With the New Jersey Devils trailing the New York Rangers 3-1 in their playoff series, and Martin Brodeur having given up a pair of soft game-winning goals, there is some talk going around that he is simply tired from playing so many games this season.
The same things were being said last year, when Vincent Lecavalier had his way with New Jersey and Brodeur for most of their first round series and the Senators made short work of the Devils in round two.
But does this explanation make any sense? This is a guy who has played 75+ games nearly every season for the last dozen years. Why is he suddenly tired?
Let's see how Brodeur usually does late in the season. If he is tired, he should be suffering a gradual decline as the year goes on. I looked at his stats for all regular season games in April, and, surprise, Brodeur has been consistently excellent to close out the year. His regular season stat line in April since the lockout goes 15-1-0, .934, 1.92. His 2007-08 performance was right in line: 3-1-0, .923, 1.98. Not too much evidence of tiredness there.
So to those claiming that Brodeur is fatigued, it appears that it didn't affect him while the season was still underway, and just happened to show up, by pure coincidence, exactly about the same time Brodeur started facing Lecavalier, Jagr, and Heatley.
New Jersey is no longer an elite team. Their team systems and development models just can't make up for the fact that they have lost too much talent over the last few years - Stevens, Niedermayer, Rafalski, Gomez, et al. They have continued to have regular season success, and even the current edition of the Devils is still able to beat Atlanta and Toronto in November almost every time with their efficient play. But when they get into the playoffs against the elite teams they just aren't able to handle them, and Martin Brodeur hasn't shown recently that he is able to be a major difference maker in the second season. Nothing wrong with that, really, a goalie can only do so much. Brodeur went 5-11-3 against the Rangers, Canadiens and Penguins this season, so it really shouldn't be too much of a surprise that his team would face an uphill climb to make a deep playoff run.
When well-known players don't deliver in big situations, people want to either blame them or make up excuses. Brodeur already has the reputation of being a superstar clutch winner, so it isn't easy to point the finger. The usual way to reconcile reality to reputation, therefore, is to claim he was "tired" or make some other excuse. I think a simpler and more accurate solution is that this year, just as last year, Martin Brodeur is playing against a superior opponent in the playoffs, which is something that has been pretty rare throughout his career. He has little margin for error, and is not playing at the very top of his game. The result is that he is getting scored on and his team is losing. No further excuses or explanations needed.