First-year Devils coach Peter DeBoer yanked the all-time leader in wins and shutouts halfway through that game, minutes after the Devils early 3-0 lead had vanished.
After the game, Brodeur said it wasn’t the first time he was ever pulled from a game, but it was the first time he could recall being replaced in a game where he wasn’t losing.
Two nights later, Brodeur made sure DeBoer — or anyone else — wouldn’t doubt him again.
In arguably his best performance of the entire postseason, Marty blanked the Panthers, turning away all 26 shots he faced in a 4-0 win for New Jersey in game four. The win also gave Brodeur another NHL record, passing long-time great Patrick Roy with his 24th career playoff shutout.
From that night on, the rest was history. In the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, Brodeur out-played Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov as the Devils washed down the Flyers in five games.
In the Eastern Conference Final, he continued his dominance. Despite being labeled as a heavy underdog against New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist, Brodeur let his play do the talking. In a six-game win to send New Jersey to their fifth Stanley Cup Final — and eliminate their Hudson River rival that had been atop the conference all season — the legendary goalie made two diving glove saves, a sprawling skate save in mid-air, and several Brodeur-esque plays along the way.
When New Jersey entered the playoffs, they were quickly written off by many, believing that Brodeur wasn’t the goalie that he used to be and that he wouldn’t be able to lead the Devils any further than the first round.
In the regular season, Marty ranked just 15th in the league with a 2.41 goals-against-average and 13th in wins with 31. He was injured early, and somewhat inconsistent later in the season, leading several to assume that he was on his last legs for the Devils.
And after his game three blunder, when all three goals were scored on just 12 shots, it seemed certain that his best days were behind him.
But, as it’s been his entire career, no one can close the book on Brodeur.
His playoff numbers were far from perfect — he finished seventh and eighth out of ten goalies in GAA and save percentage, respectively, but that doesn’t tell half the story.
In game seven against the Panthers, former Devil John Madden nearly buried home a game-winning goal during the first overtime period. With a seemingly empty net, Brodeur slid across the crease at the last minute to keep the game alive. The athletic move paid off, and it’s a move that butterfly goalies simply can’t make. About an hour later, New Jersey’s Adam Henrique won the game for the Devils, sending them to the second-round series against the Flyers.
In the Eastern Conference Final against New York, the Rangers came feet within scoring in the opening seconds of overtime in game six, but Brodeur turned away several chances at the net-mouth, keeping the Devils alive. They would, however, only need a few seconds longer, when Henrique scored another big goal, this time sending the sixth-seeded New Jersey to the Stanley Cup Final.
Brodeur admitted after the playoffs ended that he wasn’t sure how he was going to hold up during the two-month long adventure. He didn’t know if being 40, which he turned during the second round, would stop him from being the goalie he once was. Certainly, it would limit him, but he wasn’t sure if he wouldn’t be able to stop pucks the same way he always did.
Now, he knows.
After a raucous free-agent period in which Brodeur and his agent, Pat Brisson, fielded offers from other teams, the only goalie who has played in a playoff game as a teenager and a 40-year-old got the two-year deal that he wanted.
When the 2012-2013 season opens — if there is one — Brodeur will have a chance to do what he has done his entire career: play in front of a crowd and fanbase that adores him, and still be one of the best doing it.
And if the Devils reach the playoffs again, this time, his name won’t be used as a scapegoat.