I sit here now, knowing I'm in for a night of little sleep unsure how to start this post after the disgraceful horror show I just witnessed at the Rock. I never thought I could ever feel worse than after Game 7 against Carolina in 2009, but this abomination of a game topped that one - at least for sheer anger and frustration. Quite possibly the only time I've ever been as upset at any sporting event (and I wasn't in the stands for this one, unlike tonight) was when the Mets spit it up in the final two and a half weeks of the 2007 season, culminating with future HOF'er Tom Glavine giving up seven runs in the first inning.
In a way, Martin Brodeur suffered a similar fate to Glavine tonight, turning in a performance that will forever (barring a Lazarus-like rise from the dead the rest of the series) mar his great career. With the Devils holding a 3-0 lead after a remarkable first 6:16 of the game, all Brodeur had to do was be average and he could have taken this game home. Not only wasn't he average, he gave by far the worst performance I've ever seen from him in a big game - yes even worse than the aformentioned Game 7 against Carolina.
After failing to control a long dump-in by Scottie Upshall, Brodeur gave up a bad shortside goal to Sean Bergenheim at 16:11. Yes, it was another power play goal given up by the 'greatest PK of all time' but that one was all on Brodeur from start to finish. And Brodeur gave up yet another questionable power play goal with just eight seconds remaining in the period on a long slapshot by Jason Garrison (granted, he has a hard slapshot but still). That second goal deflated me and at least half the building, including the players in the locker room according to our wonderful leader, Zach Parise.
If it were any other goalie in net, I suspect Brodeur would have been pulled - the way Jose Theodore was after giving up those three early goals in favor of Devil-killer Scott Clemmensen. He wasn't however, and the team paid for it when Brodeur gave up yet another horrendous goal shortside to the immortal Mike Weaver at 2:18 of the second period, officially making what looked like an insurmountable lead after a dominant start dissapear. Finally, Brodeur was pulled to nobody's surprise but Brodeur himself. Even that couldn't stop the sudden Panther onslaught however, as they got their third power play goal of the game and sixth of the series when Brian Campbell beat Johan Hedberg off a rebound, after Hedberg had made some good saves to temporarily stop the bleeding.
Brodeur's performance certainly doesn't take the rest of these gutless, pathetic losers off the hook though. There's absolutely no excuse for - as Captain America put it - the team to be going into the locker room feeling like they were losing when it was 3-2 at the end of the first. I felt like that as a fan, but it's these guys' jobs NOT to give into that. From the time Clemmensen came in till about the final two minutes of the game, the Devils got maybe twelve-fifteen shots on net with only a couple of real quality scoring chances. There's no excuse for guys like Ilya Kovalchuk to keep being lazy or tired (the latter is possible with how much he's been overplayed this season and in the series), and no excuse for guys like Peter Harrold to think he's Wayne Gretzky and make five moves when he had a wide-open chance in the slot, but held the puck for too long and the chance died.
Yes, the refs didn't help out and were awful too, disallowing an apparent tying goal by Marek Zidlicky late in the second period after it was ruled Steve Bernier made incidental contact with Clemmensen - which he did, after a Florida defenseman pushed him into the goalie. That was just the worst, and last in a series of whistles which didn't go the Devils way, either via missed penalties on the Panthers or bad penalties called on them. Normally I only hear the kind of booing the refs got tonight from other teams' crowds. Honestly, the refs were in the wrong place at the wrong time to a degree...but I still don't want to see Tim Peel and his crew for the rest of the playoffs either.
I'm certainly not letting the coaching staff slide on this one. How does a penalty kill that broke records in the regular season all of a sudden become staggeringly inept in the postseason? Florida's now an unreal 6 for 8 on the power play in the three games. Even with Brodeur's bad goaltending in this series, the Panthers haven't done much at even strength, but the same penalty killers who got the job time and again in the regular season haven't been able to kill a single penalty when it matters. Not to mention Pete DeBoer refused to go back to the line combinations that worked well late in Game 3, even when the team struggled to create anything for more than fifty minutes after their unreal start. If the players were feeling defeated, as Parise said - then the coaching staff didn't do their job of getting the players back into the game mentally.
DeBoer's most questionable move so far may be his decision to go back to Brodeur for Game 4 with Brodeur having a terrible series and Hedberg being about the only one who looked like he wanted to compete in the latter half of the game, until the final two minutes where they finally stirred to life with a couple of chances, but it was too little and too late. If this series is about winning then Hedberg should play, he's earned it with both his stature and his recent results even while playing second fiddle to Brodeur. Clearly however, starting Game 4 is as much about restoring Marty's legacy as anything else.
Well here it is Marty, if you want one last chance to prove you're not just a creature of a HOF-laden defense prior to the lockout, it starts Thursday. If Zach wants to prove he's a great leader and deserves the millions he's going to get this offseason he'll find a way to get to the guys in the room. If DeBoer really is a long-term coach for this team, he'll get his message across and that won't come by giving them a day off this time. If this team wants to prove they aren't a bunch of gutless, pathetic losers, well time is running out on that one.