Phil Sheridan: Flyers find chinks in Brodeur's armor

Posted: April 15, 2010

NEWARK, N.J. - Follow the bouncing puck.

Chris Pronger and Mike Richards scored the Flyers' goals in a 2-1 Game 1 victory over the Devils and Martin Brodeur. Pronger and Richards were 2010 Olympic teammates of Brodeur's when the legendary goaltender was benched after a loss to Team USA in Vancouver.

Coincidence? Maybe not.

It's pretty hard for Brodeur to maintain that aura of invincibility once he's been humbled for the world to see. And there's no way Pronger and Richards can be intimidated by a guy who sat on the bench for Team Canada's last four games, including the gold-medal classic against the U.S. team.

It would be going too far to say that, at age 37, Brodeur has lost it. He had a terrific regular season and played a large role in the Devils' division title and No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

But there is an enormous difference between a good goaltender and one who becomes entrenched in the psyches of opposing shooters. Brodeur was the latter during those years he frustrated the Flyers and the rest of the NHL on his way to three Stanley Cup titles.

When Brodeur allowed four goals in 18 shots to Team USA, he became a spectator.

At the time, the media, especially the hockey-centric Canadian press, wondered aloud if Brodeur's days as a big-game goalie were behind him. That may have been a bit premature. One playoff loss does not an epitaph make.

It isn't as if the Flyers lit him up in Game 1 Wednesday night. There wasn't much Brodeur could do about Pronger's goal, a nifty point-blank backhand that caromed off a Devil's skate. Richards' goal was stoppable - Brodeur got a skate on it - but it was also an awfully well-aimed blast.

"I had a pretty good view of the shot," Pronger said. "I could see exactly where he was going to shoot it. He hit his spot. Brodeur almost made an unbelievable save, got his toe on it, kind of nicked it. And it went off the post and in."

So don't expect Brodeur to get the hook any time soon. He's still the man here, and his backup, Yann Danis, isn't exactly Roberto Luongo.

But neither is Brodeur exactly the Brodeur who dwelled as much in the Flyers' heads as between the pipes in East Rutherford for all those years. He is a very good goalie. He is not impenetrable. Not anymore.

Half the battle is understanding that, and the Flyers certainly do. The other day, Flyers forward Arron Asham took the very unusual approach of publicly acknowledging Brodeur's mortality.

"He has some trouble with his footwork," said Asham, a former Devils teammate. "So you shoot the puck low and from bad angles. It seems this year that's how we got the majority of our goals."

Both goals in Game 1 came on low shots. The Flyers scored only those two second-period goals, but then, Brodeur made only 12 saves. That's the kind of save percentage that gets you benched in the Olympics.

The big question coming into this series was whether the Flyers' regular-season dominance of Brodeur and the Devils would carry over or was it merely the product of coincidence and timing?

The Flyers delivered their answer in Game 1.

They did not play a perfect game, not by a long shot. They admitted to being caught a little flat-footed in the first period. Their own goalie, Brian Boucher, made a couple of big saves, including a glove save on a rocket by Ilya Kovalchuk - the very un-Devils-like scorer obtained in a trade during the season.

"He's a sniper," Boucher said. "That was good to make, but you're not always going to get that one."

Boucher kept them in the game earlier, Pronger and Richards gave them the lead in the second period, and the penalty-killing unit made it stand up. It won't be easy for the Flyers to win four games this way, essentially playing the Devils' preferred pace and style, but it was vital to win this one.

"It's big," Pronger said, "especially when you're on the road as an underdog team."

That is the theme the veteran Pronger has established for this series. The Flyers snuck into the playoffs, a seventh seed playing a division champion. They had the journeyman goaltender, while the Devils had the first-ballot Hall of Famer.

"I don't think a lot of people were picking the Flyers," coach Peter Laviolette said.

The reality is, these Flyers underachieved during the regular season and lucked into a matchup with a team they happened to beat five times in six meetings. They get to play underdog while feeling very much like they have a handle on the Devils, especially on the goalie who shut them down for so many years.

Follow the bouncing puck. It's in the net.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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