In 1995 Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, then 22 and in his second NHL season, led New Jersey to the Stanley Cup title and made a reputation for himself as a guy you wanted in the net with the season on the line. Since then, as Brodeur has made four All-Star teams and put up among the best regular-season numbers in the league, he has occupied a special place in the minds of the hockey cognoscenti. "If you could have any goalie for the playoffs except Dominik Hasek," one hockey insider would ask another, "who would it be?" The answer invariably would be Brodeur.
When the question arises this summer, other names might come first. Take away 1995, when he went 16-4 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .927 save percentage during the postseason, and Brodeur is now an unseemly 18-22 in the playoffs. This year he and the Devils were upset in the first round for the second straight season. In this spring's seven-game loss to the Penguins, Brodeur allowed 20 goals on 139 shots for an .856 save percentage, the worst of any full-time playoff goalie this season.
Brodeur's postseason reputation was founded as much on his unflappability as on his skill. Yet after losing to Pittsburgh, he sounded as if the pressure of playing for a top-seeded team had rattled him. "It's a lot easier when you're not expected to win," he said, recalling that New Jersey had come into the 1995 playoffs as a fifth seed. "Maybe that's what went wrong."
For all the Devils' failure, if Brodeur had been able to bar the door in just one match, they would still be alive. "Every team needs its goalie to steal a playoff game or two along the way," says New Jersey defenseman Ken Daneyko. "If we'd made it to the second round, Marty probably would have done that. He's still an elite guy?'
Maybe, but for the moment he's not as elite as he used to be.
Where Are the Pittsburgh Fans?
On Sunday, May 2, the Penguins trailed the Devils 3-2 in a first-round postseason series and were playing Game 6 at home in the afternoon. Despite the well-publicized possibility that the match could have been the last in Pittsburgh for the 32-year-old franchise, the crowd of 15,376 fell well short of the Civic Arena's capacity of 16,958. The turnout raised an important question about hockey in Pittsburgh: How much do its fans care?
The Penguins have been facing an uncertain future since filing for bankruptcy last October. They got a loan to meet this season's payroll but are reneging on debts to a long list of creditors, including former superstar Mario Lemieux, who retired after the 1996-97 season and is owed some $30 million in deferred pay. Lemieux is spearheading a group of roughly 50 investors who have filed a plan with a U.S. bankruptcy court to purchase the franchise and keep it in Pittsburgh.
Last week the NHL notified the court that if Lemieux's plan isn't accepted, the Penguins will be relocated or dissolved. The league has given the court a May 31 deadline, and the pesky Penguins, who upset the Devils in Round 1 and who through Sunday were tied 1-1 with the Maple Leafs in a second-round series, could be playing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on that date—and still not be selling out.
"Given the circumstances surrounding the team, you would expect some falloff in attendance," says Stephen Solomon, the NHL's chief operating officer. " Pittsburgh remains a very important hockey town, and we want the team to stay there."