Devils' Stevens seemingly getting better in 21st seasonPosted: Thursday May 08, 2003 5:23 PM
Updated: Thursday May 08, 2003 11:31 PM
WEST ORANGE, N.J. (AP) -- In the opening minutes of the New Jersey Devils practice on Thursday for their Eastern Conference final against Ottawa, Scott Stevens stood opposite Jamie Langenbrunner waiting to pounce on a rebound.
As the puck hit off goaltender Corey Schwab's pads. Stevens and Langenbrunner acted like kids on the first day of training camp, straining to be the first to slam the puck in the net.
It was hard to tell who got it, but Stevens smiled broadly as he skated hard to get back to center ice.
Stevens is not only enjoying his 21st season in the NHL, the 39-year-old defenseman is still the force driving the Devils to another Stanley Cup run.
The best-of-seven conference finals will start on Saturday in Ottawa.
"Every year he comes in and he's in the best shape of anyone in the locker room," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said after practice. "He is our leader, but it's more than just a leader. He's an example of what a professional athlete should be. The way he prepares and goes out and battles at this stage in his career. That's what guys are most impressed with."
Stevens has been phenomenal in the first two rounds of the playoffs. He leads the league with a plus-10 ranking despite missing most of Game 3 of the conference semifinal series after being hit in the ear with a shot. It's a remarkable figure because the offensively challenged Devils have only played 10 postseason games, and Stevens always goes against an opponent's top line.
He seemingly was on the ice every time Joe Thornton went to work for the Boston Bruins in the first round and he was out there when Vincent Lecavalier hit the ice for Tampa Bay in the conference semifinal.
It remains to be seen whom Stevens will face against the Senators. Ottawa has scorers on almost every line. The most likely choice would be against the line that has Marian Hossa. He leads Ottawa with five goals and seven assists.
Hossa, who has struggled in recent playoffs, has already surpassed his previous best of four goals in a 12-game run last year.
"Last year was probably the first playoff where [Hossa] competed well and took it to another level. This year, he kept progressing," said Senators coach Jacques Martin.
Center John Madden knows Stevens will be ready.
"The one thing I have always admired about Scotty is the way he prepares for a hockey game," Madden said. "He has accomplished a lot in his career, yet he comes to the rink and still works on the fundamentals of hockey."
Hot tempered youngster, Stevens has matured after two decades in the league.
"Sometimes the older a player gets the smarter he gets," Burns said. "You learn how to use your ice. You learn how to use your time and how to use your space."
Stevens just smiles when asked about his age. His face may be weathered and there are scars, but he doesn't play like an old man. He continues to be among the Devils' leaders in minutes played.
"Age is just a number," said Stevens who led the Devils to Stanley Cups in 1995 and 2000. "It's how you feel, what you do to take care of yourself and how you like the game. I enjoy the game. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy challenging age, if that's going to be a factor. I'm looking forward to it."
Brodeur cited one more key to Stevens' success: his ability to play under control.
"He plays within his own skills and doesn't try to do too much out there," Brodeur said. "If a lot of players tried to follow what he does, they'd be a lot more successful. You try to play over your head and you get in trouble."
Stevens usually doesn't.