Now the New Jersey Devils are gone in the second round.
After the Devils took an early lead in a one-sided first period, Brodeur was bombarded by three Ottawa goals on 19 shots in the middle frame, and the Senators went on to a 3-2 victory in Game 5 that knocked the Devils out of the post-season Saturday.
Brodeur dominated during the season, winning 48 times in an astonishing 78 games – sitting out only four. At 34, Brodeur looked as good as ever. He wiped Bernie Parent’s 33-year-old record for victories in a season out of the books, fell one short of Grant Fuhr’s mark for appearances, and posted a career-high 12 shutouts.
All that, along with a 2.18 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, made him a finalist to be the NHL MVP and the top goalie in the league. But none of it mattered much in what has become the real season in New Jersey – the playoffs.
The Devils are used to carrying the Stanley Cup, winning three times between 1995 and 2003. Now they carry the burden of three straight seasons without getting to the conference finals.
Brodeur began showing flaws during the first-round series against Tampa Bay. He allowed three goals in each of the first four games, earning a split. He bounced back in the final two matchups of the series by blanking the Lightning in Game 5 and yielding two goals on 34 shots in the clincher.
That set up the second-round series with the Senators, who jumped on the Devils right away in the opener. Ottawa came to New Jersey and played every bit like the team that earned 105 points in the regular season, two fewer than the Devils – the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference based on their Atlantic Division title.
The Devils were outscored 15-11 in the series.
“You pay the price when you don’t score goals also,” Brodeur said. “Everything was magnified. It’s fun that we’re in a position that people can complain about our game. A lot of teams don’t have that chance. So people expect a lot.”
In the first period of the first game, the Senators stormed to a 4-0 lead before holding on for a 5-4 victory. Brodeur switched to new pads, glove and blocker for Game 2 and stopped 32 of 33 shots in a double-overtime victory last Saturday.
But bad-angle goals in each game in Ottawa led to consecutive Devils losses and sent Brodeur and his teammates back to New Jersey all but out of the series.
“I have to be the best I can be,” Brodeur said Friday after the Devils’ final practice of the season. “I have to be the best player out there. We have to have that attitude if we want to move on.”
He didn’t come close. Some thought Brodeur might be injured, but he refuted that, saying he felt 100 per cent. The Devils just couldn’t get it done.
“We had a chance to take over that series and we just didn’t,” Brodeur said.
Only one of Ottawa’s three goals Saturday could really be blamed on the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, but hockey fans have grown accustomed to watching Brodeur steal games in the playoffs.
“That’s part of hockey,” forward Jamie Langenbrunner said. “I don’t think any of us are questioning Marty.”
Antoine Vermette tipped a shot past him to tie it 1-1 at 5:19 of the second. Jason Spezza put the Senators ahead for good 6:47 later with a shot from the left circle that sailed by Brodeur and clanked in off the right post during a power play.
The worst of the bunch came with 2:32 remaining in the period when Daniel Alfredsson sent a seemingly tame shot between his pads.
“There were a lot of fluke goals all throughout the playoffs and you’d love to have them back,” Brodeur said. “It’s not like I go out there and don’t try my best. Sometimes your best is just not good enough.”
“All my efforts and in everything that I did … technically I was sound and I did what I wanted to do. But you find them at the end at the bottom of the net a few times.”
Brodeur got into some trouble after Game 4 when he said the Devils “exposed” Ottawa goalie Ray Emery. But it is Emery, who has 81 fewer playoff victories than Brodeur’s 94, moving onto the conference finals.
Brodeur has started 153 consecutive playoff games for New Jersey. The count won’t continue until at least next year.