Vintage Brodeur Stops Panthers

April 21, 2012

Martin Brodeur has been breaking records left and right over these past few years. On Thursday night in Game 4 of the Devils vs. Panthers series, he recorded his 24th career playoff shutout, bypassing Patrick Roy’s previous record. This shutout, but most importantly, the way he played reminded everyone of the Brodeur of years gone past…the one that ended up hoisting a Stanley Cup by the end of playoffs.

“He was great,” coach Peter DeBoer said of Brodeur’s shutout. “That’s vintage Marty Brodeur. We’ve come to expect that.”

This win tied up the series 2-2 against the Panthers.

The Panthers decided to put Scott Clemmensen in goal against the Devils. This decision ended up not being as fruitful as they had hoped. He wasn’t able to stop the Devils like he had in the prior game when he replaced Jose Theodore who had allowed three goals in just 6:16 into the game. The change sparked a new momentum for the Panthers as they rallied to came back and defeat the Devils 4-3.

Clemmensen had spent seven years in the Devils’ system, including filling in for Brodeur when he went on injured reserve in 2008 after tearing his distal biceps tendon. Clemmensen ended up being the savior for the Devils that year. So putting him in net for the Panthers seemed like the wise choice.

The only way the Devils would be able to get the puck past Clemmensen…allow for shooters that Clemmensen had never played with or faced before.

Clemmensen was the Devils’ first obstacle in game four. They had two other major obstacles…their dismal performance with their PK and power play units. The special teams weighed heavily into the outcome of their success as they headed into this match.

“I think our PK was sharp,” Ilya Kovalchuk said of the win. “I think we killed all six [penalties] to give an opportunity to see what they’ve got. That was key…special teams…and Marty, who played an unbelievable game.”

Kovalchuk also mentioned that one of the key plays on the power play actually came from Bryce Salvador. Salvador normally does not play on the power play unit, but Kovalchuk said that he should be on the special team more often.

Another unsung playmaker out on the ice has been Stephen Gionta, the younger brother of former Devil Brian Gionta. What the Giontas lack in size, doesn’t mean anything out on the ice. The young 5’7” forward can still lay hits on guys (like Jerred Smithson) that are a good half a foot taller than him.

After his hit on Smithson, Keaton Ellerby got caught on the door to the Devils’ bench after Gionta brushed by him. Ellerby ended up leaving the game during the second period and not returning for the remainder of the game.

“It’s unfortunate that he got hurt there with the door opening,” Gionta said of Ellerby. “I was just trying to finish the play hard.”

The first period ended scoreless as both teams were evenly matched. Ending the regular season as the number one team on the penalty kill, for the Devils to lose so many goals in game three from Florida’s power play unit didn’t make sense. What had happened to their penalty kill unit?

When Peter Harrold was called for interference at 7:03, fans held their breath throughout the arena. When the penalty was killed, fans cheered just as loudly as they had when the Devils scored a goal. It was as if it was a sigh of relief since the Panthers’ secret weapon against the Devils in this series has been on the power play.

It was in the middle period that the Devils started to change this series around. With Keaton Ellerby in the penalty box for high-sticking at 4:38, the Devils went on their first power play of the game. With Marek Zidlicky sending in a slap shot from the top, Travis Zajac redirected the puck which landed on Zach Parise’s stick and deflected into the net for the Devils’ first goal of the game.

In the final period, the Devils went up another notch when Steve Bernier scored at 2:02, followed by another goal from Zajac at 3:35.

At 6:39, the Devils were awarded another power play, their third of the game. Ilya Kovalchuk scored the power play goal at 8:32 to give the Devils a 4-0 win over the Panthers.

At the end of the period, the penalties started to mount between the two teams. David Clarkson was tossed out of the game at 19:39 with a 10-minute misconduct. He had been pushed into the boards from behind and tried to get back at the offending Panther. One of the linesmen was cut on the play. (The misconduct had nothing to do with the linesman getting hurt.)

One thing this series has not seen as compared to other playoff games across the league right now is a “gooned-up” game. While other rivalries like the Penguins-Flyers series have seen some of the craziest fighting, as well as a 50% increase in TV viewership this year, the question is: why haven’t the Devils-Panthers series seen the same kind of action?

Simply put… there’s no division rivalry between Florida and New Jersey. They’re two separate divisions and don’t see each other nearly enough during the year or have a history of a heated rivalry.

Right now, they don’t see the need to drop the gloves. They just see the need to play hockey and let their skills speak for themselves.

“I think we’re playing hockey,” Clarkson said of why the gloves haven’t dropped in this series. “You don’t try not to drop the gloves. You don’t try to. When the occasion is there, I think the games have been very close games. That’s what’s going on.

“You see these other series with so many fights. I love that part of the game…the tough stuff, the fighting…you know, wanting to do something for your team. I think things are hard hitting. I don’t think you can look and say there’s a lot of hits or a lot of plays happening. I think both teams are playing hard right now. There just hasn’t been any fights.”

The Devils and Panthers meet again in game five in Florida on Saturday. They’ll return again to Newark on Tuesday for game six.

“We don’t care who they’re going to put in net,” Kovalchuk said of the next match. “We just have to take care of our game and play the same way.”

“We’ve got to just play the way we play,” Clarkson added. “If we stick to our system and do the things we do good, we’ll just keep going.”