OTTAWA (CP) - Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery bristled somewhat this week at suggestions that it's him versus New Jersey counterpart Martin Brodeur in the second round of the NHL playoffs.
Like it or not, however, the 24-year-old will have to live with being measured against the Devils great for the duration of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series. "Two goalies are always going to be looked at head-to-head," Senators centre Jason Spezza said Tuesday following Ottawa's practice in preparation for Game 1 on Thursday night.
And Spezza has no doubt Emery can match Brodeur, a future Hall of Famer, save for save.
"Definitely," said Spezza, who's also one of Emery's close friends off the ice. "Ray's got a lot of confidence and I think that's it's probably good for him to put him against Marty Brodeur because this is his time to shine.
"If he can show people that he can beat the best in the world, he'll get a lot of respect around the league and I think he deserves that respect."
Without having stopped a puck yet against the Devils, Emery has already been the focus of the media in Ottawa this week.
Late in Monday's practice, he was stung by a shot to his catching hand and left early, although both he and Senators coach Bryan Murray dismissed the idea that he had aggravated an injury suffered earlier this season.
Emery made it through the entire practice Tuesday, but shooters appeared to keep away from his glove side.
"I can't say that I saw that," Murray said coyly. "But maybe they did."
The native of Cayuga, Ont., near Hamilton, left without speaking to reporters afterward, perhaps hoping to avoid the conversation altogether.
He'd already stated Monday that he'd be in goal for Game 1 at Continental Airlines Arena, where he'll put his nine career playoff wins up against Brodeur's 93, but doesn't think the matchup should be the focal point of the series.
"You definitely want to outperform the other guy, but I think you saw in the last series we're really playing as a team right now," he said. "It's just a team effort, not so much individual battles."
When it comes to talking about any series involving the Devils, however, it's impossible not to bring up the 34-year-old, three-time Stanley Cup-champion Brodeur and his opponent at the other end.
Last round it was Tampa Bay's Johan Holmqvist. In this case, it's Emery.
"I never think it's fair that way, but there's no question the goaltenders are priority people in this series," Murray said. "It's a situation where if Ray plays as well as Marty, he's going to get lots of recognition for it."
Emery won plenty of plaudits after going 33-16-6 with five shutouts during the regular season, but is still proving he can deliver the goods in the playoffs.
He was solid in helping the Senators knock off Pittsburgh in five games, but didn't have to do a whole lot at times against the overmatched Penguins.
Ottawa can take some of the heat off him with a similarly strong overall performance against New Jersey.
"Bryan has got them playing a team concept," Devils coach and general manager Lou Lamoriello said Tuesday during a conference call. "Their overall balance and their completeness are going to be a challenge."
The challenge for the always-flashy Emery, who's even standing out away from the ice during this Senators' playoff run since he's taken to driving an exotic Lamborghini to the rink, will be remaining a cool customer under the glare of the spotlight in the series.
Spezza, for one, is confident Emery will be up to the task.
"He's a big-game guy," Spezza said. "He likes the challenge. Even though we don't want it to be Ray against Marty, I think that, deep down, he doesn't mind the matchup."
Meanwhile, the Senators said they'll try to make things tough on Brodeur by trying to create traffic in front and throwing as many shots as possible on
net. They'll also try to get him moving laterally.
"Side-to-side plays will be big for us," Spezza said.
Ottawa noticed the Lightning had some success early on in Round 1 against the Devils with shots from sharp angles that seemed to catch Brodeur off guard.
"I thought (Vincent) Lecavalier and (Martin) St. Louis shot the puck a ton, a couple of times they got him moving laterally," Murray said. "They were able to make seam passes on the power play. I don't know if that's something that we'll have the ability to or not. They're kind of special players.
"Dany Heatley's one guy on the team that, if he gets that kind of pass, might be able to beat him. That will be our plan."