Grizzled vet Brodeur wild card for Devils

New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur celebrates with teammate Adam Henrique after the Devils...

New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur celebrates with teammate Adam Henrique after the Devils defeated the Florida Panthers in overtime in Game 6 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter final playoff hockey game in Newark, April 24, 2012. (REUTERS)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 3:57 PM ET

NEWARK, N.J. - When you've played in the NHL for as long as Martin Brodeur, in a career that will get a Hall of Fame rubber stamp once it is done, certain moments are recalled more than others.

For the 39-year-old Brodeur, it should come as no surprise that those moments involve the experiences that come with playing in Game 7s in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Brodeur will do it for the 10th time in his career Thursday night when the New Jersey Devils visit the Florida Panthers in the final match of their first-round series, a trip to the Eastern Conference semis the reward for the winning team.

"I remember the ones that I want to remember," Brodeur, who has a 5-4 record in Game 7s, said with a smile. "The one against Anaheim, winning the Cup in Game 7 (in 2003), that's pretty good. For your preparation, maybe it is a bit different, but when you get into it, it's a hockey game."

If the Devils lose, it's safe to plan on seeing Brodeur, who turns 40 on May 6, back in the NHL next season. He will be an unrestricted free agent in July, but wants to return to the Devils to continue a legendary career that started in 1991-92.

"I'm planning on coming back," Brodeur said. "That is going to be a decision I'll make later on. It's kind of funny when I hear people say it might be my last game, but you never know. I just want to enjoy it. This is what we play hockey for."

Whether the Panthers have Scott Clemmensen or Jose Theodore in goal to face Brodeur and the rest of the Devils remains to be determined.

Theodore, who missed Game 6 with an unspecified injury, will play if he is available, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said after Theodore participated in an optional skate with the Panthers Wednesday. Defenceman Jason Garrison, who has missed the last three games of the series because of a lower-body injury, likely will be a game-time decision.

Though they were thoroughly outshot 42-16 in Game 6 and were dominated for stretches, the Panthers' confidence never wavered. No one on the Panthers roster has the post-season knowledge that Brodeur possesses, and for a single 60-minute game of hockey, the Panthers are glad it will be on home ice.

Forward Kris Versteeg won't mind being pelted with rubber rats at the game's conclusion if the Panthers can win their first series since 1996.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," Versteeg said. "We're all excited about it, excited about the challenge."

Said Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim: "The series has been going back and forth, but I have no doubt we will have the energy for Game 7."

Whether the Devils win or lose won't be entirely because of what Brodeur does. Devils forwards Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise will need to have a carryover of their exceptional performances from Game 6, and the penalty trouble that the Devils avoided in that game also can't be an issue.

The Panthers have five Stanley Cup winners on their roster in Versteeg, Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky, John Madden and Mikael Samuelsson, so they won't lack knowledge of what needs to be done in order to move on to the second round.

But the Devils figure they have the wild card in Brodeur.

"He's a guy who has played in a lot of huge games throughout his career, so that definitely plays a factor," Parise, who also is headed for free agency, said.

Not long before the Devils' flight departed for Florida, Brodeur offered some advice.

"We have to be careful about how we feel about our momentum," Brodeur said. "Every time we have had it, we have had bad games to respond. Right now we are fortunate be in this situation, to play another day. We just have to play a good, solid road game again.

"Who will want it the most will win the game."

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

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