SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers said they were aware of Martin Brodeur’s passing prowess before the start of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against New Jersey.
They’re even more cognizant after what happened in Game 1.
“You’ve got to be aware every time,” Panthers wing Kris Versteeg said. “Obviously we talked about it with his quick ups. He’s pretty dangerous obviously. Probably the best goaltender in the League at handling the puck, so we’ve got to be aware of him again tonight. He made us pay last game and obviously it was a big goal.”
Brodeur made 24 saves Friday to record his 100th career playoff victory, but it was his tremendous passing ability that was responsible for perhaps the biggest play in New Jersey’s 3-2 victory.
The Panthers were seconds away from killing off a four-minute Devils power play to keep their deficit at 1-0 when they iced the puck and went for a line change.
After stopping the puck in front of his net, Brodeur didn’t hesitate and fired a perfect pass to teammate David Clarkson at the Florida blue line near the boards. The Panthers never were able to set up defensively and Clarkson flipped the puck inside to Dainius Zubrus, who skated in alone on Jose Theodore and beat him with a wrist shot.
Ryan Carter would score 45 seconds later for a 3-0 lead that would hold up.
“If nobody is in my face, I’m able to make some decent passes,” Brodeur said. “It just worked out that Jose did such a great job killing that penalty almost by himself making seven or eight saves on that power play. When they dumped the puck, they just wanted to change, they didn’t really pay attention. I just caught them off guard. I’m sure it’s going to be harder to do now. I’m sure they’ll be aware of it.”
If nothing else, the Panthers learned the hard way they can never relax when Brodeur has the puck.
“You have to pay attention to their goalie,” Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “He is the best in the League at moving the puck and he can catch you sleeping, absolutely. Getting the puck in deep and getting hard to the bench is extremely key and being extremely aware of when he has the puck and where you’re placing it as you’re dumping it in.”
The Panthers have plenty of company when it comes to getting burned by Brodeur’s passing.
Friday’s assist was his ninth in the playoffs. He also has a goal, a rink-long wrister into an open net at the end of a 5-2 victory against Montreal on April 17, 1997.
Brodeur had four assists in the just-completed regular season to match his career high.
“I feel like I’ve seen it a thousand times,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “I can’t say I’m surprised about it. It’s a great play because if you’re an opposing team you can’t relax on a change and I think that’s what they did a little bit there. He’s got a great ability to pass it up and counteract and we were able to catch them. It’s a nice weapon for us to have.”
It’s inevitable that Brodeur will wind up playing the puck at other times in this series. The Panthers just don’t want to make it too easy on him.
“You have to put the puck into a place,” Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. “The game is easy when Marty can go back there and make the kind of direct tape-to-tape passes he can. So it’s more placement, where you end up putting the puck before you actually get in on the forecheck.”