Having Martin Brodeur gives the New Jersey Devils a big advantage in net heading into most playoff series, and that seemed to be especially true for their current one. Surprisingly, Brodeur has yet to give his team the edge so far.
One of the top goaltenders in NHL history and coming off possibly his best regular season, Brodeur looks to recover from a subpar start to the playoffs as the Devils try to retake the series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.
A favorite to win his third Vezina Trophy, Brodeur had a career-high 12 shutouts to lead the league this season. He ranked third with a 2.18 goals-against average while winning an NHL-record 48 games.
His .922 save percentage was tops among goalies who started at least half their teams’ games, but it’s at .870 through two games of this series. Brodeur hasn’t gone through a postseason with a sub-.900 save percentage since 2001.
After allowing a total of five goals during New Jersey’s four-game winning streak to close the regular season, Brodeur gave up three in both Games 1 and 2 despite facing a total of just 46 shots.
Brodeur blew a two-goal lead in the series opener, but counterpart Johan Holmqvist had a significantly worse performance in his playoff debut as the Devils pulled out a 5-3 win. Holmqvist, though, was clearly the better goaltender Saturday as he made 34 saves - twice as many as Brodeur - in Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory that evened the series.
“He (Holmqvist) was aggressive. He looked confident,” Lightning coach John Tortorella said. “That’s how athletes become better athletes and playoff performers—by getting experience. He’s lived through a couple of games, from one end of the spectrum to the other.”
The Devils blew another lead Friday as Brodeur gave up the tying goal with 49 seconds left in the second period on a bad-angle shot from Martin St. Louis.
“I was there, it just went through me,” Brodeur said. “I would love to have it back, but it doesn’t work like that in hockey. He had nothing to lose and he hammered it as hard as he could and it went through me.”
Vincent Lecavalier scored the winner, and gave the Lightning their first lead of the series, at 1:42 of the third period.
Lecavalier and St. Louis have carried their prolific scoring from the regular season into this series. Lecavalier already has three goals after leading the league with 52 this season. St. Louis has two goals along with an assist through two playoff games after finishing fifth in the NHL with 102 points. Lecavalier was third with 108 points.
While Tampa Bay had two players among the league’s top five in points, New Jersey didn’t have one in the top 40. Zach Parise led the Devils with 31 goals during the regular season and has three of their five in this series.
The only goals Holmqvist allowed Saturday came on the power play. He stopped all but one of the 29 shots he faced over the final two periods, and the only one that got past him was Jamie Langenbrunner’s goal on a two-man advantage.
“The way we played in the second and the third I thought we played extremely well,” Brodeur said. “You have to give them credit. Their goalie played awesome.”
Brodeur has a 3.03 goals-against average in this series. He has had a GAA above 2.25 just twice in 11 previous trips to the playoffs as New Jersey’s No. 1 goalie, and the team lost in the first round both times.
Though the Devils lost in their most recent visit to Tampa Bay, 3-1 on March 22, that’s one of just two regulation losses they’ve suffered in their last seven visits. New Jersey, however, has won just two of its last 11 road games in the playoffs.
While the Devils’ 24 road wins this season were third-most in the NHL, Tampa Bay’s 18 regulation losses at home were easily the most among teams that made the postseason.
Game 4 will be Wednesday in Tampa Bay before the series returns to New Jersey on Friday.