NEWARK, N.J. – Martin Brodeur did not have to atone for 1994. The man won three Stanley Cups for the New Jersey Devils after that epic series against the New York Rangers. He won four Vezina Trophies as the NHL's best goaltender. He wrote his name all over the record books.
But what the hell. Brodeur did it anyway Friday night. Amid the echoes of 18 years ago – same date, same game, same score, similar situation – he stonewalled the Rangers and made sure there would not be another Mark Messier hat trick, another Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, another Stephane Matteau wraparound, another chance for all those bluebloods in the Blueshirts to look down their noses at New Jersey.
The 40-year-old future Hall of Famer made sure there would be another Adam Henrique overtime clincher instead. Henrique – a 22-year-old rookie, just like Brodeur was in '94 – was the hero in double OT of Game 7 in the first round against the Florida Panthers, and he was the hero in OT again here in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final. He poked in the puck after a mad scramble around the New York net at the 1:03 mark, sending the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings.
"I think [Brodeur] and Henrique maybe have something going on where they're trading years or something," said Devils center Ryan Carter. "Henrique's beyond his, and Marty's drinking from the fountain of youth."
Brodeur said at first he wasn't sure if the puck had gone in. He took a step, then a step back. He took another step, then another step back. Finally, he saw everybody celebrating, charged ahead and jumped on the pile. He called it "just a big relief." He can move forward now.
"We beat a big rival, especially for me," Brodeur said. "Eighteen years ago. Everybody's been talking about it. So now it's at least 1-1. I don't know if they're going to give us credit. But anyway, it's 1-1."
Eighteen years ago. That was the last time the Battle of the Hudson was fought in the conference final, and it seemed like yesterday if you read the New York papers this week and watched the first two periods play out.
Just like then, the Devils had won two straight and seized a 3-2 series lead. Just like then, Game 6 was on May 25 in New Jersey. Just like then, the Devils took a 2-0 lead and put the Rangers on the ropes.
Just like then, a player from the former Soviet bloc cut the Devils' lead to 2-1, only this time it was Ruslan Fedotenko, not Alexei Kovalev. And just like then, the captain of the Rangers tied the game, only this time it was Ryan Callahan, not Mark Messier.
Only one player remained from that old series, old Martin Brodeur. How many times had he been in this kind of spot since then – tight game, 20 minutes left in regulation, so much on the line?
"In my head," he said, "the overtime started in the third period."
He could not, would not, let anything past him. He could not, would not, let the Rangers win the game and go back to MSG, where they could win the series like in '94. He could not, would not, let that piece of history repeat itself. Early in the third period, he made a sharp right pad save on Callahan, who would have really woken up the echoes with a second goal, needing only an empty-netter to pull a Messier (minus the pre-game guarantee).
Then he made two old-school saves maybe only an old man can make – stacking the pads on Brad Richards during a penalty kill, poke-checking the puck off the stick of a hard-charging Artem Anisimov. He made eight saves as the Devils held on in the third, 33 in all.
"He was amazing," said Devils winger David Clarkson. "Some of those saves, you don't understand how he made them. Twice I stood up and even banged my stick. You're in awe of some of the plays he made."
You're in awe that he's still making them at this age. Remember the Superman save he made in Game 1, diving across the crease and snaring a Callahan shot with his glove? No wonder Dominik Hasek wants to come out of retirement at age 47, watching what Brodeur is doing. Since turning 40 on May 6, Brodeur has allowed less than two goals a game. He has even set an NHL record for goaltenders in the playoffs with four assists.
Brodeur hasn't been perfect. But part of his charm has always been how he rebounds. After getting yanked in a Game 3 loss in the first round? He came back with a shutout against the Panthers. After giving up four goals in Game 1 of the second round? He won four straight against the Philadelphia Flyers. After giving up three goals Wednesday night – including one where he misplayed a puck and ended up kicking it in? He came back with this performance.
"You know he's going to make those saves," said Devils veteran Patrik Elias. "Even if there's games when he makes maybe a mistake, it doesn't faze him, and we know it, and that's a great feeling."
"Every series, he take care of us," said Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk. "He's our leader."
"I think it starts with him," Clarkson said. "That's the reason we're here today, because of him in the net."
But that's the reason why Brodeur is here today, too, because of them. The Devils missed the playoffs last season. But that was a rarity, an aberration, and they have reinvented themselves under general manager Lou Lamoriello, a constant for a quarter of a century, and Pete DeBoer, their new coach with a new aggressive approach. They have a mix of skill and grit, experience and youth, and they have a chance to win the Cup again. That keeps a man young – or at least it keeps an old man playing.
"For me, at the stage of my career where I'm at, this is the beauty of still playing hockey, watching these guys grow into superstars," Brodeur said, sitting next to Henrique. "I've got one right here beside me that scored some big goals for us, another big one today. But it's great for me just to see everything unfold for these guys. It makes it a lot of fun. It makes it worth coming to the rink every day just to see how they are, how they're enjoying themselves and the ride that we're having right now."
Want to know why '94 means so much to the bluebloods across the river? Because that series led to their first Cup since 1940. It is still their only Cup since 1940. The New York Yankees they are not. That Cup is all they've really got.
The Devils played in the Meadowlands swamp for so many years, and even though they have moved to Newark, it is still not New York. They still sit in the shadows of the largest city in North America, the media capital of the world. They have ownership and financial issues.
And yet they are the ones with the winning tradition. They are the ones with three Cups since 1995. They are the ones back in the Cup final.
"I think winning against them in the big stage, it's not just for me, but I think for the fans of New Jersey, the people that support us and always take a second seat to these guys for whatever reason," Brodeur said. "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 lot of people real happy right now by beating them."
Imagine how happy they'll be if the Devils beat the Kings. Brodeur will have four Stanley Cups in 17 years – same as the Rangers have won in 85.
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