Work in Sports
Make or break time
Brodeur fighting for name he earned
Posted: Monday May 22, 2000 01:02 PM
By Kostya Kennedy, Sports Illustrated
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A single playoff season can make a goaltender's reputation. New Jersey's Martin Brodeur established his during his spectacular rookie run of 1994 when he took the Devils to the conference finals.
A year later, Brodeur built on his own good name, leading the Devils to the Stanley Cup. He was unflappable. He wasn't just good enough to win with -- he could carry you through the toughest part of the year.
Now, unless Brodeur can rebound from the mess he's gotten his team into, that reputation will unravel, just as Brodeur is unraveling against the Flyers. The Flyers beat the Devils 3-1 in Game 4, sending New Jersey coach Larry Robinson into a violent tirade. So angry was Robinson that you could hear his post-game screams through the cinder block walls of the dressing room and 40 feet down the hall. Turns out Robinson also kicked over a garbage can to help accentuate his points.
The coach was angry at much more than his goalie. The Devils played an unfathomably careless third period, coughing up the puck again and again. Yet Robinson and everyone else in that locker room knew that if Brodeur were having any kind of series, the Devils wouldn't be in this situation at all. After Philadelphia spanked the Devils 4-2 in Game 3, Brodeur opined that he has played his, "worst game of the playoffs" and said "I have to play better than [Flyers goalie Brian] Boucher."
He certainly did not outplay Boucher in Game 4. In the first period Brodeur's pass from behind the net went straight to Philadelphia's Simon Gagne on the left wing. Gagne's shot was deflected by Mark Recchi and beat Brodeur, short side, before he could get back into position. Late in the second period, Brodeur made another bad pass, sending the puck straight to the Flyers' Keith Primeau.
For much of the game Brodeur was rarely tested -- the Flyers had only 12 shots through two periods. And when the Devils needed him to be great late, he did not respond. "It's not just Marty," said New Jersey winger Randy McKay after the game. "We all have to play better and not make mistakes."
That's true, and the second and third goals were the fault of the Devils negligent defense. Yet a team that hopes to win a Cup must be able to ride their goalie from time to time. The Devils have not been able to that in the postseason for years.
Brodeur had a typically excellent regular season this year, leading the league in victories. We have come to be suspect of such success, to wonder what it means come the buds of May.
Before these playoffs Brodeur had won exactly one post-season series since he hoisted the Cup. This year, he and the Devils manhandled the outclassed Panthers in Round One. Brodeur also won the second round, but in it he was the second best goalie to the Maple Leafs Curtis Joseph . After the loss tonight Brodeur said. "I felt good. I made mis-pass on the first goal but the score doesn't show that I kept the team in the game for as long as I did."
Ever since his early success, Brodeur has been easily mentioned among the upper echelon of goaltenders, lumped in with Dominik Hasek , Patrick Roy and Eddie Belfour . Now, unless Brodeur turns his season around in the next three games, unless he shows some of the big-save magic upon which he founded his reputation years ago, you won't be hearing his name in that group any longer. Brodeur will have an entirely different reputation about him.
Sports Illustrated staff writer Kostya Kennedy is covering the Stanley Cup playoffs for the magazine. He will check in periodically with postcards from the edge of the action.