taking the ice.
"For me, the stage of my career where I'm at, I think this the beauty of still playing hockey, is watching these guys grow into superstars," Brodeur said. "It's great for me just to see everything unfold for these guys. It makes it a lot fun — makes it worth coming to the rink every day.”
Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner