Martin Brodeur helps keep the Devils alive

NEWARK, N.J. — There is a Peter Pan quality to New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, a blend of old and young that makes him the perfect teammate to weather the ups and downs of a long NHL season.

The Devils were down 3-0 in games to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final and all hope appeared lost. Or it did until Wednesday night, when the Devils, behind future Hall of Famer Brodeur, squeezed out a 3-1 victory over the Kings to stay alive.

Afterward, Brodeur — who turned 40 earlier in these playoffs and played his 200th playoff game in the opener against the Kings — was light and relaxed. Personality-wise, he is the antithesis of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who is so tightly wound and reluctant to say anything of consequence that only the clichés dribble out … even those don’t come readily.

Brodeur, by contrast, was laughing, telling jokes and issuing sly warnings to the Kings — that there is still business to be concluded. This was no different from the Brodeur you see away from the podium after a regular-season game in December.

Kings Coach Darryl Sutter figured the Kings played better in their Game 4 loss than they did in their Game 2 victory at Newark. “Differences? Missed opportunities and Brodeur’s play last night,” Sutter said Thursday before the Kings departed for New Jersey.

Said forward Trevor Lewis, who had one of the Kings’ best scoring chances: “He played really well. He stopped a few breakaways. We hit a couple posts. But he’s a great goalie. We know he’s going to do that.”

In many respects, the Kings had their first real glimpse of the Devils in the elimination game, a team that had forged a similar, if less dramatic, path through these playoffs. New Jersey was seeded sixth, but in successive rounds took out No. 3 Florida, No. 5 Philadelphia and the No. 1 New York Rangers, their archrivals.

Another similarity: Much as the Kings’ season turned around in the final month when center Mike Richards finally rediscovered his scoring touch, and helped balance what had been a sputtering offense, the Devils made a late-season surge when center Travis Zajac came back from an Achilles’ tendon injury that limited him to 15 regular-season games.

Zajac’s return allowed the Devils to play rookie sensation Adam Henrique as a complementary No. 2 center and Henrique has responded with timely goals in the playoffs, including the game-winner Wednesday. Henrique, who is a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) finalist, took a pass off his skate, put it on his stick and scored before Quick could cover the short side.

Brodeur said that Henrique has “grown a lot as a player” this season.

“These playoffs, it’s obvious the goals he has scored are important goals for this team,” Brodeur said. “His head is up, his skating ability, the way he handles and protects the puck, it’s pretty amazing to see at that young age ... to be able to come in and really be an impact the way that he is.”

Brodeur also made an impact at a young age. He has been around long enough to remember all the Devils’ history with the Rangers. He was in goal for Mark Messier’s famous guaranteed win over the Devils in 1994, which propelled the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup title in 54 years. Brodeur has had more than his share of last laughs and big wins since.

This is his fifth Stanley Cup Final, and already has had his name engraved on the Cup three times. He has more regular-season wins that any other goaltender in NHL history, and only Patrick Roy, who was the Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender when they defeated the Kings in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final, has had more playoff starts.

Henrique, who took questions after Brodeur on the podium after Game 4, disputed one question, which suggested that the veteran goalie had played his best game of the series in Game 4.

“I think he’s played great the whole series, the whole playoffs,” Henrique said. “He took us to overtime the first two games, gave us a chance to win those ones. He kept us in it from start to finish. He made some great plays, some great saves. It’s what we’ve come to expect from him. He’s a huge reason why we’re here.”

It is that experience, combined with a childlike pleasure at still playing a kids’ game, that radiates from Brodeur when he sits at the podium and answers questions.

Does winning once make the Devils believe more?

“More than yesterday,” Brodeur said with a smile, adding that they would try to make it “miserable” for the Kings.

The weather might contribute to that misery. It is expected to be muggy and humid in Newark, the conditions both teams faced in Game 1 that made the ice a sloppy, soupy mess.