Stevens stars in Devils' 3-1 victory in Game 4Posted: Wednesday April 30, 2003 9:52 PM
Updated: Thursday May 01, 2003 3:12 AM
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- A good night's rest is all Scott Stevens needed to get back in a playoff mode.
Returning to New Jersey's lineup two nights after being hit in the left ear with a puck, Stevens scored a goal and anchored another strong defensive performance as the Devils beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Wednesday night. New Jersey moved within one victory of the Eastern Conference finals.
"We did ourselves a big favor by winning, there's no question about that," Stevens said. This is a huge game for us, and we got the job done. We want to build on it, go back home and play a great game. ... If we play like we did tonight, we should have a good chance."
The 39-year-old Stevens didn't make a definitive decision to play until pregame warmups. But he had a pretty good idea he would try after waking up at the team hotel and discovering much of the swelling in his face had subsided.
"I had a lot of sleep, and I think that really helped," said Stevens, who played with extra padding on his helmet to protect the injury. "Our equipment manager did a good job, and the doctors reassured me that things should be fine.
"But it was my call. No one put pressure on me. They said: 'It's up to you Scotty. ... If you can go, go.' "
Game 5 is Friday night.
"We're in a good position, but the series is far from over," New Jersey's John Madden said.
"We've watched Tampa Bay win four in a row off Washington [in the first round]. ... I was very surprised to see that, so I give a lot of respect to them and would not count them of the series by any stretch."
Stevens missed all but 77 seconds of Game 3 Monday night after Pavel Kubina's slap shot hit him in the side of the face, opening a cut that required 15 stitches -- and adding an element of controversy to the series.
Some of the New Jersey captain's teammates wondered whether Kubina intentionally shot the puck at Stevens, drawing an angry response from Lightning coach John Tortorella and his players.
Kubina denied he was aiming at Stevens and apologized to the 13-time All-Star, who not only started his 138th consecutive playoff game for the Devils, but was on the ice for all three of New Jersey's goals.
"He didn't seem like he missed a beat," Tampa Bay's Dave Andreychuk said.
In fact, Stevens played more than 10 minutes of the opening period and finished with a team-high 27:35 of ice time.
"He didn't play like a guy that was trying to protect an injury. He did everything," New Jersey coach Pat Burns said.
"He's an unbelievable leader. We need him in the lineup," Madden added.
"He'll go down in the history books as one of the toughest guys ever to play the game. I've seen him endure a lot of things that would make a grown man cry. When he goes in the hockey Hall of Fame, that's one of the things I'll remember about him is his toughness."
Gomez scored on the Devils' first shot, beating Nikolai Khabibulin between the pads on a breakaway set up by Andreychuk's turnover at the red line. The Devils are 5-0 in the playoffs when they score first.
The Lightning made it 1-1 on Jassen Cullimore's wrist shot from the top of the left circle later in the opening period. Five minutes later, Elias put the Devils ahead for good with his first goal of the playoffs.
Stevens scored from the slot following a faceoff, making it 3-1 on a power play with 6:47 remaining in the game. It was his 25th career playoff goal in 218 games.
"I have to give the guys credit that played around me, because they made it a lot easier for me," Stevens said. "I think they worked extra hard to help make things a little easier for me. I made a few mistakes, and they covered up for me."
Notes: Khabibulin hadn't allowed a first-period goal in six games before Gomez scored. ... Gomez has one goal and five assists in the series after not having any points in the Devils' first-round win over Boston. ... Stevens has not missed a playoff game in 12 seasons with the Devils. ... New Jersey RW Turner Stevenson was scratched with a groin strain. ... Lightning D Brad Lukowich will miss the remainder of the playoffs after breaking his right hand in Game 3. ... Cullimore's goal was the first by a Tampa Bay defenseman in the playoffs.