NEW YORK – When everything is said and done, this Eastern Conference Finals will come down to a battle of the goaltenders.
On one side, you have the Devils’ Marty Brodeur – the Greatest of All Time or the G.O.A.T. to use a tennis term to describe Roger Federer – who at the age of 40 does get torched every once in a while, but still has a Mariano Rivera quality to him.
Then on the other is Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, arguably the greatest right now. And watching Lundqvist play is like watching Pedro Martinez paint the corners in his prime.
Both goaltenders play different styles with Lundqvist’s well choreographed butterfly having him dropping down like a dancer, while Brodeur’s hybrid standup style, makes him flop all over the crease. It’s not pretty but it gets the job done.
And after two games, it’s Lundqvist- 1 and Brodeur- 1 with the latter on the winning end of a 3-2 decision in Game 2.
“Key saves at key times,” said coach Pete DeBoer about his goaltender. “You’re on your heels. It’s the third period, they’re given a push. I thought the third period was his best, and that’s when you need him to be his best.”
And the G.O.A.T. came through no matter what the Rangers threw at them. Brodeur held the Rangers in check as the time ticked off in the third. He stopped all Blueshirt chances late in route to his 23 saves on the night.
But at his tender age, how does he feel on a hard day’s night?
“I felt pretty good,” Brodeur said. “A little tired now. Kind of overworked myself sometimes for no reason. It was good. The guys played well in front of me. I saw most of the pucks. But the Rangers came out pretty strong. They had a lot of shots – a lot of crashing the net and, being around without touching me they were just around me a lot.”
To make it even more difficult , he had to play at Madison Square Garden, an arena, which because of its use and proximity to a train station, makes conditions not very optimal.
“It’s a tough place to play,” he added. “There’s so many bad bounces. The ice is not good, the boards are awful and the glass makes crazy bounces everywhere. In the second period I think two or three just went right in front of my net.
“So mentally it’s a tough game to play because you really have to look at the puck all game long.”
Here’s the rub on Brodeur. At his advanced age, you have to wonder if this is his last long ride through the playoffs. We have seen a number of Hall of Famers, like Chris Chelios and Mark Messier, play into their mid-40s, but goaltenders seem to have a shorter shelf life and Brodeur may be reaching his expiration date.
If the Devils go on and win the Stanley Cup this year, he may just retire, but the competitor in him will want to come back if his team falls short.
Of course, money, willingness to sign him on the Devils end ,and that lockout looming may have something to say about his future, but first and foremost, the Devils have a playoff series to win.
And this will be decided over the next two weeks or even month, as the G.O.A.T continues on in the with his quest.
However, this year the Devils are not relying on Brodeur to be the Greatest. In fact on this team, he probably isn’t even the best player.
Unlike Lundqvist, who needs to be fine every night for his team to win, the Devils can score with the best of them. After being shut out in Game 1, DeBoer changed game plans and had his team cycle in the offensive zone, creating lanes for his shooters.
It allowed his star Ilya Kovalchuk to open the scoring in the first and Ryan Carter and David Clarkson to be in front of Lundqvist for redirections into the net.
Three goals was good enough for the win tonight and now the Devils have taken home ice away from the Rangers.
With two games in Newark coming up, you have to wonder if the Devils have it in them to put their skate blade down on the Rangers throat.
“Well, you know we have to take care of business at home,” DeBoer said. “It’s a tough building to win in. And it’s nice to get a split. But there’s a lot of hockey left. And glad to be going home for two.”
And now it’s going to be Lundqvist’s turn for something great on the road. Brodeur wrote a spectacular chapter tonight and looks to finish his story next week.