Brodeur's lost stick may be all Anaheim needed

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He laughed it off at the time as a regrettable accident, one that wouldn't affect his play or confidence and ultimately wouldn't matter in the Stanley Cup finals.

As the New Jersey Devils prepare for Game 5 Thursday night, their lead over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks erased by two overtime losses, goalie Martin Brodeur's Game 3 missing-stick misplay may turn out to be the turning point of the series.

If Brodeur had not dropped his stick and allowed Sandis Ozolinsh's dump-in to wind up in the net, the Mighty Ducks quite possibly would not have won 3-2 in overtime.

That would have changed the entire complexion of Game 4, which the Ducks won 1-0 Monday night on Steve Thomas' goal 39 seconds into overtime. The Ducks admittedly would have faced an all-but-insurmounatble 3-0 deficit and a Devils team eager to finish off the series immediately.

By winning, "We've gotten our respect back and our game back," Ducks coach Mike Babcock said Tuesday night.

Maybe Brodeur's now-he's-got-it, now-he-doesn't misadventure with his stick won't matter if the Devils reassert their home-ice dominance by winning Game 5. They are 10-1 at home in the playoffs this season, and the Ducks were not competitive at New Jersey in two shutout losses last week.

Maybe, though, the gaffe will mean everything. Given how close the rest of the series figures to be, it seems inevitable that a visiting team will eventually win. If that team is Anaheim, then the pressure and the urgency to win will shift to the Devils, who scored only two goals in two games at the Pond.

Brodeur already has gotten a lesson from his self-appointed goaltending instructor, 6-year-old son Jeremy. The younger Brodeur dropped to his knees outside the Devils' locker room to show his father how he should have gone into the butterfly style to prevent the goal from scoring.

"I know, it was funny," Martin Brodeur said.

Right now, it's not looking as funny to the Devils as it did before practice Sunday, when one teammate suggested Brodeur stop at Edison Field, the Angels' ballpark, and get some pine tar for his stick.

It doesn't look as funny now that Brodeur, who barely saw the puck in the first two games, has been outplayed ever since by the Ducks' far-less-experienced Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Giguere, who said he wouldn't have found allowing such a soft goal to be as humorous as Brodeur did, stood up in the locker room and challenged his teammates to get back in the series. He has backed his own talk with two more overtime victories, making him the first goalie in NHL playoff history to win his first seven OT games.

"If we don't play better after his comments, then we're done," Babcock said. "But as close as we are now, we're still a million miles away."

The Devils, no doubt glad the series' only two-day break comes after the first of two coast-to-coast road trips in a span of a week, are adamant that their confidence hasn't been shaken. Defenseman Scott Stevens agrees the pressure has shifted, just as it was on the Ducks the previous two games, but he says New Jersey is very confident at home.

"If we'd played terrible and been blown out, it would have been tougher to take," Stevens said. "We go back to our building, and we've played pretty well here. You can't be discouraged with that."

Conversely, the Ducks' Adam Oates said: "I don't think the home-road is an issue now. We feel good about ourselves, and we feel confident."

Giguere also said Tuesday that the Ducks "gave the Devils too much respect" during their first trip to New Jersey.

"We're the Western Conference champions, and we deserve to be here," he said. "If you're too careful and worried about making mistakes, that's when you'll make mistakes. We got back to doing what we've done all year, and that's to keep working and be relentless."

New Jersey's biggest worry must be if another game goes into overtime, where the Devils are only 2-4 in these playoffs and Brodeur has won only eight of 26 times in his career. Giguere has only one fewer overtime victory in the last two months.

"The reality is, in these games when you're tight like they are, you are in overtime a long time before you get to overtime," Ducks coach Mike Babcock said. "That's just the way this series is."

Or, he might have added, just the way it's been since a lost stick threatened to become a lost series for the Devils.

"They did what they wanted to do" at home, the Devils' Scott Niedermayer said. "We did what we wanted in the first two in Jersey. So it's the best-of-three now."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: