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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Brodeur under the microscope


By DAVID SHOALTS

From Monday's Globe and Mail
Monday, June 9, 2003

East Rutherford, N.J. — Funny thing, this business about being The Man in the Stanley Cup final, especially when it comes to goaltending. For some, the label is a long time coming, no matter how impressive the résumé.


Martin Brodeur should have enough credentials as a playoff star to escape such scrutiny. But the trouble is, for every National Hockey League championship or Olympic gold medal on his record, the New Jersey Devils goaltender has a flop to match.


Yes, Brodeur's 10 years in the NHL are marked by Stanley Cup rings from 1995 and 2000 and that gold medal for Canada in 2002, yet there is that awful playoff collapse in 2001 (one that his Devils teammates have to share blame in) of blowing Games 6 and 7 of the Cup final to the Colorado Avalanche.


And then there is Saturday's embarrassment, a poor showing in a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks that restored Jean-Sébastien Giguère's claim to top of the goaltending mountain.


The duality extends to the entire Devils team, which has made the Cup final three of the past four years. As one media bard said of the seventh and deciding game tonight: "The Devils will either be known as the team that won the Stanley Cup three times in eight years, or the team that choked in two of the last three years."


So, given what the players would say is the fickle nature of the media, tonight's game will decide more than this year's NHL champion. Also up for grabs is a leg up on the race for the mantle of "the next great goaltender" in the wake of the retiring Patrick Roy and, by extension, the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.


While both Giguère and Brodeur have had their missteps in this final, both remain the top contenders in what was, until the past two games, a goal-starved series.


In that sense, Brodeur has more at stake than Giguère. The Ducks goaltender, at 26, is in his first brush with playoff fame and his reputation should survive a loss, as long as it's respectable.


"It's just another day, I really believe that," Brodeur said last night, sloughing off his bad outing — an ability in which he takes pride.


"It's the game of hockey. Hey, it's still a game. I can't control what I did in the past, just what's in front of me. I do it all the time."


But fans can be forgiven for wondering which Brodeur will show up tonight at Continental Airlines Arena. The one who dropped his goal stick in Game 3 and let the puck bounce off it for a crucial goal? Or the one who frustrated the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference final and posted consecutive shutouts in the first two games of the Stanley Cup final?


Like the tale of his playoff career, the numbers are split when it comes to forecasting how Brodeur and the Devils will fare tonight.


Perhaps the best number for Devils fans to know is Brodeur's 5-0 record in games that follow him giving up five or more goals. He also can claim to be 4-3 in Game 7 of playoff series, after winning three of his past four.


Simply being one of the best at his profession over the years, Brodeur says, gave him the ability to forget a bad outing and move on.


"Playing so much, I have the luxury of not playing well and they still play me the next day," he said. "A lot of goalies don't have that luxury. If they don't play well, they don't play the next day.


"You learn how to fight through these things. You feel comfortable."


What he's learned is that you can't beat yourself up over nights like Saturday.


"I'm not going to evaluate my game on every single goal," Brodeur said. "I was in great position. One day [the puck] is going to hit you, one day it's not going to hit you.


"If I'm technically the way I want to be and positionally the way I want to be, it's fine with me. You can't make miracles if the puck doesn't want to hit you."


But there is that 8-18 career record in playoff overtime games; and there is the spectre of 2001, a collapse that began in Game 6, when Brodeur let in a long slap shot from Adam Foote en route to a 4-0 Colorado win.


"We can't dwell on what happened two years ago," said Brodeur, adding you can also forget about the history of the home team winning every game so far in the best-of-seven 2003 Stanley Cup series.


One thing that is certain, according to Devils head coach Pat Burns, is that this game will not be lacking in passion. Familiarity, and undoubtedly Devils defenceman Scott Stevens's crushing hit on Paul Kariya on Saturday night, took care of that.


"It's hate, it's hate," Burns said with relish. "And it's normal. That's why you have these long series. As the series goes on, teams start hating each other. That's good, that's competition.


"You're always hoping it's going to happen. Now, we've seen each other every second night and now the hate begins."



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