TORONTO – It’s not as if Scott Niedermayer hasn’t seen this happen before.
Niedermayer is used to seeing Martin Brodeur frustrate his opponents night in and night out so Brodeur’s brilliant 27-save performance in Canada’s 3-1 win over Russia in the World Cup of Hockey on Saturday did not come as a shock.
“We have been together for 11 years and he’s done that a lot,” said Niedermayer, who is Brodeur’s teammate on the New Jersey Devils. “He’s why we have had some success down there.”
The win was the third straight for both Brodeur and Canada and it clinched top spot in the North American pool for Wayne Gretzky’s well balanced team of veterans and young stars.
Canada opens the medal round portion of the eight-team World Cup on Wednesday but it remains to be seen against whom.
The round robin ends Sunday night when Russia plays Slovakia and the outcome of that game will determine Canada’s next opponent.
The Canadians capitalized on a pair of Russian errors in the second period to score twice and all but take the Russians out of the game.
Brad Richards took a pass from Simon Gagne and snapped a 20-footer to open the scoring at 3:40 while the Canadians were killing a penalty. Then less than two minutes later, Kris Draper banged in a rebound for a 2-0 lead at 5:17. Joe Sakic scored at 5:43 of the third.
The Russians had plenty of scoring chances but Brodeur was more than equal to the task. His best save was on a short breakaway by Alexandre Frolov midway through the second period. The crowd of 19,266 was chanting “Marty Marty Marty” as Frolov banged his stick on the ice in frustration.
Canada coach Pat Quinn knows what the Russians were up against. Quinn also coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs and his club has not had a lot of success against Brodeur.
“It is difficult to know that you have to work hard and that is the difference often between a champion and not, that you have to work hard to create them and then you have to beat the goalie too. And he is a guy who has been a big part of their (New Jersey) success and teams do not have the success that Jersey has had over the last couple of years without goaltending of that quality and he might now be the best in the game.”
With Patrick Roy in retirement, Brodeur is the undisputed king of the crease in Canada and he’s the measuring stick for the new crop of rising star goalies such as Anaheim’s J.S. Giguere, Florida’s Roberto Luongo, Jose Theodore of the Montreal Canadiens and Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars.
Brodeur was fairly relaxed about his effort, praising the work of his teammates over lauding his efforts.
“It is fun to have a lot of people having confidence in me,” he said.
But he did say the game had some meaning for him.
“This game was special for one reason and that’s I never played against a whole Russian team and I was nervous about it. These guys are skilled players and I was really concentrating on being sharp out there. It was special because there are so many memories of Canada and Russia and I never had a chance to play and it was nice to get it done and on a good note, also.”
The only mistake he made was misplaying a shot by Sergei Gonchar midway through the third period.
“I was over confident in my game. I thought the puck was as big as a beach ball and this one was big. I do not know what happened,” said Brodeur. “I tried to deflect it into the corner before it came to me and I misplayed it. I wish I could have it back.”
Quinn plans to give his players a well-deserved day off on Sunday and will begin preparations for the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
He knows his players have confidence in their goaltending and how that can make a difference in the end result.
“Any good team can try some things knowing they are backed up. There isn’t that afraid to do things because you are worried about having to cover up or help the goalie up so it does give you freedom,” said Quinn. “Great goalies do give you freedom and ordinary ones don’t and Marty has been doing that for NHL teams and New Jersey for as long as I can remember.
And Canadians are thankful.