Brodeur is clutch when it counts

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Back in 1990, when the Devils wanted to select a goaltender with their first pick in that draft, GM Lou Lamoriello dispatched then-goaltending coach Warren Strelow to Canada to watch two junior-aged goalies -- Trevor Kidd and Martin Brodeur.

Strelow stood directly behind each young stopper for five junior games. "I thought he was stalking me," jokes Brodeur.

When Strelow returned from his trip, he had this advice for Lamoriello: Take Brodeur. With that in mind, Lamoriello traded down -- allowing the Flames to select the more celebrated Kidd with the 13th pick -- and tabbed Brodeur with the 20th overall selection.

Thirteen years and two Stanley Cups later, Strelow's sound advice remains solid gold in New Jersey.

On Saturday afternoon, Brodeur again proved to be the better goalie, leading the Devils to a 5-2 win over the Senators at the Continental Airlines Arena. The Devils can earn another trip to the Cup final -- their third in four years -- with a win in Ottawa on Monday night.

In Game 4, though, the Devils were on the ropes for the first 40 minutes. But, as usual in a big game, Brodeur was there to keep things close.

"Without (Brodeur), where we would be," said Devils coach Pat Burns. "When we make mistakes, he fixes them. He makes big saves at the right time."

Brodeur's most acrobatic save of the day came early in the second period. With the score tied 1-1, Senators left wing Magnus Arvedson found himself with time and space and the puck right in front of Brodeur.

The Swedish-born forward deked Brodeur to the ice and moved to his forehand. Brodeur seemed beaten on the play, but he didn't give up. Instead, he desperately flung his catching glove hand up like a shortstop backhanding a grounder in the hole. The move forced Arvedson to double clutch a little on his shot, which deflected harmlessly off Brodeur's glove and elbow.

"That kind of play happens in slow motion for me," said Brodeur, who finished with 26 saves. "I was down on the ice and just stretching as far as I could. Finally, I just threw my glove up and closed my eyes. I got a piece of the shot and we were able to clear the loose puck."

Later, at 7:08 of the second period, the Sens did break through to take a 2-1 lead when left wing Vaclav Varada beat Brodeur to the short side. But Senators goalie Patrick Lalime couldn't make it stand up.

In the final minutes of the middle period, Lalime allowed Devils left wing Jay Pandolfo -- who has suddenly found a scoring touch -- to flutter a knuckle-puck of a shot under his stick arm and into the net.

It was the kind of soft goal you just can't give up in a big game. It was the kind of soft goal that Brodeur rarely surrenders in a big moment.

And, it was definitely the kind of soft goal that deflates a team.

"That goal -- after we were playing so well -- did take a little air out of us," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was in the penalty box for both of the Devils' power-play goals and lost the puck in his skates on a play that led to a short-handed goal again in the final period.

Early in the third period, just two minutes after the Devils had taken a 3-2 lead on a power-play goal by Jeff Friesen, Brodeur came up with a game and maybe series-winning save on super-skilled right wing Martin Havlat.

The lanky Czech-born forward had walked around Devils defender Colin White and needed just to beat Brodeur to tie the game. Havlat moved to his backhand and tried to throw the puck over Brodeur's left shoulder. Instead, the puck hit Brodeur just above the large Devils' logo in the middle of his jersey.

"I didn't think he was going to try to go back to his forehand, so I was playing him to shoot from that side," Brodeur said. "I don't think he got the shot where he wanted to. I just tried to stay with him on the play."

Later in the period, after the Devils had cemented the victory with a pair of insurance goals from Patrik Elias and John Madden, the sellout crowd serenaded their hero with chants of "Marty's better."

Luckily for them, Warren Strelow knew that a long time ago.

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.