In the category of “been there, done that, got the T-shirt,” the commemorative hats and the three Stanley Cup rings, is goaltender Martin Brodeur, who was front and centre even before his New Jersey Devils made it a series.
For the past two games, or ever since the Los Angeles Kings took a 3-0 lead, Conn Smythe ballots have been cast, because that is procedurally how things are done, just like having the Stanley Cup on hand in case it happens to be won that night.
It means Brodeur’s opposite number, Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick, has likely already won two phantom Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP, had the Kings been able to close the deal.
But this final naturally follows the script of an unpredictable 2012 playoff season, and Kings coach Darryl Sutter has been saying it all along, for anyone bothering to listen. These are all close games that could have gone either way. Four of the five ended by the exact same score, 2-1. The margins are minuscule, the difference between winning and losing a deflected goal off a Kings defenceman or a puck-handling error by Quick.
In the midst of it all is Brodeur, 40, holding the fort and preparing to play the 205th playoff game of his career Monday night, with the Kings holding a slender 3-2 series lead.
Through it all, the unflappable Brodeur has been a joy to watch, playing an old-school, herky-jerky style of goal. At the start of the series, his backup, Johan Hedberg, was asked if he’d ever seen anyone play like Brodeur. Yes, Hedberg said jokingly, in a pickup game the previous week.
But the No. 1 priority of a goaltender never varies, no matter which era he plays in, and that is to stop the puck. Brodeur has done that magnificently since Game 3, a 4-0 loss that occurred exactly one week ago today.
Some thought Brodeur’s play in that game might have been adversely affected by the impact of the travel on those 40-year-old bones.
But Brodeur says he is unfazed by the coast-to-coast flights, noting that the Devils had “plenty of rest” in the two commuter series they played prior to the final.
“We could have packed it in two games ago, that’s the bottom line,” Brodeur said. “But we have a bunch of resilient guys that want to try to make history and try to win the Stanley Cup.”
Ah, yes, history. That was the NHL’s slogan a few playoffs ago. A sonorous narrator pronouncing “history will be made” over the soundtrack of some joyous Stanley Cup celebrations.
The Devils’ win Saturday marked the first time since 1945 that a team down 3-0 extended the series to six games, and only the third time it’s ever been done. Right now, that qualifies only as a historical footnote. Real history, and the chance to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs in the winner’s circle, will require two more victories to achieve.
Either way, the long season is about to end in the next 72 hours – either here Monday or Wednesday in Newark.
“We’re still alive,” Brodeur said. “We have a chance. It’s not a difficult thing to get ready for games like that.”
Nor is Brodeur immune to heaping a little more pressure on the home side.
“I think they’re so close to winning the Stanley Cup that I’m sure it’s getting to them a little bit, to be able to have all these chances and not capitalize on them,” Brodeur said, cranking up the heat.
“Right now we’re able to pull two tight games on our side, like they did in Game 1 and 2. So it’s a matter of us now going into a tough environment in L.A. to try to ruin the party – again.”