Martin Brodeur a link between 1994 and 2012

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur blows water into the Devils goalie Martin Brodeur blows water into the air before the second period of Game 5 of a second-round NHL playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers. (May 8, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Nineteen ninety-four was a long time ago, as the Devils have pointed out more than once during the past two weeks. And so it was.

So long ago that the Rangers' Craig MacTavish played without a helmet when the teams met that May. So long ago that current Rangers rookie Chris Kreider had recently celebrated his third birthday.

So long ago that Peter DeBoer had just earned a law degree from the University of Windsor (Ontario) and had not yet started to coach. And this: "In '94 I still had hair,'' the Devils' coach said. "It was that long ago.''

But for all that has changed between the Eastern Conference finals of 1994 and 2012, one key element has not: Martin Brodeur.

Even though Brodeur has won three Stanley Cups and established himself as an all-time great goaltender, many fans can't let go of the memory of him as an up-and-comer on the wrong end of dramatic Rangers victories in Games 6 and 7.

So, sir, what will you be thinking regarding 1994 when you take the ice for Game 6 Friday night at Prudential Center?

"Nothing,'' he said.

Nothing?

"I don't see anything that is similar,'' Brodeur said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "I know if you guys look at it, it looks the same. But it's different teams and a different way of playing the game. That's 18 years ago. That's a long time.''

Brodeur, 40, said he is "a lot more appreciative of what's going on'' than he was then. He also said he views the 2012 Devils as better equipped to finish off the Rangers than their '94 ancestors were.

"The Rangers were a good team when they beat us,'' he said. "We were not supposed to compete with them at all in '94. They made these trades and had all these big guys at the end, and they pulled it off in a dramatic way. But this time around, we feel we can play with them.''

The Devils lost Game 6 18 years ago Friday night, one day after Rangers captain Mark Messier vowed there would be a Game 7. He scored three goals in the Rangers' 4-2 victory.

"We didn't even know before the game was ended that he did a guarantee,'' Brodeur said. "I don't recall it having an effect on us at all. But I think at the end of the game, everybody made a big deal out of that. If he really said it, it's a pretty gutsy thing to do.''

So vivid are the memories of that game and of Game 7, which the Rangers won in double overtime, that Brodeur was asked to reflect on the latter even before the current series began.

"I grew from that,'' he said May 13. "It hurt, no doubt about that. I never hid it that it didn't affect me. I think I was the first one to say that was probably one of the toughest losses I ever had.

"But if I didn't have that loss, maybe I wouldn't have become who I became or even our organization. It's not just myself. And I think sometimes you need to hit the hurdles before you're able to go over them pretty easily.''

Still, Brodeur said, thinking about Stephane Matteau's series-winner "doesn't keep me up at night at all.'' He was more likely to lose sleep over the sloppy play he made that led to the Rangers' tying goal in Game 5 Wednesday night.

Brodeur likely will have to be better in Game 6, because his counterpart, Henrik Lundqvist, figures to be. Lundqvist had an off night, too, and now has allowed 10 goals in the series, same as Brodeur.

One thing Brodeur won't have to deal with at the Rock Friday night is an entire building loudly and derisively chanting his first name, as Rangers fans at the Garden did after the tying goal Wednesday night.

How might the younger Brodeur have handled that in 1994?

"Nobody knew my name back then,'' he said, laughing. "You know, it's different, but that was pretty amazing how loud they got chanting my name.''

Many Devils said the Rangers played their best game of the series in Game 5 and that the Devils would have to improve to close it out back home. "[Wednesday] was maybe a little wake-up call,'' Brodeur said.

The Devils take comfort in the fact that Brodeur has been down this path many times -- and precisely this path 18 years ago.

"He's an impressive guy,'' DeBoer said. "He's calm. He's been there before, and he's a calming influence on our team and in our dressing room. That's why he's the best of all time.''

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