In reality, the three-time Stanley Cup champion goalie was the difference in the first-round Eastern Conference series that the Devils won Sunday with Brodeur stopping 32 shots and Brian Gionta scoring two goals in a 3-2 victory.
Faced with criticism after playing poorly in the first three games, the 34-year-old goaltender reverted to the form that helped him set a regular-season record for victories and win three straight to end the best-of-seven matchup in six games.
“We won, and it doesn’t matter if you play well or not,” Brodeur said. “It’s a fine line in the playoffs—winning and losing, and how somebody performs—because the luck factor is such a big factor.”
Brian Rafalski also scored and Patrick Elias assisted on all three of New Jersey’s goals. The Devils advanced to the East semifinals against the Ottawa Senators, who eliminated Pittsburgh in five games.
Brad Richards scored two power-play goals for Tampa Bay, which was shutout by Brodeur in Game 5 after scoring three goals in each of the first four games and making the New Jersey star look nothing like a goalie that won a league-record 48 games this season.
Brodeur’s performance in the first three raised questions about his vulnerability. He rebounded from squandering a two-goal lead in the second period of Game 4, which New Jersey won in overtime, then stopped 31 shots for his 22nd career playoff shutout Friday night.
“It wasn’t like he was playing horrible. It was just some bounces. The two game-winning goals that they did get came off shin pads,” New Jersey’s John Madden said. “It wasn’t like everybody was out of position or anything like that. You’ve got to keep plugging away.”
That’s exactly what Brodeur did.
“When you’ve been through it, you just put your head down and work harder. I can’t make the bounces go my way if I don’t believe that I’m able to stop the puck,” Brodeur said. “I know when it doesn’t go well, I’ll get that criticism.”
Brodeur’s 93rd postseason win moved him ahead of Grant Fuhr and into second place on the career playoff list behind Patrick Roy’s 151.
“I don’t think he was totally on his game through the first four (games),” Lightning coach John Tortorella said. “The opportunity we had in overtime, we didn’t get it done. But you knew he was going to come up sooner or later, and I think the last two games he was the difference.”
Despite being shutout in Game 5, the Lightning outshot the Devils 31-14 and carried the same mind-set into Sunday. They dominated early again, making Brodeur work to keep New Jersey from falling behind.
Gionta’s power-play goal snapped a scoreless tie late in the opening period and Rafalski’s second goal of the playoffs made it 2-0. Gionta’s shot from the left circle gave the Devils a 3-1 lead just 39 seconds after Tampa Bay broke through against Brodeur for the first time since the second period of Game 4.
Gionta, who had five goals in the series, was aided when Lightning defenseman Filip Kuba got tangled up with Elias in front of the net and wound up knocking over goalie Johan Holmqvist, who was sprawled on his back when the shot whizzed past.
Richards, who teamed with Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to score 11 of Tampa Bay’s 14 goals in the series, trimmed the Lightning’s deficit to 3-2 with his second power-play goal with just over 9 minutes remaining in the second period.
Tampa Bay outshot the Devils 10-7 in the third, but was unable to capitalize on its only power-play opportunity of the period to finish 2-for-6 with a man advantage. New Jersey converted its first two power-play opportunities and finished 2-for-4.
“They’re moving on and we’re not,” St. Louis said. “It’s an empty feeling and it’s disappointing, but we have to remember how this feels.”
The first team to score won each game of the series. … New Jersey D Colin White did not make the trip, missing his fourth consecutive game with a back injury. … Lightning RW Ruslan Fedotenko was a healthy scratch after dressing for Game 5 but not playing. He was benched because of a lack of production. He scored one goal in his last 29 games. … The Lightning were eliminated in the first round for the second straight season. A year ago, they lost to Ottawa in five games.