There was no way the moment was going to get the best of Martin Brodeur.
He’s touched the Stanley Cup, lifted in the air, had it out front of the house where he was raised in the Montreal borough of Saint Leonard. And he’s made an incredible career out of helping the New Jersey Devils win important games.
So with Staples Center trembling in anticipation of a Stanley Cup sweep by the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night, it should be no surprise that Brodeur was at his best as the Devils forced a Game 5 back in New Jersey on Saturday.
“It’s just being in the moment,” he explained afterwards. “It’s really hard while you’re playing to really think about (past experiences) – even though some of them are successful, some are not. But for me, it’s living in the moment, living these experiences with these guys.
“That’s what hockey is all about.”
With so much of the focus in this series on the outstanding play of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, Brodeur has almost been lost in the shuffle. But he stared down three breakaways in an extremely tight Game 4 and benefited from a couple fortunate breaks – two pucks rang off his post late in the first period – to keep the Stanley Cup from being presented.
Whether it was just delaying the inevitable or the start of a historic comeback by New Jersey, only time will tell.
Brodeur has been quite candid about his team’s offensive struggles in the series and knows that there is virtually no room for error in his performance as a result. The fact he’s still able to meet that challenge a month after his 40th birthday is nothing short of amazing.
Few outsiders believed Brodeur would ever make his way back on to the big stage, especially since the Devils had only won two playoff series since the goaltender lifted his third Stanley Cup in 2003. But those doubts weren’t shared inside the only organization Brodeur has ever known.
“I don’t think you’re ever surprised at what he does, how he handles everything,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said at the outset of the Stanley Cup.
“Marty is an unflappable person,” he added. “He has a personality that never looks back. He loves the game, he plays it because he loves it. He works at it. He’s changed his game accordingly to the way the style is. He’s a student.”
What better form of study than 203 of the most pressure-packed games in hockey? That’s how many playoff appearances Brodeur has made – the equivalent of two and a half regular seasons – and don’t forget about the 11 games he’s started for Team Canada at the Olympics while winning two gold medals.
He’d love to get three more games in against the Kings over the next week. Los Angeles is hell-bent on making sure it doesn’t happen.
The Kings have had to deal with a number of long layoffs while cruising through this post-season with a 15-3 record and they’ll have to sit through another extra off day before Game 5. The team took a flight to Newark on Thursday and coach Darryl Sutter expressed some frustration with questions about failing to complete the sweep prior to departing.
“Unfortunately, we have some spoiled people that think that everyone wins 16 in a row or something,” said Sutter. “A little confusing to me.”
However, he knows as well as anyone how important it is for the Kings to seize the moment. This is the 24th season Sutter has spent chasing the Stanley Cup as either a coach or a player and he’s still looking to join brothers Duane and Brent by getting his name etched into it.
Opportunities like this one rarely come around.
“For lots of (the players) ... it’s the first time, last time, only time,” said Sutter.
For Brodeur, it’s the fifth time. That kind of experience can only rub off positively on teammates, many of whom were infants when he guided the franchise to its first Stanley Cup back in 1995.
“I think he’s played great the whole series, the whole playoffs,” said 22-year-old forward Adam Henrique. “He’s a huge reason why we’re here. He took us to overtime the first two games, gave us a chance to win those ones. He kept us in it from start to finish.”
Added longtime teammate Patrik Elias: “He has to do that – otherwise we’re done.”
But these Devils will live on at least a couple more days. Amazingly, New Jersey has never been swept in a playoff series over the entire history of the organization, and this is the 43rd one it has participated in.
Brodeur was the man in goal for the majority of those and wanted to do everything in his power to make sure his teammates kept that run going.
“They’ve been working so hard,” he said. “The least I could do is give them a chance to win. That’s what I’m doing. ... For me, it’s all about my team, the way I play for them.”
Few, if any, have done it better.
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