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Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Brodeur battling Blueshirts, demons

By Ian O'Connor
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- They did everything they could to haunt the old Devil, chanting his given name and posting the image of a ghost, Stephane Matteau, on a Garden scoreboard forever delivering bad news to the most prolific winner of them all.

Martin Brodeur, 40, had skated into this series with a 6-23-5 record against Henrik Lundqvist, the goaltender who didn't blink in Game 1. His competitive pride was hurt; it had to be. Brodeur wouldn't be human, and wouldn't have driven himself to a Hall of Fame career, if his wretched history against the New York Rangers and Lundqvist didn't cut him to the bone.

Martin Brodeur
Martin Brodeur bounced back in Game 2 at the Garden, evening the Devils' series with the Rangers at a game apiece.

You could hear it in his voice and see it in his quotes. He spoke of learning to hate the Rangers early in his career, even before the classic 1994 series that saw Mark Messier get him in Game 6 before Matteau got him in Game 7. Brodeur did what he could to apply pressure to Lundqvist, who had never before advanced to a conference final (even Carmelo Anthony had done that). The New Jersey Devils' three-time champ said, "I'll do my best to try to match up," and it sure sounded like a setup.

Brodeur even spoke of the big city as the last place a contented Jersey Guy would want to waste any of his time. It was a far cry from the day, in his relative youth, when someone in Times Square recognized him in his car. "I couldn't believe it," Brodeur excitedly told a reporter at the time. "First time that's happened in New York."

But all the postseason losing to the Rangers caught up to Brodeur, made him just another suburbanite who preferred his green grass and ample parking spaces. So this is how he spoke of the Garden on Wednesday night, after he made some circus saves out of his prime and beat Lundqvist, 3-2, in Game 2 to drag an all-square Eastern Conference final over to the Jersey side:

"It's a tough place to play. There's so many bad bounces. The ice is not good, the boards are awful, and the glass makes crazy bounces everywhere."

Yeah, he sounded a little like Jack Lemmon in "The Out-of-Towners."

Brodeur recovered a bit later on. "It's a great place to play playoff hockey," he said.

Especially when the Rangers are blocking 16 shots instead of 26, and when John Tortorella is benching Marian Gaborik in the third period for the apparent felony of failing to clear the puck.

Tortorella provided no answers in another embarrassing news conference performance, and Lundqvist was the goalie who coughed up the damning words. "They wanted it a little more," he said.

Maybe Brodeur wanted it and needed it more than anyone in the house. He wouldn't let those crazy Garden bounces do him in this time, even if one ricocheted off the boards, off Brodeur, and into the net to make it a 1-1 game.

"Went off my pad and my glove," he said. "I kicked it in myself."

Despite the setback, despite the chants, Brodeur remained committed to fighting the good fight. "Mentally," he said, "it's a tough game to play [in the Garden] because you really have to look at the puck all game long. But I feel pretty good whenever I win. Doesn't matter how I play."

He has played the game like no goaltender before him, winning 764 regular-season and postseason games. If Brodeur would've been a movie star as a Ranger, he didn't need the fuss. The masked man has been happy as the face of a faceless franchise.

The Devils made Brodeur the 20th pick of the 1990 draft because a scout, Warren Strelow, told Lou Lamoriello the prospect was better than Trevor Kidd, the goalie taken 11th. Ten years earlier Strelow had selected Jim Craig as Herb Brooks' goalie in Lake Placid. He knew what he was talking about.

Lamoriello's own scouting report on a teenage Brodeur read like this: "Extremely high athleticism. Natural talent. Good personality off the ice that carries through in his play." All these years later, Brodeur still honors those words.

His athleticism and talent conspired to stop Gaborik in the second period, right before Marc Staal's deflected shot into the boards found its way into the net. Brodeur lunged toward Gaborik, onto his belly, and threw up his legs in an act of desperation.

"I wanted to surprise him," Brodeur said. "But I didn't surprise him at all. He kind of looked at me and stopped and I saw him flip the puck and I just kind of kicked my leg back. I know I hit it, but I didn't know where the puck ended up. I stayed on my belly for a while just kind of looking for it."

It was an acrobatic play for a padded man of 20, never mind 40. "But they scored," Brodeur said, "so it doesn't really matter if I saved it or not."

The Rangers took the lead on another power-play goal from Chris Kreider, the kid just more than half Brodeur's age, and suddenly this series felt like it could be over before it crossed the Hudson. Only this wasn't the Brodeur who was pulled from Game 3 of the Florida series in the first round.

This was the Brodeur who made that incredible diving save on Staal in Game 1, the Brodeur who was done giving up goals in Game 2. The Devils scored on a pair of deflected shots and then held on.

"You're on your heels," said their coach, Pete DeBoer. "It's the third period. They're giving a push. I thought the third period was [Brodeur's] best, and that's when you need him to be his best."

Brodeur had caused something of a stir after his opening-night loss, after the Rangers had shot-blocked his team into oblivion. The losing goalie spoke of the potential "to hurt a few guys getting one-timers in the foot or head or something," a quote that caught fire.

As he headed for the Garden exit following his news conference, sucking down a soft drink in the hallway, Brodeur said, "I might not have used the proper words as far as what I wanted to say -- and you live and you learn -- but it didn't upset me at all. I've gone through these things a lot."

Brodeur has gone through everything, but he's never gone through the Rangers on the way to a Stanley Cup title. This is his chance. His last stand. His final shot at haunting the team and building and goaltender that have haunted him.