Fact is, a Game 7 in any round of the playoffs is ultimately determined by the masked man between the pipes.
He's the one that'll be looked upon to stand tall and make that one key save at the critical moment if he has any intention of bidding a fond farewell to his counterpart during the ceremonial handshake at the conclusion of the contest. That's what makes this final game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday so tantalizing.
"I think the goaltending in this series has been pretty significant; it's been the talk of the series," Devils coach Brent Sutter said.
Let's face it, if you enjoy great goaltending in a postseason series, then the Devils and Hurricanes have certainly served you well.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who enters the game with an all-time record of 5-3 with a 1.75 goals-against average in Game 7's, is 3-3 with a 2.13 GAA and .938 save percentage this series. Carolina's Cam Ward, who is 2-0 with a 1.50 GAA in Games 7's, is 3-3 with a 1.96 GAA and .942 save percentage against the Devils. They have each notched one shutout as well.
"There's always pressure in everything, including a Game 7," Brodeur said. "It's probably more magnified because at the end of the day, we're the one that's going to let the goal in or make the big stop, so that pressure is always there in the playoffs, but it definitely goes to a different scale in a Game 7."
Brodeur has nothing but high praise for his opponent in this series, including its veteran goalie, who is making his first postseason appearance since leading the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup and earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP three seasons ago.
"You can't say anything bad about his play, that's for sure," Brodeur said. "He obviously played awesome (on Sunday). Maybe he wasn't tested at the right times; the game was already out of hand when he was, but he's been playing well. Even in the game he lost in our building (1-0 in Game 5) was a great goalie matchup and he's been holding his own, for sure."
Ward had a personal-high 41 saves in the Game 5 setback at Prudential Center, besting his previous high (35 saves) which actually came in Game 1 of this series. During his team's run to the Stanley Cup in 2006, Ward's playoff best came in Game 1 against Edmonton in the Final with 34 stops.
Brodeur feels that while he might be able to fall back on that big-game experience on Tuesday, it'll all come down to how the team reads and reacts in the end.
"You can never have enough experience in dealing with situations, but you still have to play the game," Brodeur said. "You're not winning anything here by saying we've been here and done that. It's when you jump on the ice and how you react and how people feel that will decide your fate. But that comes with experience and we feel we have the people who have been around enough and feel comfortable playing in a big-time game like that."
Players like captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who admitted to feeling much better Monday morning after returning to the lineup on Sunday following a three-game hiatus with a lower-body injury.
"The reality of it is that's it's do or die in a Game 7," Langenbrunner said. "Carolina had that mentality in Game 6 and they came with that attitude and we didn't and got beat up pretty good for it. Now, both teams are in the same situation so I think you'll see really desperate and exciting hockey."
Langenbrunner doesn't expect any letdown from either goalie.
"There's always pressure on the goalie and especially in a Game 7, but both these goalies have been through it and have played Game 7's during the Stanley Cup Final, so you're talking about guys who can definitely handle that type of situation," Langenbrunner said."
"I think the goaltending in this series has been pretty significant; it's been the talk of the series." -- Devils coach Brent SutterBrodeur, who admitted nothing gets easier the older you get, still cherishes Game 7's in any round of the playoffs. His most memorable was his first on April 29, 1994, when he led the Devils to a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres and Dominik Hasek in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
"When you've been in those situations before, people expect you to do it again because you've done it so much," Brodeur said. "They feel you're going to know how to deal with it, but, really, it's still all new.
"Each Game 7 you play in is a different situation and there are different circumstances to deal with, but I'm still looking forward to it; it's going to be fun," he added. "I remember almost every Game 7 I've ever played, but don't ask me about those Game 2's. Winning or losing a Game 7 stays with you. It's how you do under the gun and it'll be an opportunity for all of us to rise to the occasion."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.