Here was Brodeur on Saturday night in the third period of a one-goal elimination game – a game that very well could have been his last in a Stanley Cup Final. A scrum broke out around his crease. He took a punch. An opponent pulled his sweater over his head.
And he grinned.
He said he grinned because he couldn't believe the referees didn't call a penalty. Told he looked relaxed, he said he was just tired. But the old goalie clearly isn't tired of playing, and neither are the New Jersey Devils, whose 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings cut their series deficit to 3-2.
"We could have packed it in two games ago," Brodeur said. "That's the bottom line. But you see we have a bunch of resilient guys that want to try to make history and try to win the Stanley Cup. We're not going to give up."
The Devils haven't given up throughout these playoffs, and suddenly the key question – can they do it? – applies less to them than it does to the Kings.
Only three teams have ever come back from a 3-0 deficit and won a best-of-7 series in the NHL, and only one of those teams did it in the final, and that was way back in 1942 when the Toronto Maple Leafs did it against the Detroit Red Wings.
But the Devils have fought back in every series. They faced 2-1 and 3-2 series deficits in the first round against the Florida Panthers; they came back and won. They faced a 1-0 series deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round; they came back and won. They faced 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits in the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers; they came back and won.
In Games 1 through 3 of a series, they are 4-8. In Games 4 through 7, they are 10-1. They have gotten better as each series has gone on, and they have put together three- and four-game winning streaks.
The Devils became only the third team to force a Game 6 when facing a 3-0 deficit in the final, the first since 1945, when the Wings did it to the Leafs (only to lose in seven). Why can't they win their third straight in Game 6 on Monday night in L.A.? Why can't they win their fourth straight in Game 7 on Wednesday night in Newark?
[RELATED: Comeback quest continues as Devils try to make history]
The belief, said Devils defenseman Mark Fayne, "is just growing with every period and every goal we score. We know that we can do it."
If the Devils do pull this off, would it be any more unbelievable than, say, the eighth-seeded Kings starting the playoffs 15-2 – coming within a win of tying the 1988 Edmonton Oilers for the best playoff record since the NHL went to four best-of-7 series in '87?
Make no mistake. The odds are still in the Kings' favor here. They have two chances to win this thing, while the Devils have no margin for error.
But percentages are slipping, and the Kings haven't had to deal with any problems to this point. This is the first time they have lost back-to-back games. No one really knows how they'll react. "Hopefully that puts some doubt in their minds," Fayne said.
That, and a few other things: They have scored only eight regulation-time goals in five games, not good for a team that finished second-to-last in the league in offense in the regular season and was supposed to be scoring more.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick – the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player – has finally looked human. He misplayed a puck in the first period Saturday night, throwing it behind his net. Zach Parise grabbed it and stuffed it inside the right post before Quick could recover. Even though the Devils had been outplayed, they had the all-important first goal of the game and their first power-play goal of the series. Parise had his first point of the series. "You've got to get lucky sometimes," he said.
In Games 4 and 5, the Kings didn’t get the majority of the breaks like they did in Games 1 and 2. Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador scored Saturday night when a shot deflected in off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov. The Devils got a goal in Game 1 when a rebound went off Voynov, too. But the Devils were mostly unlucky early in the series, and now it was Kings winger Justin Williams ringing a shot off a post in the first period, Kings defenseman Alec Martinez shooting a puck off the shaft of Brodeur's stick and off the crossbar in the third.
"They're so close to winning the Stanley Cup that I'm sure it's getting to them a little bit, to be able to have all these chances and not capitalize on them," Brodeur said. "We're looking to just stay alive."
Brodeur seems to feel alive. The only goal he gave up was on a wrist shot by Williams that whizzed through crossing traffic in the second period.
He was sharp in the first when the Kings were carrying the play. At one point, he came out to play a puck, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty tried to take advantage, and Brodeur reached up and gloved the long shot casually, like an outfielder snaring a line drive hit right at him. He stacked the pads to foil a breakaway in the second when Jarret Stoll had a chance to give the Kings a 2-1 lead, and after the Devils took the lead later in the period, he refused to give it up. He looked calm when the Kings pulled Quick and made a final push, finishing with 25 saves.
[RELATED: Kings' coronation put on hold]
"I was on the bench and I could barely stand it, and I couldn't imagine being in net," Fayne said. "But he's that way all the time."
The scrum? The jersey over his head? The grin? That's the kid inside who still loves hockey at the highest level, and that's the man who has accomplished so much – three Stanley Cups, four Vezina Trophies, several NHL records – and has been through the downs, too. That's the future Hall of Famer with nothing to prove but everything to teach his teammates.
"That's him," Tallinder said. "So many years he's played here. He knows what to do. Even if it's a scrum, I mean, what's he gonna do? What can you do? He can be pissed, or he can be, hey, relaxed. I think it benefits for him to be relaxed, and he always is. …
"You have to be focused, but at the same time you have to enjoy it. If you enjoy it, it's going to be a lot easier for you out there. He's living proof of that, and it's contagious."
After the game, Brodeur strolled to the interview room sipping coconut milk. He sat on the podium, cracked jokes and every so often looked down at his phone, while still being serious. He said preparing for these types of games is difficult and playing them is draining, but it's worth it. It's fun.
"I'm enjoying this," he said. "I will until we're done."
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