Brodeur Won’t Crack Under Pressure

There’s one key to the game in LA tonight, and it’s got nothing to do with the Kings. It’s Martin Brodeur. If he brings it like he never has, shutting the door early with a spectacular save or two and getting the Kings wondering whether fate’s on their side – or making them sure that it isn’t – then this thing’s going seven games.

Once it gets there, neither Brodeur, nor Quick, nor anyone else really has much control. Both teams will be as keyed up as possible. Both will have the nerves coming out the ends of their fingers. Both will be sleepless, and tense, not just from the events of the past couple of weeks, but because of what’s happened since mid-April. And moreover, because of what’s been in their collective dreams and imaginations since they were boys.

But the Kings are ahead. Game 6 still hasn’t been played. And it didn’t take long for Coach Sutter to get to the matter of goalies in his daily press conference. “We need him [Quick] to be a great strength for us. If you look at the series, we’re up against a great goaltender. We need that out of Jonathan. So both guys are still playing because they can manage that. Obviously Marty has more experience with it. But that’s what Jonathan’s trying to do also.”

How much more? Well, let’s just say that Brodeur played 25 games in the 2000-01 post-season alone. Quick has appeared in not that many more in his career. All together, he’s played two post-seasons of six games, and 19 to date this year. And it’s interesting that Sutter would say it, because if he’s thinking it, so are the Kings. And so is Quick.

But it’s not about Brodeur versus Quick in the literal and immediate sense, is it? Last week, I mentioned that the LA goalie has said to me before that he doesn’t think about what’s going on in the other end, that he doesn’t concern himself with how the other guy’s playing. And in truth, it won’t matter much if the Kings can’t get a goal past Brodeur, especially early. So rather than it being a goaltending duel in a direct sense, it’s indirect, with either side watching their own guy and the other team’s for a crack. Whoever cracks first or worst, loses.

To get back to Sutter, when asked about how he approaches this game given that it’s 3-2 and not 3-3, he indicated that he’d be doing about the same thing. “I think both teams have put veterans in to try and get through the rough water a little bit. Zajac’s line plays a lot. Kopitar’s line plays a lot. I don’t think anything different.”

He went on, “Both teams’ special teams, you look at it, it’s almost a saw-off. There’s only subtle things that only you see in the locker room, little changes, where you move guys two or three feet, or on faceoffs or something like that. But, no, I don’t think so.”

So if subtlety is the key, then again, you’ve got to look at the play in net to create the swings, and if that’s the measure, New Jersey’s guy has more to lose. Much more.

Martin Brodeur has done it before. He’s got more Stanley Cups than most players ever will, already. He doesn’t need another. But he’s also coming off one of those seasons, the year before this one, where injuries started to give people excuses to ask whether it’s time he thought about quitting. It was the old debate: do you stay in there just a season too long, and end up leaving on less than perfect terms, taking the retirement and enjoying the party, but with those words behind everyone’s eyes that say it would have been a lot better to go out on top?

It’s the Ray Bourque approach. He went to Colorado, he won the Cup, and he retired before the sweat on his jersey was dry. No second thoughts. His explanation at the time? He said that every single season he’d played pro hockey, he’d always ended up with a loss. Most of us had never thought of it like that until he said it. But this time, since he’d won, he decided to go out on a cloud.

Brodeur was looking to go out the wrong way a year ago. Now, he’s back on form, and with perhaps his last chance to remind the world how great he is. Will he rise to it?

His coach, interestingly, was not willing to be drawn into a discussion about his netminder on Monday. The question came in this form: “Marty talked the other night about how draining these games are. Is there anything as a coaching staff you can do to mitigate that or is that just life now?”

His answer? “Marty, Marty who?” OK, not really. But he talked about rest and time away from the rink, and summed up saying, “We’ve tried to alleviate that as much as we can, when we have an off day, keeping them away from the rink. As soon as you step through the doors of the rink, you start thinking about hockey. But that’s about all you can do. That’s the life of playing in the Stanley Cup Final. From our point, that’s the best way we’ve been able to handle it.” No specifics about anyone, least of all Brodeur.

Is it likely Brodeur is tired right now? Darn right. As was alluded to above, he said it in the game five post-game conference. Is that likely to be a factor?

Does the miler come to the end of the race tired? Of course. Does he or she know how to handle that and give a final kick? That’s what the training is for.

So if either goalie is facing stress and tiredness, or rather, if either will give in to it first, it’s Quick. East coast fans need to look at his record, and the Kings’, over the course of the year, because they are quite unlikely to realize both how much this guy has played and how close almost every Kings’ game was all year. It’s been Quick, Quick, Quick. He may not be the sole reason they’re fighting for the Stanley Cup, but he’s the reason they got into the playoffs. And now it’s been two games when they could have done it and haven’t. That’s got to be in his mind.

Not that it’s Quick’s fault. As has been endlessly discussed, the teams are close; the first two games could have been split or even gone to New Jersey. And the last two, that LA has lost, were not down to him at all. But that’s not the point. The point is, when it comes down to it in the most tense and meaningful contests, in hockey, it’s always the goalie.

The guess I’d make, if I had to, is that Brodeur will deliver one for the ages on Monday night, and that that’s going to put the series to seven. Not because he’s better than Quick, but because it’s possibly his last chance. For his part, Quick will play his level best, make some spectacular splits saves, and leave it all in the crease. Fate then takes over to decide.

If there is a game seven, it’s anybody’s guess, and it’s not going to OT. Someone will win the thing 5-1.

NHL transcripts were used in compiling this story.

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