NEWARK, NJ- Scan through the NHL’s postseason media guide and the importance of quality goaltending for championship-caliber teams becomes apparent.
Martin Brodeur has led the Devils to three championships and four finals appearances. But while New Jersey claims a battle-tested netminder, Carolina counters with Cam Ward, who has also taken a team to the top and beaten the Devils in a postseason series.
So who is better? A sold-out Prudential Center crowd chanted for their choice Wednesday night, and it was hard to argue as the Devils raced to a three-goal lead before posting a 4-1 victory against the Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Mike Mottau, Zach Parise and Patrick Elias scored to build a 3-0 lead before the second intermission as Brodeur turned aside 18 shots. Parise and Jamie Lagenbrunner each finished with a goal and an assist to start the opening round.
Following Elias’ tally, derisive chants of “Cam Ward” reverberated through the Rock. Soon the throngs yelled “Marty’s better,” even as the Hurricanes made it difficult on the goalie by allowing 39 shots. Ward finished with 35 saves thanks to the Devils boasting a 20-shot advantage.
“All night long, they didn’t sustain too much offense,” Brodeur said. “It’s a credit to the way we were able to move the puck. We didn’t turn the puck over and that makes a big difference. They’re a quick team and a transition team. We played a good game and [my teammates] made my job a lot easier.”
The Devils established momentum in the first period, forging a 15-7 edge in shots while attempting to control time of possession in Carolina’s end. Mottau parlayed that pressure into a goal when the defenseman used his stick to keep the puck from crossing the blue line before wristing a shot from the right point that skipped past a screened Ward for the opening goal at 16:03.
Mottau scored just one goal in 80 regular season games. His shot didn’t light up the radar gun, though it had enough speed and some dip to elude Ward’s glove.
“I think it was from a lack of velocity,” Mottau joked about his shot’s movement. “I don’t score too many and the other guys took over after that. It was good to get some momentum.
We were really strong in the danger area and got pucks out when we needed to.”
Carolina suffered an early set back coming out of the first intermission. Travis Zajac helped Parise dig the puck out of the corner along the board’s bench-side. The gritty play allowed Parise to snap off a sharp-angle shot before Erik Cole could skate over, beating Ward stick side from the crease’s right side just 59 seconds into the period.
Elias provided another insurance marker almost 10 minutes later, firing a slapper that built the 3-0 lead. After Elias moved the puck behind the net, Brian Gionta collected the puck with two defenders providing heavy pressure while Elias circled back. Gionta then slid a backhand pass right to Elias, who was left all alone at the top of the left circle to take a full windup.
The Hurricanes didn’t support Ward defensively or at the other end, mustering just 13 shots through 40 minutes and five shots in the second period.
it to 3-1 on Ray Whitney’s goal 9:22 into the final period. Whatever intrigue the Hurricanes generated dissipated quickly when Parise picked up his second point of the night, assisting on Langenbrunner’s hard shot in the slot that re-established a three-goal lead 29 seconds after Whitney’s marker.
“It’s step one,” Parise said. “It’s a long series but you have to start somewhere. The effort was there from everyone tonight.”
Both goalies entered the series boasting impressive track records. Brodeur’s playoff ledger would be considered a decent career record for most goaltenders. Entering Game 1, the future Hall of Famer claimed 95 postseason victories and 1.96 goals against average in hockey’s most pressure-packed games.
But while Ward can’t match Brodeur’s overall body of work, he can claim a resume matched by few goaltenders engaged in the NHL’s tournament. The 25-year-old picked up a Stanley Cup ring in his rookie season, going 15-8 in the 2006 playoffs, which included a series win against Brodeur’s Devils before culminating with the Conn Smythe Award.
Brodeur set a new record when he earned regular season victory No. 552 and doesn’t look close to retirement. While Ward is barely old enough to rent a car at a reasonable price, the Saskatoon native already claims 120 regular season victories. Since 2006, he has averaged almost 65 games played per season and almost 35 victories, giving me him more wins than Brodeur at the same age.
Regardless of future milestone, the records are re-set once the playoffs start. Brodeur and Devils lead 1-0 in the most important category: the best-of-seven series count.
“We were solid in our own zone and the neutral zone,” Brodeur said. “Offensively, guys had a lot of jump. We had a lot of good chances.”
Notes: Brendan Shanahan left the ice with 3:19 left in the first period after getting hit by the puck in the Carolina zone. He returned to start the second period…Despite the announced sellout crowd of 17,625, there were many half-empty rows at center ice in the lower level and pockets of empty seats in the upper levels…The Devils allowed Carolina just two power play chances and killed off both…Game 2 is Friday and will feature a 7:30 p.m. faceoff time in Newark.