More importantly, Brodeur’s vintage 31-save performance has the New Jersey Devils a game away from putting Vincent Lecavalier and the Tampa Bay Lightning out of the playoffs. Brodeur shook off a couple of shaky games to post his 22nd career shutout and got goals by Andy Greene, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez in a 3-0 victory on Friday night.
“He’s the best that ever played the game,” Devils captain Patrik Elias said. “He made some unbelievable saves early and I said: ‘This is it, he’s on top. He’s back tonight and we’re going to get it done.”‘
The Lightning didn’t make it easy. They outshot New Jersey 31-14 and had at least eight good scoring chances, and a couple of others taken away by some of the 20 shots the Devils blocked.
“I thought our survival mode was great,” said Brodeur, who gave up gave three goals in each of the first four games, including a few easy ones. “Guys in front did everything to block shots and get in the way of people. It made a big difference.”
The win gave the Devils a 3-2 lead in the entertaining first-round Eastern Conference series. Game 6 is Sunday afternoon in Tampa, Fla. A seventh game, if necessary, would be played in New Jersey on Tuesday night.
“What else can you say about our team,” Lightning defenceman Dan Boyle said. “If you lose, that’s the way you want to lose. We played hard, and a lot of people are probably counting us out. We play better that way. We’re looking forward to getting back on the ice.”
The game ended with two fights and Devils assistant coach John MacLean and Lightning coach John Tortorella screaming at each other from behind their respective benches.
It was only a sideshow to Brodeur’s heroics.
“It’s all about winning in the playoffs,” Brodeur said. “I’ve been advancing (on the record). It’s definitely nice, but for me it’s 22 wins with the 22 shutouts.”
The win was the 92nd of his playoff career, tying him for No. 2 with Grant Fuhr. Roy is first with 151.
After letting in some easy goals in the first four games, Brodeur looked like the goaltender who set a single-season record with 48 wins this season. He was sharp, in position and impregnable in posting his 22nd career playoff shutout.
Brodeur made a nice pad save in close on a short-handed shot by Ryan Craig in the first period and he was really on top of his game in the second, when Tampa Bay held a 14-7 advantage in shots.
With the Devils clinging to a 1-0 lead on Greene’s first playoff goal, Brodeur made consecutive stops in close on Andreas Karlsson and Tim Taylor before Devils defenceman Richard Matvichuk made a sliding block on Karlsson with the net open.
The 34-year-old Brodeur had the crowd chanting “Marty, Marty,” late in the second period when he stopped a spinarama move in close by Boyle, a point shot by Lecavalier, and then Martin St. Louis all alone in front with a poke-check the knocked the puck off his stick.
Less than a minute later, Brodeur stopped a rolling puck in the crease after it hit off Karlsson’s leg.
“We dominated them and can’t get a win,” Lightning centre Jason Ward said. “That’s Marty doing his thing. Hopefully, he won’t do that any more.”
Greene scored in the first period and Gionta tallied in the second. The Devils then laid back and let the Lightning come to them in the third period. The closest Tampa Bay came to a goal was when Lecavalier, who has five goals in the series, hit a post with less than five minutes to play.
Greene, a rookie who came up late in the year and had only one goal, gave New Jersey the lead midway in the first period with a shot from the left point through traffic in front of Lightning goaltender Johan Holmqvist.
Mike Rupp set up the shot by carrying the puck around the net and sending it to Greene.
Gionta scored halfway through the second period on a 2-on-1 break with Elias. Defenceman Brian Rafalski intercepted a pass at the Devils’ blue-line and snapped a pass to Gomez, who sent Gionta and Elias away.
Notes: Devils D Colin White missed his third straight game with a back injury. … A moment of silence was observed before the national anthem for the 32 students and teachers massacred at Virginia Tech earlier this week. Two one-person cheers came from the crowd: “Go Hokies” and “Hokies.” … After Gomez’s goal, Rupp and Andre Roy staged a big-time fight that ended with Rupp ripping off Roy’s jersey. Roy got a game misconduct. .. Nolan Pratt of Tampa Bay and Jamie Langenbrunner of New Jersey staged the second fight.