By Jay Greenberg in Newark, N.J.
According to Marty Brodeur, Kris Versteeg came "out of nowhere", just like suddenly being 60 minutes away from summer.
But Versteeg, first to a wrap-around to feed Scottie Upshall at an empty net with 6:43 remaining Saturday night, only stole New Jersey's chances to pull out Game 5, a lot easier for Brodeur to wrap his head around than a series irretrievably lost.
Unlike in 2009, when the Hurricanes shockingly scored twice in the final 1:20 to steal Game 7 from Brodeur, 4-3, New Jersey still has another chance in Game 6 here Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET).
The Devils, who have kicked only the bucket fast in their last three boots at Lord Stanley's can, seem to have forgotten how to win in April.
Thus, these are the times that test their collective soul. Other than in the finals, when you are so close to the dream of a lifetime, the first-round defeat is the hardest to swallow.
After 1995, when the Devils won their first Stanley Cup, they only got to the second round once again before 2000, when they had to come from 3-1 down to beat Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference final. New Jersey then beat Dallas for the second of Brodeur's three Stanley Cups. So, if it doesn't kill you, says Marty, it ultimately makes you stronger.
"It's hard to [remember] what you were feeling at a certain time of the past," he said on a conference call Sunday. "But if you look at some of the teams that have won the Cup of late, they went through hurdles.
"There were [three] Game Sevens last year for Boston. In 1994 we lost a four-overtime Game 6 in Buffalo and had to get back at it for a Game 7 and went all the way to the conference final.
"These are tough circumstances, but a great opportunity. If we are able to look back that we came back and won this series, maybe that will give us a little push that will help us later in the playoffs."
Teams change so much from year to year that the fans shudder much more at the history than the players. The media had to make Brodeur aware that the Devils, who require back-to-back wins to stay alive, have not won consecutive playoff games since closing out Tampa Bay in six in 2007.
"Yeah it is surprising when you hear these kinds of stats but we changed a lot of players," said Brodeur. "We're not the only team in that situation.
"We only missed [the playoffs] once [in 15] years. Once you're in, you never know what's going to happen. We are playing a team that wants it as badly as we do. It's just a matter of getting the right bounces, staying disciplined, and doing the right things.
"We never slumped or streaked one way or the other this year until at the end of the year (won the last six). That's a sign of being consistent, how you bounce back. I don't expect anything less of the boys. We have to leave everything out there Tuesday."
The Devils did not do that Saturday, when they almost seemed to be taken aback when the Panthers, who had stayed in the series on power goals, raised their level at even strength.
Lack of response
"In Game 4 we had some good kills and came back with good shift or goals," said Brodeur. "In Game 5, every time we did something good, we never responded to the shift of momentum in our favour.
"We were never able to get that, regardless of whether it was us or the way they played us. We didn't spend much time in their zone as opposed to other games we have played them."
Go to the other end or go home. Devils boss Lou Lamoriello will go to the ends of the earth and never find another goalie in the class of this one, who has known every possible playoff situation, including how it feels to lose in the first round seven times.
Brodeur, who will turn 40 May 6, knows he wants to play at least another year and also knows by now that he is clueless as to what it might bring.
"Career-wise I don't feel it's going to be the last of it," he said. "But who knows what kind of position we're going to be in next year at this time?
"In the back of my head is the opportunity we have with a team I enjoyed playing for all year. I want to keep this going, regardless of what thefuture will bring because that's irrelevant to me right now.
"We're stuck with having to win every game the rest of the way. Not the greatest scenario we can think of, but that's what it is. We have to embrace it because we want to keep playing."
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?