NEWARK, N.J. - With Martin Brodeur nearing his 40th birthday and entering the final year of his contract, this season at first had the look of a last hurrah for the New Jersey Devils' goalie great.
Well, the hurrah part was right.
It's been one hurrah after another, reaching a high point Friday night. Brodeur made 33 saves to help the Devils defeat the rival New York Rangers 3-2 in overtime in Game 6 to advance to the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings. Game 1 will be Wednesday in New Jersey.
After the Devils missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1996, no one might have been put under the microscope more than Brodeur. Longtime president and general manager Lou Lamoriello certainly had questions to answer after the early-season stumble under new coach John MacLean, but Brodeur was the focal point after a so-so season nagged by injuries.
Now at 40, he's back after outdueling Henrik Lundqvist in the first Eastern Conference finals between the teams since their memorable showdown in 1994. New York won that one in seven games with Stephane Matteau scoring the series-clincher in double overtime.
Rookie Adam Henrique did the honours for New Jersey on Friday night with a shot from just about the same spot where Matteau scored, from the right edge of the crease.
"It's been a lot of fun this season, playing on a really good team, and I'm enjoying this ride," Brodeur said. "And I know what I can do, try to compete as hard as I can every night and try to give these guys a chance to win hockey games. And they've been scoring a lot of goals for me in the playoffs so far, and it's been great."
Brodeur was the difference in the Devils' wins in Games 5 and 6, when the Rangers controlled most of the play in the final two periods.
"He was outstanding, all playoffs," Devils forward David Clarkson said. "He kept us in games, stood on his head. It's amazing to see what he's doing right now and our bench just feeds off it."
Brodeur was at his best Friday with the game tied 2-all in the third period. He stopped a power-play shot by Brad Richards while prone on the ice and made a save on a shot by Artem Anisimov from between the circles. He also used his stick to poke check the puck off Anisimov's stick on a semi breakaway and again used his stick to deflect a pass from the boards by Carl Hagelin in the final minute of regulation just before it got to Marian Gaborik on the edge of the crease.
"Actually, it was fun," Brodeur said. "But at the end of the day, we were in a position that the next goal is going to win. So in my head, the overtime started in the third period. And that's the way I approached the third period coming in. So every save was important. Every shot that we took on Lundqvist was important."
Lamoriello enjoyed it, too. Any win over the Rangers is a good one for Lou.
"It was two competitive teams that worked very hard at their game and paid a price for success," Lamoriello said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Saturday. "This was a very competitive series. Put aside the rivalry, it was a competitive series."
He scoffed when asked about Brodeur performing so well at 40. He pointed out that some 30-year-old people act like they are 50, and vice versa. He said the same holds true for athletes, adding athleticism and genetics also play a part.
"(Brodeur) is just a real thoroughbred athlete," Lamoriello said. "He loves the game. His mind is 100 per cent there and he feels good. It's Mariano Rivera."
Brodeur refused to compare this Devils team to the ones that won Cups in 1995, 2000 and '03, or to the one that lost the Cup in seven games to Colorado in 2001.
"Every team writes its own story," the Montreal native said. "I was fortunate to be part of great teams that had success, and I was part of great teams that didn't have success. ... It's not just a one-man show out there. A lot of guys are contributing, and there's a good feeling. But until you finish out these playoffs, we'll see then."
Up next will be the Kings. They have posted a 12-2 record in beating Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix, the top three seeds in the Western Conference.
The Devils were given Saturday and Sunday off while the coaches worked on their game plan.
"They have played well at home and away and we just have to take a step back," Lamoriello said. "We haven't seen much of them except the games on TV."