With Martin Brodeur nearing his 40th birthday and entering the final year of his contract, this season at first had the look of a last hurrah for the New Jersey Devils' goalie great.
Well, the hurrah part was right.
It's been one hurrah after another, reaching a high point Friday night. Brodeur made 33 saves to help the Devils defeat the rival New York Rangers, 3-2 in overtime, in Game Six to advance to the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings. Game One will be Wednesday in New Jersey.
After the Devils missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1996, no one might have been put under the microscope more than Brodeur. Longtime president and General Manager Lou Lamoriello certainly had questions to answer after the early-season stumble under new coach John MacLean, but Brodeur was the focal point after a so-so season nagged by injuries.
Now at 40, he's back after outdueling Henrik Lundqvist in the first Eastern Conference finals between the teams since their memorable showdown in 1994. New York won that one in seven games with Stephane Matteau scoring the series-clincher in double overtime.
Rookie Adam Henrique did the honors for New Jersey on Friday night with a shot from just about the same spot where Matteau scored, from the right edge of the crease.
"It's been a lot of fun this season, playing on a really good team, and I'm enjoying this ride," Brodeur said. "And I know what I can do, try to compete as hard as I can every night and try to give these guys a chance to win hockey games. And they've been scoring a lot of goals for me in the playoffs so far, and it's been great."
Brodeur was the difference in the Devils' wins in Games Five and Six, when the Rangers controlled most of the play in the final two periods.
"He was outstanding, all playoffs," Devils forward David Clarkson said. "He kept us in games, stood on his head. It's amazing to see what he's doing right now and our bench just feeds off it."
Brodeur was at his best Friday with the game tied, 2-all, in the third period. He stopped a power-play shot by Brad Richards while prone on the ice and made a save on a shot by Artem Anisimov from between the circles. He also used his stick to poke check the puck off Anisimov's stick on a semi breakaway and again deflected a pass from the boards by Carl Hagelin in the final minute of regulation.