NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Martin Brodeur has played in a deciding Game 7 of a playoff series eight times in his career with the New Jersey Devils and the prospect of another hasn’t changed the way the New Jersey Devils goaltender feels.
The 24 hours before the game are brutal. You know everything about your opponent. There is nothing more to study. There is only time to kill and butterflies to control.
That’s what Brodeur and probably everyone else on the Devils and Hurricanes was doing on Monday as Carolina and New Jersey waited for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference first-round series to be played Tuesday night at the Prudential Center.
Carolina forced a winner-take-all contest on Sunday night with a dominating 4-0 victory at home. It marked the third straight time the Hurricanes had bounced back from a loss to tie the series.
“You have to control your emotions,” Brodeur said. “It’s definitely a tough game to play, but they are fun. When you play and dream as a kid, you always get that situation you make up to be a Game 7. It’s nothing different when you have played for real. It’s still a game, you have to control everything inside.
“You can’t do too much and you can’t sit back either,” said Brodeur, who has led the Devils to three Stanley Cup titles, the last coming in 2003 in a Game 7 win over Anaheim. “The hardest part is now is waiting for the puck to drop. Whenever the puck drops, it’s just a hockey game.”
Picking a winner in this one is tough. The Devils dominated Game 1 in New Jersey. The Hurricanes dominated Game 6 in Raleigh. The other four games have been decided by a goal, with two in overtime and one in the final second of regulation.
“It’s been a series that has been all over the map,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said Monday. “That’s what has made it so exciting.”
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said that while he would hope his team had the momentum heading into the final game, he also realized that the way the series has gone, there is no momentum.
What he expects is excitement.
“There is nothing like it, even if you lose,” Maurice said. “It’s a completely different feeling. You never want that feeling to change. It’s as enjoyable as anything.”
This will be the 11th time the teams have met this season, and little separates them. Carolina has outscored New Jersey 13-12 in the series in which Brodeur and Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward have been spectacular.
The best players on the ice in Game 6 were Carolina center Eric Staal and forward Ray Whitney. Staal had two goals and an assists and linemate Whitney had three assists and a goal.
Maurice felt his team didn’t play a desperate game on Sunday nor does he want them to be that way in Game 7.
“Sure there was tension and nervousness, but I just wanted them to come out and play,” he said. “Now I want them to be excited about being part of a Game 7, and if you can’t enjoy it you shouldn’t be in the sport. I don’t want them comfortable, just excited to play.”
The Devils realize they have to play a lot better.
New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with a lower body injury, was confident the effort would be better.
“We’ve done that to ourselves all year round, from the start,” he said. “We had to dig ourselves out of situations. At the end of the year we had a little skid and had to battle back at the end to lock up things, and here it goes again. We haven’t taken an easy road yet and we keep testing ourselves.”
Veteran John Madden feels this team has character to battle back again.
“You have to go way beyond what you think your level is, and then some,” said Madden, who has played on two Cup winners in New Jersey. “It’s one game. You are playing for your life. There is no tomorrow.”
Ray Whitney said the Hurricanes also have veterans who know what it takes, having won the Cup in 2006. However, he noted this is a different team with a different coaching staff.
“It’s definitely exciting for us, it’s especially exciting because in January we were struggling and trying to get to .500,” he said. “I don’t think anyone even expected us to get to the playoffs and now we are one win away from the conference semifinal. We are excited but not satisfied. We have the opportunity to move on, but so do the Devils.”