Final run proved to Brodeur he still has what it takes
NEWARK, N.J. -- Martin Brodeur had to do it himself for him to believe he should still be doing it at all.
Forget about the critics, the ones who looked at his age, 40, as a reason why he couldn't be a top-flight goalie in the National Hockey League anymore. This was about Brodeur seeing for himself and convincing himself that his instincts, his flexibility, reflexes, and his mental and physical stamina were still good enough to make him good enough.
"It's the reason why I'm back," Brodeur told NHL.com.
It's the reason why at 40 he's embracing a new NHL season, his 19th since becoming a No. 1 goalie, with the same vigor, enthusiasm, hope and drive that he had when he was a 21-year-old rookie.
Goalie - NJD
GAA: 2.41 | SVP: 0.908
Brodeur is seven months removed from a run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final that nobody saw coming and many thought would never happen again for the future Hall of Famer. He flopped, flailed, challenged and dazzled the Devils past the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and his own nemesis, the New York Rangers, before finally meeting his match in the Los Angeles Kings.
He held on in Games 6 and 7 so the Devils could beat the Panthers in overtime both nights. He made 43 saves in Game 7.
Brodeur won twice at Wells Fargo Center, each time giving up only a single goal to the offensive-minded Flyers.
He held the Rangers to two goals or less in five of six games.
He even helped the Devils come close to erasing a 3-0 deficit to the Kings by putting together a pair of scintillating performances in Games 4 and 5.
Fourteen playoff victories, the most Brodeur has had since winning his third Stanley Cup in 2003, were met with a 2.12 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. More importantly, Brodeur's playoff revival was met with his own realization that he can still do this, that 40 really is just a number, that he is good enough.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello recognized it as well by offering Brodeur the two-year contract he demanded on July 1. Brodeur had other offers he was seriously considering taking before Lamoriello came through with the only offer Brodeur actually wanted to receive.
He'll make his 18th straight opening-night start for the Devils on Saturday against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
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"Two years ago when we missed the playoffs, with the way everything was happening with the coaching, I was like, 'I don't know if I want to go through this again,'" Brodeur said. "But I had one year [left on my contract] and said, 'I'll play it out and we'll see.' That's why I didn't commit to play again until [after the 2011-12 season].
"I got that winning feeling again, giving big performances at big times, clutch times -- the two overtime games against Florida, beating the Flyers twice in their building, beating the Rangers. I was like, 'Wow, we're still able to do this.'"
Notice how he doesn't say "I was still able to do this."
Brodeur credits the run to the Final last season to the team in front of him and the goalie behind him.
"I know I can't carry a team. I've never really carried a team," Brodeur said. "I'm just a goalie that gives the team I play for a really good chance. When you play with a good team that becomes dangerous, because you have that backbone behind you with me and Heddy [Johan Hedberg]. The sky becomes the limit. We showed that last year."
Hedberg, 39, has given the Devils lights-out goaltending when called upon for the last two seasons, which means Brodeur no longer carries the weight of having to be great all the time.
Brodeur also doesn't carry the responsibility of having to play all the time.
"It's one thing to put a guy in and just hope; with the guy we put in we have enough chances to win just as if I was playing," Brodeur said. "When the burden is every time you're in there you have to win, that's tough. Now mentally I have that break because I know he's going to play and he's going to get his fair share of wins also."
Even in a truncated 48-game season, Brodeur expects Hedberg to play a lot.
He's pretty much banking on Hedberg playing at minimum 10 games because Devils coach Peter DeBoer likely won't play Brodeur in any back-to-backs this season. He doesn't see the need for it and Brodeur is completely on board, saying even if DeBoer offered him all the games he'd probably decline.
"In my mind we have two starting goaltenders, and when you're playing 48 games in 100 days or less I think the teams that are able to play both goaltenders without worrying about the level falling off from your starter to your backup are at a distinct advantage," DeBoer said. "I think we're in that situation here."
They are because seven months ago Brodeur proved to himself that he still belongs in that blue paint.
Yes, he's 40. But yes, he should still be doing this.
"Age is a number," Brodeur said. "Anybody that gets old in life always says that. Athletes are the same way. I think physically, if you're fit to play and with the experience I have, I don't think anything changes that much."