Martin Brodeur was about the last player in the celebration pile Friday night, but there is little question the New Jersey Devils would not have beaten the New York Rangers and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final without him.
Yes, Brodeur, the 40-year-old goaltender who many considered washed up, is once again going to play for the Stanley Cup, a trophy he has won three times in four career trips to the final round. And after beating the Rangers, Flyers and Florida Panthers to get there does anyone dare bet against him?
"He's a legend," Alexei Ponikarovsky told reporters after Game 6 against the Rangers Friday night. "To be at this level and still playing the same way he played when he was young is just incredible. It just makes you admire him more."
"He was outstanding," David Clarkson agreed. "All playoffs he has kept us in games, stood on his head. It's amazing to see what he's doing right now. Our bench just feeds off of him. He's one of our big, big leaders in here."
“Marty is drinking from the fountain of youth," forward Ryan Carter said. “It’s good. I don’t think you want anyone back there besides him.”
“It’s just amazing,” said Patrik Elias, the only teammate who can come close to competing with Brodeur longevity wise. “You guys were talking about him retiring soon and now he’s in the Stanley Cup Final. He obviously gives us the best chance every night to win those games and to get to this point.”
"This point" has to be one of the sweetest moments of Brodeur's Hall of Fame career. Yes, there are the three Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal and more trophies and awards than the average trophy case can handle. But getting to the Final one more time at the expense of his greatest rival, well that is pretty special.
“We’ve won three Stanley Cups since then,” Brodeur said, recalling the 1994 series that proved to be a classic, but left Brodeur with many painful memories. “But, I think winning against them in the big stage, not just for me, but for the fans of New Jersey, people that are supporting us and always take a second seat to these guy for whatever reason, Now they’ve got to be pretty happy going to work and going to school and doing all their things that they do. I know from some of the messages I got throughout this playoff series, we made a real happy right now by beating them.”
Brodeur made them happy by doing what he does best, making saves. He came up very big in the moments prior to Adam Henrique's overtime winner, blunting several Rangers shots. But that wasn't surprising as Brodeur knew the score when it was 2-2.
"In my head," Brodeur said, "the overtime started in the third period."
Brodeur made an outrageous stop on the Rangers' Brad Richards in the third period that would have put New York in front. It was vintage Brodeur and the Devils needed every bit of it to advance.
"You could tell he was in the zone. He led us," Parise said. "He made some big saves tonight."
Eighteen years ago on Friday, Brodeur was the kid goalie playing against a team loaded with star players. While he failed on that occasion, Brodeur has gone on to not only become the top goalie in NHL history, but a veteran of great status and it is through that prism that he derives much of his enjoyment these days.
"For me, the stage of my career where I'm at, I think the beauty of still playing hockey is watching these guys grow into superstars," Brodeur told reporters. "It's great for me to — just to see everything unfold for these guys. Makes it a lot fun. Makes it worth coming to the rink every day, seeing how they are how and how they're enjoying themselves and the ride we're having right now."
Brodeur is enjoying the ride, savoring the moments because he is well aware that this could be his last kick at the Cup. At 40, he knows there are fewer tomorrows as a goalie than there are yesterdays.
"I know what I can do, try to compete as hard as I can every night and try to give these guys a chance to win hockey games," Brodeur said. "And they've been scoring a lot of goals for me in the playoffs so far. It's been great, regardless of beating (Henrik) Lundqvist. I mean, it's definitely nice to compete against the top goalies. But again, I'm not playing against any goalies. I'm playing for my team and against the opponent that we're playing against.
“When you’re a kid, you’re dreaming of winning the Stanley Cup. When you have the chance to win the Stanley Cup, it gives us the opportunity to compete for it. Along the way we beat a big rival, especially for me, 18 years ago, everybody has been talking about it, so now it’s 1-1.”
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