What’s that cliché the goalies use to deflect praise and praise themselves at the same time?
You gotta be lucky to be good – but you have to be good to be lucky.
Martin Brodeur has put in a solid week of both. He came off the injury list Thursday to score a goal that helped his New Jersey Devils to a 4-1 victory over Carolina Hurricanes. Saturday he made 17 saves as his team defeated Florida Panthers 2-1.
Monday night in Ottawa, the New Jersey Devils goaltender could have won the game in regulation if only he’d scored again – or perhaps taken a shot in overtime. In the end, the Senators won the game 3-2 when Ottawa’s fourth shooter, Mika Zibanejad beat Brodeur on the backhand.
Brodeur’s return to action meant five critical points for a team that last year went to the Stanley Cup final and this year seemed on its way to missing the playoffs if Brodeur didn’t take matters into his own hands.
The almost-41-year-old came into this game with 666 career wins – how perfect is that for a Devil? – and his goalposts seemed to be doing everything they could early on to get to 667.
At one point in the first period, the Senators hit the post twice with a single shot when forward Kyle Turris blasted a shot that hit the far post, bounced back into Brodeur’s butt and then slowly slid back to hit the same post again and lie there, untouched.
“He should retire now,” his backup, Johan Hedberg, joked when the number 666 was mentioned.
“It would be the perfect ending.”
But that ending – certainly in the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility – may still be a ways off, considering how well Brodeur has played this shortened season. His 10-2-3 record over 15 games is a key reason why the Devils came into the match in seventh place in the Eastern Conference hoping to gain a little more ground on the sixth-place Toronto Maple Leafs and fifth-place Senators.
Instead, the Senators gained the two points, the Devils only one.
“This is playoff hockey right now,” said Devils head coach Peter DeBoer before the match.
“One bad week and you can be on the outside looking in.”
Judging by the way DeBoer’s charges opened the game, however, you would never think the Devils a Stanley Cup contender. But for Brodeur, and his posts, the score would have been greater than 1-0, the Senators’ goal coming on a Chris Phillips wrist shot from far out the left boards that eluded a screened Brodeur.
The Devils were without their best player, forward Ilya Kovalchuk, out with a shoulder injury, but by the second period they had, in traditional New Jersey Devils fashion, checked and trapped the Senators into near submission and seemed in complete control of matters.
At one point, the Senators went 20:45 without a shot on net – and that shot was really a gift from the statisticians as Ottawa’s Jakob Silfverberg had come in on a clean breakaway on Brodeur and simply overskated the puck.
The Devils tied the game finally when Andrei Loktionov picked up a rebound and fired it through several bodies past Ottawa goaltender Ben Bishop.
Brodeur’s good fortune on the Silfverberg breakaway, however, soon turned the other way when, in the dying moments of Ottawa’s terrible second period, the Senators’ third shot of the frame, a wrister in heavy traffic from Turris, produced a fat rebound that Colin Greening was able to chip past Brodeur’s blocker.
Could the 666 be a curse?
It was a fairly weak goal allowed by the great Brodeur. “He’s arguably the best one to play his position in his generation,” Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean had said admiringly, “or any generation.”
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson went even further, comparing Brodeur’s hockey skills in net to perhaps the best player ever to play out: Wayne Gretzky.
“He reads your stick, your body language, what you’re going to do, are you going to pass or shoot?” Alfredsson said before the game. “It’s almost like Gretzky, he knows what’s going to happen before it happens. He doesn’t have a particular style, he makes the play he needs to make for that situation. It makes him unique.”
New Jersey’s Travis Zajac had said earlier in the day that Kovalchuk’s absence had created “a chance for someone else to come in” – but no one did until, finally, six minutes into the third period defenceman Marek Zidlicky was allowed to swan in from the point and casually lift a wrist shot that found the back of Bishop’s net.
The game went to overtime and, for once, both teams played for the win rather than the shootout – Brodeur making a fabulous glove save off Alfredsson in the final minute.
With both Brodeur and Bishop denying any chance for the game to be settled by play, the two teams went to shootout.
Alfredsson scored, then Zibanejad. Only one Devil, Zajac, could score on Bishop.
Stuck at 666.
But cursed? Not likely.