PLAYOFF HOCKEY isa rite of spring for New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, and becausethe Devils make their players stay in hotels during the postseason even whenplaying at home, so are meals with his teammates. "You see the guys atbreakfast, lunch, dinner," Brodeur says. "They become your family. Butyou also want to see your kids, so you just want to finish the seriesquickly." Brodeur did his part last Saturday, helping New Jersey complete afour-game sweep of the New York Rangers with a 4-2 win in Madison SquareGarden. He has now backstopped the Devils to 15 straight victories dating backto March 28, and there is no doubt that he is the most feared goalie in theplayoffs. "His net gets smaller when the games get bigger," saysRangers forward Jaromir Jagr.
Brodeur, whoturns 34 this Saturday, is second among active goaltenders in career postseasonappearances (148) and on Saturday started in his 137th straight playoff game,breaking Patrick Roy's NHL record for netminders. His career postseason wins(88), shutouts (21) and Stanley Cups (3) exceed those of the other 15 Game 1starters combined. "There's a confidence the guys have in Marty that letsthem play their game," says Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey's coach and generalmanager.
Sweeping theRangers was especially satisfying for Brodeur. Although he has long dominatedthe Blueshirts in the regular season (he had a 23-game unbeaten streak againstNew York from 1997 to 2001), he was 0-3 in playoff series against them."All my neighbors are Rangers fans," says Brodeur who raised his armsin an uncharacteristic show of emotion as Game 4 ended. "My kid's coach isa Rangers fan. Everywhere I look there are Rangers fans. Anybody in ourdressing room who says it isn't extra sweet to beat them is lying."
Only in NewJersey's team-first system could a player of Brodeur's stature be so easilytaken for granted. Though he surrendered just four goals in four games againstthe Rangers, Brodeur wasn't named the first or second star in any of thevictories. Still, his very presence gives the Devils much of their postseasonpoise. "Marty's like the thing in the commercial, the easy button,"says forward Scott Gomez. "If we do miss assignments and the play breaksdown, we know we have Marty to bail us out."
'TENDER MOMENT Stops like these are why Brodeur led playoff goalies with a .965 save percentage through Sunday.