As the boos fell from the New Jersey faithful and mock cheers of "Let's go Flyers" rang through the Rock, I couldn't help but feel pangs of pity for Martin Brodeur.
One of the greatest goaltenders of the modern era was skating through his third early exit handshakes and looked worn and tired.
Despite the remarkable career this man has carved out, he looked to be near the end in this series.
Brodeur has 602 victories, four Vezinas, three Stanley Cups, has the most shutouts in a playoff year, the most shutouts in playoffs for his career, and the most shutouts in a Cup Final, yet was seemingly outplayed by journeyman Brian Boucher. Many questions abound after being eliminated 3-0 at the hands of the Flyers, but only one matters in this article.
Since 2007, the Devils have seen many familiar faces such as Scott Gomez, Jim Dowd, and Brian Rafalski leave, and thus began the downward trend for them in the playoffs. A once proud defensive team is now a shell of itself, as the Flyers on many occasions took the play directly to the Devils with no fear.
Where is Team USA's Zach Parise, captain Jamie Langenbrunner, playoff rental Ilya Kovalchuk, and once clutch Patrik Elias? The Devils just seemed to lack confidence despite showing early promise in just about every game except the poor showing in Game Four. Inconsistency seemed to dog the Devils throughout their series, as the Flyers just seemed hungrier and wanted it more.
Now the third early exit in a row, and despite the inconsistent play from the guys in front of him, Brodeur's failure, coupled with the success of Boucher, will not be lost on Devils fans. Nor will the fact that Boucher was the goaltender back in 2000 when the Flyers were ahead 3-1 and Brodeur carried them to three straight victories.
“We got outworked,” Parise said. “They played well and we didn’t respond.”
"Embarrassing," Kovalchuk said. "They just outplayed us."
As poorly as the Devils played, it will always come back to the goaltender in the playoffs. Always has and always will. This first round series was supposed to be against a mismatched Flyers team despite the regular season records.
Has Brodeur's time passed? Is he still the big-game goaltender? Brodeur and the Devils will have a lot of questions to answer in the offseason.
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