Brodeur suddenly 'good' again
PITTSBURGH -- So much for that shaky confidence problem the Pittsburgh Penguins were supposed to have inflicted on Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
Nothing cures a goalie's fear of being shelled quite like facing few shots in a critical game while your team is protecting a lead.
Brodeur enjoyed a relatively easy night Thursday -- 20 shots -- but he admitted he didn't mind.
"You want shots in the first period," said the goalie for the defending Stanley Cup champions. "But after two or three saves in the first period, I felt pretty good about myself.
"Then came that big test in the second, knowing what happened in Game 2."
Second-period woes: Brodeur, who also backstopped the Devils to a Stanley Cup Championship in 1995, was referring to his second-period disaster Tuesday when the Penguins blasted him for three goals, overcoming a 2-0 Devils' lead.
This time, Brodeur was perfect in the second period. Staked to a 3-0 lead, he cruised to his 10th victory of the postseason.
Despite his reputation as one of the NHL's best netminders, hockey analysts quickly questioned Brodeur's confidence after the Game 2 collapse.
They're silent today.
Brodeur could have been excused for dozing off because the Penguins' vaunted offense was kept far from the New Jersey net.
Applauded opponent: After the frustrating loss, Penguins forward Mario Lemieux said it's time to give the Devils their due.
"Give the other team some credit -- there's no room out there," he said. "They have four guys in the neutral zone to intercept passes, so you can skate 100 miles per hour and you're not going to get anywhere.
"They came out with a great game plan to get the lead and they shut us down. That's a sign of a great team."
Lemieux said the Penguins have to figure out a way to generate more shots at Brodeur.
"They just give you the outside," Lemieux said of the Devils' defensive scheme. "They have four guys coming back.
"It's really a 1-2-2. If you get by one guy, then you have to get by the other guy. If you do that, you still have two back there to beat. It's very difficult to play against."
Must beat the trap: Lemieux said the Penguins have to do a better job of dumping the puck into the Devils end, "chase and hopefully create some opportunities down low. You can't really carry the puck in the neutral zone because they have five guys right there. We have to find a way to beat the trap."
For the first 39 minutes of the game, the Penguins made Brodeur's job easier by how they employed their personnel.
Then, Penguins coach Ivan Hlinka made a move he should have considered the moment he found out that second-line center Robert Lang would sit out the game with a strained muscle.
In the final minute of the second period, Hlinka reunited the Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr-Jan Hrdina line.
In that span, the Penguins took two shots at Brodeur, creating his busiest minute of the night.
In the second-round series against the Buffalo Sabres, Hlinka split up Lemieux and Jagr, figuring it's harder for an opponent's line to focus on the two NHL scoring superstars.
As long as the Penguins' second line of Lang, Alexei Kovalev and Martin Straka was producing, the change made sense. Spreading out the offense, especially when three consecutive games went to overtime, was one way to generate offensive sparks.
But in this series, the second line has been contained. Rookie Milan Kraft took Lang's place Thursday. Nothing clicked.
The reunited Lemieux-Jagr-Hrdina line opened the third period. Moments after they hit the bench, the Devils jumped ahead 3-0 and the game was essentially over.
And their goalie was glowing again.
XTom Williams covers the NHL for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.