Two days after an uncharacteristically emotional Martin Brodeur left the ice in Raleigh with the Carolina Hurricanes celebrating their series-tying, buzzer-beating win, the four-time Vezina Trophy-winner and ten-time All-Star put on a dominating 44-save performance
Brodeur frustrated the Carolina attack time after time, and set a career high for saves in a playoff game.
Cam Ward, the 25-year-old Conn Smythe winner, was nearly as impressive, stopping 41 of 42 shots over the course of a thrilling goaltending exhibition at Newark's Prudential Center last night.
The difference maker came at 11:22 of the second period, off of a deflection that caught the shaft of David Clarkson's stick as he positioned himself in front of the crease.
Andy Greene, in his first playoff game of 2009, spelling the injured Bryce Salvador, took a rip from the right point on a man-advantage for the Devils, and as Clarkson jostled with the Carolina defenseman, the puck found its way off of his shaft and over Ward's left shoulder on a shot that had little to no chance of being stopped.
In what was perhaps the most exciting 1-0 game of the season, both teams created a large number of solid scoring opportunities, only to have their bids turned aside by two of the league's best netminders.
“There was a lot of opportunities both ways—shot for shot," Ward said. "Marty made the saves, now we've just got to find a way.
"We are down 3-2 here, our backs are against the wall and there is a must win on Sunday. We've got to be excited to come to the rink to play on Sunday. We can't be scared."
Carolina fans would be hard-pressed to find a flaw in the performance that Cam Ward turned in for their club. Coming into Thursdays game, Ward had a 0.56 GAA and .978 save percentage in Game Fives where the series was tied at two games apiece.
The trend of stepping up when the time is right continued for Ward, and he seemed to be in the proper position to gobble up any pucks coming in his general vicinity.
A game highlight was his lightning-fast glove hand save on the Devils' Zach Parise, who let loose a cannon of a slap shot that seemed to be roped into the upper right corner of the goal. Ward came out slightly to challenge the Devils shooter and flashed a rising glove hand snag of Parise's offering, sending the capacity crowd in New Jersey into a chorus of groans.
Brodeur was equally spectacular at times, stopping a Brind’Amour wrister from between the circles with beautiful half butterfly positioning. The shot came through traffic in front of Brodeur, but the goaltender was able to read the puck's direction through several sets of legs and make a subtle, but crucial stop.
The best chance for the ‘Canes, however, came when Joni Pitkanen, who turned in another solid performance, fired a shot that ricocheted off of the Devils goalie, clanged off of the right post, and then off of Brodeur's leg. As the puck slowly trickled towards the goaline, the veteran wisely kept his body still, reaching calmly behind him to cover the puck and preserve his perfect evening.
The Devils played with authority and control, keeping a determined Carolina team in check for most of the night. They will return to Raleigh for Game Six on Sunday—and if another surgically precise outing from Brodeur and the Devils is in store, the ‘Canes may as well be booking their tee times for Monday.