Above the 49: Brodeur deserves hero's farewell

Martin Brodeur doesn't need another Stanley Cup ring to solidify his status as being one of the best goaltenders to ever lace them up in the National Hockey League, but there would be no better way for the future Hockey Hall of Famer and former Canadian Olympic hero to go out than on top with a fourth career Stanley Cup championship.

Of course, whether Brodeur decides to hang them up for good after this season is an entirely different story, but leading the New Jersey Devils to the title this season - which would be their fourth in team history and their fourth with Brodeur between the pipes - would give the Montreal native an opportunity to exit the game in a fashion that many in professional sports dream of and only few manage to achieve.

Brodeur, who turned 40 on May 6, has a list of accomplishments that certainly speaks for itself.

In addition to winning three Stanley Cup championships along with two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup of Hockey championship for Canada, he's also been honored numerous times individually, capturing four Vezina trophies, five Jennings trophies and a Calder Memorial Trophy in 1994 as rookie of the year, as well as appearing in five NHL All-Star games.

He's also the NHL's all-time leader in regular-season games played (1,191), wins (656), shutouts (119) and playoff shutouts (24). When the Stanley Cup Finals open Wednesday night, he'll become just the second netminder in NHL history to appear in 200 career playoff games, joining Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, who is the all-time leader among NHL goaltenders with 247 career playoff games played.

But before this improbable run by the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals, the final image of Brodeur that many would have had burned into their minds - particular among fans north of the border - would be of him losing his starter's gig and being relegated to a back-up role at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games as he watched Roberto Luongo assume the reigns of the Canadian Olympic squad following the preliminary round of that tournament and subsequently lead the team to a gold medal victory on home soil in Vancouver.

The Devils are hardly considered a marquee team despite the success their franchise has enjoyed especially in the late 1990s and into the early part of the 2000s, but the fact they've been largely a non-contender since the NHL lockout has meant there have been very few career highlights to speak of for Brodeur over the past few years.

Prior to this year, the Devils had not reached the Eastern Conference finals since winning the Stanley Cup in 2003 and last season missed the playoffs by 12 points in a campaign that saw Brodeur post a sub-.500 record for the first and only time in his career.

Brodeur's regular-season numbers this season aren't much to look at, but his play this postseason has been reminiscent of his dominating ways about a decade ago when he was routinely guiding the Devils to the top of the league standings year after year. He's posted a 2.04 GAA and a .923 save percentage through 18 games played this season. Back in 2003, he had a 1.65 GAA with a .934 save percentage in New Jersey's run to the Stanley Cup.

The Devils still have to get past their toughest test yet of these playoffs in the seemingly unbeatable Los Angeles Kings, but a storyline that sees Brodeur, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, lead his team to back to ultimate glory for perhaps the last time would be as sweet as they come.

And if this season truly is a last hurrah for Brodeur, riding off into the sunset with a Stanley Cup championship would certainly be an end befitting a legendary player of his status.