-- If you're looking for scapegoats in New Jersey's stunning Game 7 meltdown against the Hurricanes, coach Brent Sutter
says that the crease is the wrong place to focus.
Yes, Marty Brodeur was the man in net when Carolina scored twice in the final 80 seconds in Tuesday night's Game 7 to go from a long plane ride into summer to a second-round date with the top-seeded Boston Bruins
. But he was not the one to blame for those goals -- daggers to the heart delivered by Jussi Jokinen
and Eric Staal
just 48 seconds apart that gave Carolina an improbable 4-3 victory.
Brodeur also is the goalie who gave up the winning goal in Game 4 with just 00.2 seconds left and allowed four goals in a Game 6 demolition in Raleigh. Still, Sutter had no qualms with the player who defines his franchise.
"Marty played exceptional," Sutter said of Brodeur's Tuesday night performance. Brodeur stopped the first 10 shots of the third period as the Devils tried to withstand a final, desperate push from a Carolina team facing extinction. But nobody will remember those saves, including a sweet glove save on a Sergei Samsonov
wrist shot with 3:43 remaining that had the Prudential Center crowd chanting, "Marty, Marty."
Instead Brodeur will be remembered for the goals he allowed on Carolina's final two shots of the game, an ignominious end to a season of greatness from Brodeur as he set the NHL record for most wins by a goalie, passing Patrick Roy
's mark of 551 victories on St. Patrick's Day in this very same building.
"It's shocking," said Brodeur, who finished with 27 saves. "I thought we did everything we could. We worked really hard in this game. Guys performed really well, and have nothing to be ashamed about losing like that."
Brodeur had no chance on the tying goal, a one-timer from Jokinen that banked off the inside of his leg pad as he tried to go post-to-post to cover the pass from Joni Pitkanen
at the left point to Jokinen on the right of Brodeur's crease.
On the winning goal, Brodeur said Staal made a perfect shot -- and that he wouldn't change a thing.
"I was in good position," Brodeur said. "He made a better shot. (He) beat me. I was right where I was supposed to be. This player with that much speed, they are going to make some shots, you know?"
Sutter would have liked to see his team do some things differently in Game 7, though. The coach said he understands that the 'Canes would come with a frantic push in the game's final five minutes. But, he doesn't believe his team handled that push well, sitting back and absorbing too much.
"I don't think we handled it too well for an experienced team," Sutter said.
Jokinen's goal was a perfect example. The Devils couldn't clear the puck despite several chances to do so. Granted, Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason
made a spectacular play just before the goal to dive and keep the puck in at the blue line before, from his knees, passing the puck to Pitkanen to start the scoring sequence. Gleason's dive and pass negated the desperation dive by Devils' captain Jamie Langenbrunner
, who tried to push the puck past the blue line and alleviate the unrelenting pressure.
With Langenbrunner lying on the ice by the blue line, the Devils lost their posture in the defensive zone and Pitkanen was able to find a seam through which to feed Jokinen the puck.
"We were playing well, we were really eliminating their chances and we got caught out there," Langenbrunner said. "We couldn't get it out of the zone and we couldn't cover the puck. We got caught running around a bit at the end of it and they made us pay for it.
"Hindsight and I say I should have just backed off on (Gleason), but that is what happens when you get caught out there for a long time -- you sometimes make a questionable decision you may not do if you are fresh."
More questionable decisions came on Staal's winner. On that play, the Devils allowed Carolina's most dangerous scorer to get a full head of steam and barrel down the right side before placing a wrister through what Brodeur called the "dreaded 7-hole."
"That is one of the things we wanted to make sure we do against him keep him from skating at full speed because he is a hard guy to handle," Brodeur said.
For 59 minutes, the Devils denied Staal the space to pick up speed, holding him without a shot in the first two periods. In the 60th minute, they lost their focus -- and their season.
"We didn't read the situation right," Sutter said. "Stuff we didn't want to do, we did."
Now the Devils will have to pick up the pieces of their shattered season. A first-round loss is not acceptable for a team that was loaded with veterans and dominated the Atlantic Division for much of the campaign -- even with Brodeur missing 50 games with an arm injury.
Brodeur tried to put it all in perspective in the aftermath of one of the most difficult losses of his career. But it wasn't easy. In the end, he found solace by deciding it wasn't meant to be.
"We felt we had a great opportunity to be successful with the way we were playing," Brodeur said. "We just played a team that was playing as well as us. We just played a team that matched us toe-to-toe and that is why it became such a great game in Game 7."