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Brodeur on Devils: 'We’re not far'

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Brodeur says new coach hire is an important decision.
Martin Brodeur hasn’t exactly enjoyed watching the Philadelphia Flyers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. Not only are they a heated division rival, but their postseason march began with a first-round elimination of the Devils.

“It’s mixed emotions, a bit,” Brodeur said Thursday. “You learn to hate them because you played against them so you want them to lose, but on the other hand, if they beat you and they beat everybody else, well, we’re like the other teams. But again, especially when you battle teams in your conference, especially rivalries, it’s not fun to watch them have success, that’s for sure.”

The Flyers were set to host the Chicago Blackhawks for Friday’s Game 4 at Wachovia Center, with Chicago holding a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Each of the first three games was decided by a goal: the Hawks took the first two on home ice, before the Flyers responded with an overtime win in Wednesday’s Game 3.

“It’s definitely where I thought it was going to be,” Brodeur said. “I feel Chicago’s a pretty deep team with a lot of skill and good role players, and I’m not just saying that because [former Devil] John Madden plays there, because I love the guy. I think there’s a lot good things for Chicago, but Philly’s a resilient team, so it’ll be an interesting series, there’s no doubt about it. It seems to be high scoring so far, two games with a lot of goals, but we’ll see. Chicago’s definitely in the driver’s seat now.”

Would anyone have guessed that this year’s finalists would be backstopped by Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton? In Chicago, Niemi began the season as Cristobal Huet's backup. The Flyers claimed Leighton off waivers from Carolina in December.

“You don’t see that too often,” Brodeur said. “You saw it in a few seasons, but it’s pretty impressive. Two goalies that didn’t play the whole year; they played half the season. They get to the playoffs, and it was a merry-go-round a bit with the Flyers’ goalies with the injuries, and Niemi’s been playing really well for Chicago. It’s definitely something a lot different than what Stanley Cup Finals have been about with top goalies playing in them.”

Philadelphia became the fourth team since 2002 to reach the Final after ousting the Devils. In three straight first-round exits since 2008, New Jersey has drawn opponents that found a rhythm at the right time.

“I don’t know what that means but it’s something that hopefully, we’ll be the guys going a long way when we beat certain teams in the first round,” Brodeur said.

There’s already a solid foundation in place for next season. The 2009-10 Devils racked up their fourth Atlantic Division title in five years, and Brodeur, who led the NHL with 45 victories and nine shutouts, believes the team is close to taking that next step.

“Our regular seasons are great, it’s just a matter of coming together at the right time of the season, of a playoff game,” he said. “A lot has to do with breaks. Seems that’s been tough on us. You have to create your own breaks. But you look at the Flyers, who were down 3-0 [to Boston in the second round], and overcame that, now have to overcome being down 2-1 in the series, you never know.

“We definitely know that we’re not far, but again, there’s a reason why we’re not here and the other teams are, and it’s up to the organization to try to find that answer for us.”

First on the to-do list is finding a replacement for Jacques Lemaire, who retired at the end of the season, ending a 17-year coaching career.

“Every year over the past few seasons we’ve been scratching our heads for that same decision, who’s going to be the next guy,” Brodeur said. “We’re trying to be consistent. We’ve been like that with our players, we need to start doing that with our coaches, also."

Brodeur, a veteran of 16 seasons, sees the next hire as an important decision for the organization, which will name its third coach in four seasons. Brent Sutter, Lemaire’s predecessor, departed after the 2008-09 campaign to return home to Alberta before taking the reins in Calgary.

“It’s not going to be something that Lou [Lamoriello] and the ownership is taking lightly,” Brodeur said. “I think it came as a shock to everybody that Jacques left us. It came as a shock that Brent left us. So now we’re up against the same situation again: to find somebody that can lead us to where we need to go.”

He continued: “Stability is where we built our success in New Jersey. We have to regain that.”
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