Martin Brodeur's tale lives on

SUNRISE, Fla. -- So there will be no storybook ending this season for the Florida Panthers. Yet there still could be one for New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.

The Hall of Fame-bound veteran managed to keep the possibility alive, giving himself a chance to be playing when his 40th birthday rolls around on May 6 while giving his team its first playoff series victory since 2007. Brodeur turned in a vintage effort, stopping 43 shots to lead New Jersey to a 3-2 double-overtime win over the Panthers in the seventh and deciding game of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

"You always expect him to do big things in big games, and he was huge for us tonight," Devils forward David Clarkson said. "That's why he is who he is. "

Brodeur, of course, is arguably the greatest goaltender of all time -- but someone who has yet to declare his intentions about the future. Brodeur, however, has made enough "I'm going to enjoy it while I can" comments throughout the first-round series to suggest that he's at least seriously thinking this could, in fact, be his last go-round. And despite looking visibly fatigued from a drawn-out evening, he was clearly enjoying himself.

"We started at 8:30 and I'm usually in bed by 11," said Brodeur, joking. "But it's really rewarding when you come out on top.

"You know you want to contribute and play well. I thought [Florida] didn't outplay us all series. They played well but we played well too, and we deserved better than what we had to go through."

Then again, you might be able to make the same argument for the Panthers, who concluded on a disappointing note what was by any measure a remarkable transitional season for the organization.

With a final game roster of 14 players who were aboard when last season ended, and a new coach in his rookie NHL season, Florida managed to win the Southeast Division and nearly pull out a dramatic victory in front of its largest crowd. And the Panthers stretched the Devils to the limit, in large part because of a power play that dominated what was statistically the league's best penalty-killing unit in history throughout the series.

"Maybe when we look back at it later, we'll get a better sense of what we accomplished," Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "There's a lot of positives we'll be able to take out of this season and the way we got this organization back on track. But right now, it's tough to swallow."

More so perhaps because the Panthers mounted a furious third-period rally that erased a New Jersey lead provided by Adam Henrique and Stephen Gionta, and dominated much of the first overtime period. Not surprisingly, it was the power play triggering the comeback, with Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc connecting on man advantages to force the overtime. The problem for Florida was that it could not draw the visitors, who were a better team at even strength throughout the series, into more penalties in the extra sessions. And so it ended when Henrique scored his second goal of the game.

"I thought we had the game in control, and then we took a couple of penalties," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "It was the same story the whole series: The momentum shifted when we started going to the penalty box.

"But [Marty] was outstanding, especially in the first overtime and late in the third. He was our best player tonight, and he had to be or we don't win."