VANCOUVER -- The reputed best goaltender in history was the second-best goaltender on the ice on Sunday as Hockey Day in Heaven turned into sheer hell for
Brodeur inherited Canada's Olympic net at Salt Lake City in 2002 after
Babcock has two other goalies on the roster but only one other choice --
But the likely choice will be Luongo, greeted by the usual cheers of "Loooo" from Vancouver fans when he was introduced before the game. Luongo took pride of place in net for the opener against Norway last Tuesday, mostly to get Brodeur into a natural rhythm of Thursday-Sunday games. Luongo shut out Norway, but then again, one of those wooden planks with five holes cut out might have done almost, as well.
Luongo was a disaster in the second-round playoff series against Chicago last year and has a meager portfolio in pressure games, although he did successfully sub for Brodeur in the 2004 World Cup semifinals. In retrospect, that tournament might be viewed as Brodeur's last grand triumph. He has been a marvelous accumulator in the ensuing years -- he will own most NHL goaltending records when he finally retires -- but his Devils have won two playoff series since the lockout. Last spring, Carolina rallied to beat the Devils in a Game 7 in New Jersey with two late goals in a span of 80 seconds, a Brodeur meltdown as embarrassing as Luongo's mess against the Blackhawks.
On Sunday, in a game in which Canada outshot the U.S. 45-23 and had about the same 2-1 ratio of gilt-edge scoring chances, the blame has to be placed squarely on Brodeur's shoulders. Or more correctly, his feet.
Brodeur's feet always have been his Achilles heel, if you'll pardon the expression. Because he employs the butterfly less than almost any modern goalie, he can be vulnerable to shots along the ice -- something that former Devils defenseman
The first goal, 41 seconds into the game, came from the point. Indeed, Rafalski had so much time to tee it up, he could have counted the American flags in the crowd. The shot wound its way through a thicket of players, including
Some 8½ minutes later, Brodeur was again the master of his own misery. He is the best puck-handling goalie ever to play, but baseball is not his sport. He took a full swing at a puck and knocked it directly to Rafalski a full stride inside the blue line, testament to Brodeur's warning-track power. Rafalski again kept the puck low, but this time Brodeur chose to stack the pads in a move that was as old-time as it was ineffective. Brodeur looked particularly graceless on the goal, like a man who has reached his best-before date.
Maybe the juxtaposition to Miller put Brodeur's 18-save performance in a bad light. Then again, the glow of a red light rarely flatters.
Miller was almost bulletproof, more athletic and even more unflappable than Brodeur, who has spent his life majoring in
"If you have a one goal lead with two or three minutes to play, that's a matter of will," U.S. defenseman
If Miller is truly the best goaltender in the world, it follows that Brodeur must abdicate the title he has held, almost by default, since
And if Canada is going to realize what it still thinks is its manifest destiny, the estimable Brodeur is going to be watching from the bench.