By Stu Hackel
So here’s a frustrated Martin Brodeur after the morning skate before Wednesday’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, and he’s calling out his teammates. “I try to give these guys a chance to win and I’ve done that in the first three games,” the sure thing Hall of Famer tells reporters. “At the end of the day, it’s hard to win games when you don’t score many goals. I try to be perfect, but the other guy is a little more perfect than me.”
That’s quite something. Imagine if Marty had struggled this round and one of the Devils’ forwards had said to reporters, “We’re scoring enough goals but it’s hard to win games when your goalie can’t stop pucks.” But of course, Brodeur has been stopping them, and watching Game 4 was like watching video of the 40-year-old in his prime. When a guy plays that well and has amassed a body of work like Brodeur’s, his public irritation at his lack of offensive support — not to mention his team having no luck, not getting the bounces and the calls from the officials — somehow is forgiven in the dressing room. Maybe it was even welcomed.
Regardless of whether Brodeur’s words sparked them, the Devils finally scored an opening goal, took the lead for the first time in the series, and didn’t buckle when the Kings tied the game. The proceedings now shift back to Newark for Game 5 on Saturday, and, at least through his goaltending, Brodeur helped make it possible.
The Devils were due for a little luck, and Marty was aided by a couple of hit posts and a puck that slid under him but went wide of the net. He also looked strong and confident throughout Game 4, never more so than on this stop of Simon Gagne with the match still scoreless late in the second period.
“It was just kind of a break that he got,” Briodeur said after the game. “He’s got so much speed. He was coming hard. I just held my ground there, took a shot, made a pad save there, gave up a rebound in the middle of the slot there. All our players were there. I think the team spirit for everybody — when they see you’re making a big save like that in a certain time of the game — it brings everybody up.”
It must have, because the Devils played a strong third period after having only three shots in the second, going through one of those stretches that both teams seem to endure in this series when they don’t have much going on. Brodeur once again gave the Devils a chance to win, and this time they did.
At the other end of the ice, Jonathan Quick was giving the Kings a chance to win, too, with stops like this on Petr Sykora.
You can hear the Staple Center crowd chanting “MVP” after that one.
Quick and Brodeur don’t just stand at opposite ends of the ice. They are at nearly opposite points in their career arcs. Quick is just entering the prime of his career, and even after Wednesday’s loss is still considered a favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. His 1.39 goals-against average and .948 save percentage this spring rank among the best playoff stats ever posted by a goalie (although no one will probably ever surpass Terry Sawchuk’s 0.62 GAA and .978 save percentage for Detroit in 1952, the year the Red Wings needed the minimum eight games to win the Cup).
Unlike last spring, when Robero Luongo and Tim Thomas sniped at each other, these two have a mutual admiration thing going. But in more ways than one, they are a study in contrasts.
Where Brodeur is talkative, Quick is more reserved, at least in public, to the point that he showed up for the Cup final media day with a hoodie over his skull and answered reporters’ questions so briefly that some thought he had caught a bad case of Tortorella. He’s been more expansive since the series started, but as you can see from his postgame comments on Wednesday (video), nothing he says will end up on the bulletin board in the Devils’ dressing room or rattling the cages of his teammates.
The 26-year-old Quick (profiled well on Wednesday by Bill Pennington of The New York Times), grew up in Connecticut watching Brodeur play for the Devils — but not cheering for him. He was a Rangers fan who admired Mike Richter, who was so often Brodeur’s adversary over the years.
Brodeur has won just about every award a goalie can win other than the Conn Smythe Trophy, and as long as the Devils stay alive in this series, he’ll still have a shot at that one. It has been a good bounce-back spring for him, probably aided by the fact that he had a strong regular season backup in Johan Hedberg, who played 27 games. Brodeur seems fresher, having played in only 59 before the playoffs, his fewest since 1995-96, other than his injury-plagued 2010-11 season.
It’s been a treat watching both of these goalies as the playoffs have progressed. They don’t get bombarded with tons of shots, but they make the saves they have to, and as anyone who has played the position knows, it’s just as hard — if not harder — to perform well when you don’t get lots of work.
Quick has made a case for himself as an elite goalie, maybe even the best in the game. It’s going to be fascinating watching him progress over the next few years and to see how good he’ll become. But watching Brodeur in Game 4 was a gift, especially for those who are too young to remember the reliable and consistent netminder he was in his prime. After what seemed like his inevitable and irreversible decline, somehow this spring he’s managed to turn back the clock.
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