Martin Brodeur was a very good NHL goaltender. Granted, it turns out that an elite defensive team goes a long way. One might wonder how the kind of goaltending data we have today would have reflected on him during his prime. It certainly didn’t reflect well on him in his later years.
But regardless, even the most shamelessly biased Rangers would acknowledge that he was quite skilled at stopping pucks. Certainly, he is one of the most accomplished netminders in the history of hockey. He did a whole lot of winning over the course of his career. Including against the Rangers. From the 97-98 season through 06-07, Brodeur had lost just eight of his 55 starts against the Blueshirts, and entering the 2007-2008 season he had won nine of his last 10 starts. (including playoffs).
That run off success was abruptly halted during the 2007-2008 season. He had a tough time grappling with that.
November 3rd, 2007: Prucha Shootout Winner
n typical installment of the goaltending battles between Lundqvist and Brodeur that would come to define the resurrection of the Rangers-Devils competitive rivalry, which had effectively been dormant since 1998. Scott Gomez scored roughly six minutes in against his former team, with Sergei Brylin getting the Devils on the board less then a minute later. After that, both goaltenders shut the doors for the remainder of regulation, then overtime.
Brodeur had a few reasons to be on edge before and during this matchup. The Devils were enduring a mediocre start to their season, and Brodeur particularly was struggling. He sported a 4-6-0 record with an .889 save percentage prior to puck drop. He gave up a goal to his former teammate. He received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a confrontation that somehow didn’t involve Sean Avery (it was Marcel Hossa).
Petr Prucha, the Charmeleon to Mats Zuccarello’s Charizard, had also struggled out of the gate during the 07-08 season with just two points through 12 games, but he had a strong performance on this night, setting up the initial Gomez goal and putting four shots on net. He would then play hero in the shootout, scoring the only goal the two teams would manage.
Joe Micheletti, hardly known for hyperbole or overt bias, described the conversion as “world-class.” Brodeur had. other ideas, playing down Prucha’s attempt after the game.
“I was off position a little bit,” Brodeur said. “That’s his go-to shot. I gave it to him and he took it. It wasn’t that great a shot, but he beat me.”
Brodeur stopped well over 35-thousand shots in his NHL career. He knows the position and himself well enough that, if he says he was off his angle, then he almost certainly was.
The rest of his commentary is a hard sell. Prucha’s initial fake baited Brodeur into dropping his right knee, which is what opened up all the space up high on the glove side. Then, it was a quick release off his stick into roof of the net. Would Brodeur make this safe in another trial run? Yeah, maybe. But Prucha hardly passed the puck into an empty net. The “you only won because I let you” rationalization is a classic in elementary school circles, and on this day it more or less graduated to the NHL.
March 19th, 2008: History Repeats Itself
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Brodeur’s comments about the Prucha goal, in isolation, aren’t a big deal. He was frustrated, felt he should have done better, and maybe undersold the shot. So what? As a standalone moment this barely registers on the radar.
Here’s the thing: The same thing happened again four months later.
The situations were similar. Lundqvist and Brodeur again each gave up only one goal after 65 minutes, and again only one shootout attempt for either team was converted. This time, it was Nigel Dawes who won the game for the Rangers.
Brodeur again declined to posit that he was beat by a good move, except this time he was not at fault, either. Brodeur actually did everything perfectly. Dawes merely got lucky.
“Well, he missed the shot,” he said. “He was going to shoot it, I think low blocker and it kind of hit and went off his heel low. My stick was off the ice because I was reading something else.”
Any benefit of the doubt that Brodeur was doing objective analysis is lost here. Downplaying one attempt that beat him is incidental. Doing it twice establishes a trend. Maybe he hates being beat in the shootout. Or being beat by the Rangers. Or being beat by young wingers who are traded together to the Coyotes before signing in the KHL. Who’s to say?
Let’s note that Dawes was a fairly prolific shootout scorer by NHL standards. His 11-for-26 batting average ties him with, among others, Ilya Kovalchuk and Mats Sundin, for 55th all-time. He, of course, debunked Brodeur’s analysis.
Dawes chuckled and politely disagreed.
“I might not have gotten as much on it as I wanted to, but my intention was to go 5-hole,” Dawes said. “I wanted to try to get him to freeze a little bit, and I got him with a good fake. Then I wanted to get him as he was trying to reset.”
Yet who could blame Brodeur for the irrationality? The Rangers had won all six games the two teams had faced off in that far into the season. Parise remarked that the Devils would have to beat them “sooner or later.”
Eight days later, Dawes earned the Rangers their seventh win with a late third period goal that was, comically, lucky. Chris Drury made a pass across to Dawes, who was being hooked by Devils’ center Sergei Brylin Dawes fell down, but his body’s momentum carried him and the puck into the net.
“He can’t say I fanned on that one, I guess,” Dawes sarcastically told the media.
April 18th, 2008: The Forsaken Handshake
Federer versus Nadal. Ali versus Frazier. Magic versus Bird. Brodeur versus, uhh, well, Sean Avery, somehow.
Though Avery was of course nowhere near Brodeur in ability nor hockey success, he was the perfect foil to Brodeur. Crashing the net and wreaking havoc around the crease was a big part of Avery’s game, and his entire existential purpose, hockey or otherwise, is to antagonize. Brodeur, a competitive and fiery goaltender, was an easy target.
Zach Parise got his wish, as the Devils finally beat the Rangers in a shootout in the final game of the season and clinched home ice in a first-round series against... the Rangers.
You probably know what happens next. If you don’t, here’s the infamous video.
Brodeur played off the incident after the game, though his colleagues expressed their disapproval.
Devils coach Brent Sutter said he didn’t “lose any sleep over Sean Avery,” especially after the Devils went on to a 4-3 overtime win, but called the play “something you would see in the bush leagues.”
Brodeur’s teammates also were not amused.
”It was childish,” John Madden said. “We are trying to sell this game and you see stuff like that going on. I don’t agree with it at all.”
The Rangers advanced past the Devils with relative ease, winning the series, 4-1. Avery registered five points in the series. As the two teams conducted the traditional handshake at center ice, Brodeur snubbed Avery.
Let me say that nobody should be exasperated by this incident. The handshake ceremony is a nice tradition, but Brodeur’s refusal to shake Avery’s hand was his prerogative and completely harmless. Anyone who is unironically disgruntled about it is only slightly less stodgy than the curmudgeons who complain when baseball players look happy after hitting a home run.
However, it is still a comically petty and bitter action on Brodeur’s part, and his refusal to partake in the league’s socially mandated display of sportsmanship is particularly worthy of an eye roll given his team’s sanctimonious pleas for decorum just days earlier.
Brodeur would get a signature playoff moment against the Rangers four years later as the Devils beat the Rangers in the 2012 Eastern Conference Final. The Devils dominated the Rangers from 1998 through 2012. Sandwiched in-between, though, was a 2007-2008 Rangers squad that the frustrated the hell out of Brodeur.