Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is defined by his record-breaking numbers —1,191 games played, 656 career victories, 119 shutouts, 14 seasons with 30 or more wins. But there is one number he hasn't let define him: his age.
Brodeur's play since he turned 40 on May 6—including a birthday-night 4--2 victory over the Flyers in Game 4 and a series-clinching 3--1 win two nights later, which sent New Jersey to its first conference finals since 2003—proves he belongs on the ice as much as any young netminder in hockey.
After holding court for 20 minutes in the New Jersey dressing room following the Game 5 win on May 8, Brodeur lifted himself out of his seat, placed a hand on his back and let out a small but audible groan. This is really when he feels his 40 years. "When you have a puck coming at you at 100 miles per hour, how old you are is the least of your worries," he says, laughing.
His years do sometimes show on the ice, especially in the rebounds he allows on shots that a younger Brodeur might have smothered. He gave up a gift goal to Philly's Danny Briere during the Devils' 4--3 overtime win in Game 3, when James van Riemsdyk threw the puck at the net from the left circle and a handcuffed Brodeur let it fall softly in front of the net for an easy put-back.
"When we played the trap before and played a defensive system, everything slowed down a lot and you knew exactly [what was going to happen]," says Brodeur, who started his first game for Jersey in 1992. "Our system [now], it's a lot of puck possession. We pressure the puck everywhere, and it's a fun game to play because you never know what's going to happen."
With the Devils tied with the Kings as the top-scoring playoff team left after two rounds (3.00 goals per game), the pressure on Brodeur isn't as intense as it used to be. (He has suffered two 1--0 overtime losses in the Stanley Cup finals in his career.) "Now I sit back, and I don't feel I need to make a difference every single game," he says. "For whatever reason, I'm less nervous now than I was, maybe, five or six years ago."
Brodeur's contract expires on July 1, and though the idea of going out on top might seem fitting, he has intimated he isn't ready to hang up his pads just yet. New Jersey G.M. Lou Lamoriello only says, "Marty will be a Devil as long as he wants to be."
For any NHL goalie, age is more than just a number. But Brodeur is finding that 40 suits number 30 just fine.
ERICK W. RASCO
SAVE FACE Brodeur celebrated his 40th by backstopping New Jersey past the Flyers.
[See caption above]