— LOS ANGELES - The man is 40. Not that 40 is so awful, mind you. A lot of fine men perform great feats at 40. Steve Carell’s character in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” finally got busy at that age. I once lifted 100 pounds straight up over my head at 40.
But not too many guys have to lift an entire hockey team from a 3-0 series hole by fending off flying rubber disks, getting knocked into by rushing brutes, and listening to derisive chants of “Mar-ty! Mar-ty!” from the local hordes. What is this anyway, the bus tunnel outside Madison Square Garden?
Martin Brodeur didn’t exactly hoist the New Jersey Devils out of that hole completely. But the veteran goaltender at least got them sitting up and breathing again. He only let one power-play goal trespass between his pipes, otherwise he was spotless, and as a result the Devils beat the Kings 3-1 at Staples Center in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday.
This game was supposed to be the night Los Angeles finally celebrated over hockey. There were concerns over riots, traffic snarls, parking shortages, mass quantities of adult beverages, all the trappings of a championship about to burst like a pinata. Instead, led by Brodeur, the party was pooped.
“I think we wanted to make them jump on a plane and come to New Jersey,” Brodeur said afterward. “We had to go anyway. Might as well get a game there.”
Brodeur is a three-time Stanley Cup champ, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. But this series has been about Jonathan Quick, and with good reason. The kid has been beyond exceptional. Yet Wednesday Quick had an off night by elite goalie standards, allowing an ordinary goal off a good shot by New Jersey’s Adam Henrique at 15:29 of the third period, giving New Jersey a 2-1 lead. The Devils finished off the night with an empty netter.
At the other end, Brodeur sparkled. Actually, he has played well throughout the series, his Devils teammates just failed to do their part offensively in support. Even in Game 3, a 4-0 rout, two of the four were power-play goals he had little chance on. The Anze Kopitar breakaway in OT of Game 1 wasn’t his fault. The Jeff Carter ripper that won Game 2 was nearly perfect and nearly impossible to stop.
Quick has been superior. But Brodeur has been almost as good. And if this victory causes the Devils to exclaim, “I want to live!” and play a maniacal Game 5 on Saturday night in Newark, then the 40-year-old goaltender might be able to add “Puck CPR” to his considerable skill set.
“I think he's played great the whole series, the whole playoffs,” said Henrique, a 22-year-old rookie. “He's a huge reason why we're here. He took us to overtime the first two games, gave us a chance to win those ones. He kept us in it from start to finish. He made some great plays, some great saves. It's what we've come to expect from him. He's a huge reason why we're here.”
The Kings remain in command. In fact, they might be better off heading to Jersey for Game 5. Remember, they’re a record 10-0 on the road in these playoffs. They like the road. They like the little soaps in the hotel bathrooms, they like strange tarmacs, they like visitors’ lockerrooms. They feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. They like to live out of duffel bags.
So even though the Devils managed to avoid the broom Wednesday night, they’re still three victories away from the Stanley Cup. The team they have to defeat each time has a hot goaltender and lots of talented guys who, if you listen to most of the toothless former players who offer up analysis these days, should have the edge.
But there’s Marty, with his “one game at a time” approach and his sunny outlook. In a sport in which most of the players are humble and straightforward, but also a tad challenged in the personality department, the relatively bubbly Brodeur is a refreshing presence.
“We're pretty happy to live another day,” he said. “There's no doubt about that. We just wanted to play well, give everything we had, and see where that's going to bring us. Again, we were able to win. We're pretty happy about it. But we know that the road ahead is the most difficult that we could face. So we're taking it a day at a time.
“But it was fun to win. It's been three games we played well and no result. Regardless of what happened next game, at least we won one game. We're definitely happy about the way everything unfolded for us today.”
Goaltenders are idiosyncratic. They’re the only two players on the ice with their own water bottles, since they can’t really leave. They don’t have as much contact with opponents as their forwards and defensemen, but when they do, they react like brawlers. They have personalized masks, quite a departure from what Jason Voorhees wore in “Friday the 13th.”
They also have the uncanny ability to create misperceptions of themselves. For instance, the sight of Brodeur on the ice in Monday’s Game 3, looking defeated, as the Kings pummeled him with four goals, left the impression that he failed. But he was just a goaltender, doing his best, relying on the guys in front of him, who didn’t come through.
Then there was the Brodeur of Wednesday night’s Game 4, which was more like it. That was Brodeur stopping 21 of 22 shots, some of them beauties by the Kings. Yes, perception-wise at least, it seemed like the Kings created better opportunities, and Brodeur did a masterful job of erasing them.
It also seems like the Devils now have a little more hope, thanks in large part to their 40-year-old dude in goal.