There is a temptation to see the 2012 Stanley Cup final mostly as a showdown between two goaltenders.
On your left, ladies and gentlemen, the future Hall of Famer, Martin Brodeur, an icon for going on two decades with the New Jersey Devils, recently turned 40 and making the fifth Stanley Cup final appearance of his career.
On your right, one of the emerging young stars in the game, Jonathan Quick, a Vezina Trophy finalist for the Los Angeles Kings, and just emerging into the popular hockey zeitgeist, even if he has already put three above-average NHL seasons under his belt.
Of course, goaltenders do not actually face each other, they play against the opposing teams - although in Brodeur’s case, with four assists already in these playoffs, he is positively unique as a puck stopper, a threat at both ends of the ice.
Tactically, the best way to break down this final is to see it as a confrontation between be the Kings’ relentless fore-check and the Devils’ ability to move the puck sharply and efficiently out of their own zone, a strategy that relies heavily on Brodeur’s puck-handling skills.
More than one Devils player remarked on that quality Tuesday during Stanley Cup media day - that Brodeur acts as a third defenceman in the zone. When teams dump the puck in, the Devils’ defencemen flare off to the corners. Each provides a passing option for Brodeur, or alternatively, he can move the puck straight up the ice.
Luckily for the Kings, they came up against a similarly skilled puck-handling whiz in the Phoenix Coyotes’ Mike Smith in the previous round and won that battle.
“From a hockey standpoint, our fore-check is probably the key to our game,” explained Kings’ captain Dustin Brown. “If we can get through the neutral zone, we can get on the fore-check, which has probably been the reason we've been so successful.”
Beyond the age gap - Brodeur is 40, Quick 26 - the two goaltenders have completely different public personas. Brodeur is quick with a quip, relaxed, at ease in this situation because he’s been here so many times before. On Tuesday, the crowd of reporters in front of his podium was five deep for the full half-an-hour of his availability and he charmed them all.
Quick, by contrast, is far less comfortable in front of the microphones, though his teammates say he is more relaxed in the privacy of the dressing room - funny, and occasionally even glib.
Quick showed one small glimpse of that when asked about growing up as a New York Rangers’ fan and watching them win the 1994 Stanley Cup championship in seven games over the Vancouver Canucks.
“Yeah, I was rooting against Marty then,” said Quick, with a smile. “Obviously it's pretty cool playing against him. But it's not an individual sport, it’s about the teams. It's the Kings versus the Devils.”
According to Kings’ defenceman Drew Doughty, what makes Quick popular among his teammates is a high level of personal accountability. There are no dirty stares directed at anyone, if there’s a missed assignment that results in a goal.
“If he's letting in a goal, no matter what it is, it could be a back door tap-in, he's telling his defence he should have had it,” said Doughty. “He always takes the blame.
“Everyone on the team loves him. He's a calm guy, laid back. At the same time, he’s worked so hard to be the goalie he is today. He wants it more than anyone.”
But the Devils love their Marty Brodeur too - and even if he’s won three previous Stanley Cup championships, he wouldn’t turn down a fourth.
Coach Peter DeBoer said his impressions of Brodeur were the same as everyone else’s before he took the job - that he was arguably the greatest goaltender of all time.
“When you're around him every day, I think you realize what separates him,” said DeBoer. “It's not sheer talent. It's talent combined with a real knowledge of the game and a mental toughness and composure at stressful times that I haven't seen before. It separates him from other guys.”