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(GARY HERSHORN)
(GARY HERSHORN)

DAVID SHOALTS

Martin Brodeur's last stand? Add to ...

Before the playoffs started, Martin Brodeur once again mused, as he has so often this season, about retirement.

“It could be my last playoff,” the New Jersey Devils goaltender said as he prepared to face the Florida Panthers. “I want to go out and really enjoy it as much as I can.”

Well, Brodeur is probably enjoying himself right now, thanks to the Devils’ 3-2 overtime win Tuesday night that forced a seventh and deciding game in the NHL playoff series back in Florida. There is also no doubt he and the Devils are taking comfort in the fact Brodeur has been in goal for them nine times in a Game 7 and won four of them.

However, there are signs Father Time is beckoning one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history and it isn’t just his 40th birthday which is coming up on May 6. Brodeur can still play like a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer but the nights when he doesn’t are more frequent now.

Like Tuesday night. The Devils had no business going into overtime to beat the Panthers. They should have been on cruise control, locked into the familiar Devils defensive game protecting a sizeable lead by the middle of the third period at the latest. But they were life-and-death to hold off elimination in the first round for the fourth consecutive season because Brodeur was badly outplayed by Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen, who once served as Brodeur’s understudy for seven years.

The Devils outshot the Panthers 42-16 and held a 2-0 lead five minutes into the second period. Back in the day that would have been it for the Panthers. The old Devils of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Bobby Holik, et al would have clamped down defensively and Brodeur, who was the best at maintaining his concentration despite seeing just a dozen shots on many nights, would have smothered any pucks that made it through the defence.

Tuesday night, though, it looked like his mind was wandering. By the end of the second period, the Panthers tied the score and Brodeur had allowed two goals on 10 shots.

The second goal was particularly cringe-worthy. A long shot went off Brodeur’s pad and bounced awkwardly behind him. Brodeur obviously had no idea where it was as he spun around and fell among his defencemen. The puck slid just past the post and Bergenheim hustled to it first and made a nifty move to sweep it into the net.

Brodeur redeemed himself somewhat late in the third period when he made a big save on Panthers winger Mikael Samuelsson to get the Devils to overtime. But those kinds of saves are becoming a little too rare.

In Game 3 of the series, Brodeur was pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots, his first post-season hook in six years. He bounced back in Game 4 with his 24th playoff shutout, which set an NHL record. Then he made a big mistake in Game 5. Part of Brodeur’s legend is his ability to handle the puck but he muffed a chance behind his net which resulted in a Panthers goal and they wound up taking a 3-2 lead in the series.

This isn’t to say Brodeur’s play is suddenly an embarrassment. We’re not talking about Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield with the New York Mets or Ray Nitschke sitting on the bench as a third-stringer for the Green Bay Packers.

He can still deliver. It’s just that there are gaps between those occasions and they are getting larger. Since the Devils won their last Stanley Cup in 2003, Brodeur has bettered his career save percentage and goals-against average in the playoffs in just two of seven years.

Those around him think Brodeur’s new-found dedication to fitness indicates he has no plans to retire despite his hints. Brodeur should really consider it, though. Part of being a legend is knowing when to say goodbye.



SEASON

GP

W

L

SV PCT

GAA

2002-03

24

16

8

.934

1.65

2003-04

5

1

4

.902

2.62

2005-06

9

5

4

.923

2.25

2006-07

11

5

6

.916

2.44

2007-08

5

1

4

.891

3.19

2008-09

7

3

4

.929

2.39

2009-10

5

1

4

.881

3.01

2011-12

6

3

2

.911

2.22

CAREER

187

102

84

.919

2.01

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