Martin Brodeur missed all the postseason fun a year ago. One of the game's all-time greats, the veteran goaltender considered retirement and the New Jersey Devils were absent from the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
Flash forward a year later. The cheering and hollering from behind closed doors in the Devils locker room could be heard way down the Wells Fargo Center hallway. Days after he turned 40, Brodeur has the Devils back where they've been six other times before in their 30-year history.
The Eastern Conference Finals.
Bryce Salvador, David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk scored goals to lift New Jersey to a 3-1 Game Five win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, sending the Devils into the conference championship round for the first time since 2003.
The Devils await the winner of the New York-Washington series, which the Rangers lead, 3-2. New Jersey rebounded this season under coach Peter DeBoer in his first season on New Jersey's bench after the franchise suffered one of its worst years since general manager Lou Lamoriello took over in 1987.
Brodeur had 27 saves and the Devils hope they can ride him all the way to June one more time.
"It seems forever for a lot of guys," Brodeur said. "It's tough to do that. We're fortunate to have made it there so far."
The sixth-seeded Devils scored twice in the first period and became the first East team to win four straight games in these playoffs.
"It was just sticking with the game plan and doing what it takes to be successful," DeBoer said. "Marty made some saves when he needed to, and we held on."
Max Talbot scored for the Flyers, but Philadelphia was eliminated in the conference semifinals for the second straight season. The Flyers finished the season without suspended All-Star forward Claude Giroux because of his illegal check to the head on New Jersey center Dainius Zubrus in Game 4.
"It should have been a tighter series," Giroux said, wearing a suit.
The Flyers underwent a facelift last summer that saw them trade team captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings and acquire goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Kings and Coyotes will play in the West finals while the Flyers watch from home.
The Flyers again failed in the postseason to hold a quick lead after Talbot scored in the first. Meanwhile, the Devils survived a rugged series of hits unleashed by a frustrated Flyers team that failed to build anything off the surprising first-round victory over Pittsburgh.
This is the third time in franchise history New Jersey has defeated Philly in the postseason. The previous two times (1995 and 2000), the Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup. New Jersey hasn't won the Cup since beating Anaheim in the finals in 2003.