Work in Sports
Rookies coming through for Devils
Posted: Sunday April 30, 2000 08:01 PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- While Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens have been outstanding, one of the big reasons the New Jersey Devils have played so well in the playoffs is their rookies, and we're not talking about Scott Gomez.
Gomez, who led NHL rookies in points and is the top candidate for rookie of the year honors, is struggling compared to center John Madden and defensemen Colin White and Brian Rafalski.
White scored the only goal, Madden helped kill off a crucial four-minute high-sticking penalty in the third period and Rafalski spent most of the night helping Stevens shut down Toronto's top line as the Devils evened their best-of-seven series with the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Games 3 and 4 of the second-round Eastern Conference series will be played at the Continental Airlines Arena on Monday and Wednesday.
"They are all fitting perfectly into the playoffs for us," left wing Patrik Elias said after the Devils practiced Sunday. "Whitey is a tough guy who works hard. He's surprised me. He's played well.
"Mads does his jobs well and plays hard, and Ralfy, he's got a lot of experience even though this is his first year here."
Since the playoffs started, the three rookies all made major contributions.
White, a late season recall from Albany of the AHL, not only has played a physical, tough game on defense, he also has a plus-3 rating.
Rafalski, who has been Stevens' defensive partner all season, also is plus-3. He has two assists and one goal, the game winner in Game 3 of the opening-round sweep against Florida.
Madden, who tied a record with six short-handed goals in the regular season, has helped the Devils kill off 23 of 24 short-handed situations. He's a plus-2 for the playoffs with one of his two assists coming on a goal by Scott Niedermayer during a two-man disadvantage in Game 2 against Florida.
Gomez has been the biggest surprise, with the surprise being his lack of play and production. Although he had the game-winning goal in the series opener against Florida, his playing time has diminished. He's minus-1 in six playoff games.
Coach Larry Robinson nearly scratched him Saturday night because he has not been skating well. He played just 12 shifts and 9 minutes, 34 seconds on Saturday, but Robinson said he skated better.
"To tell you the truth, as long as the team wins, there is nothing to be down about," Gomez said Sunday.
Rafalski, who played four years in Sweden and Finland before joining New Jersey this season, said it isn't hard to fit into the Devils system because everyone has a role.
"We all know what we need to do," Rafalski said. "There hasn't been much change coming to the playoffs. Mad Dog (Madden) is still killing off penalties and it seems his playing time has increased playing against the top lines.
"I'm still playing with Scotty, and Whitey has been solid. I guess the only thing is Gomer [Gomez] has been struggling a bit. He may be a little tighter, but I'm sure he'll adjust and he'll do better as we play more games."
Like Gomez, the Maple Leafs have struggled generating offense against Brodeur, taking just 41 shots in two games.
"We have to get the pace up and make it more end to end," center Mats Sundin said. "We won't win the series this way."
Sundin, Steve Thomas and Jonas Hoglund combined for 10 goals against Ottawa in the first round. The line has not scored against the Devils.
"Our game is a creative, flowing game through the neutral zone and they're not allowing us to do that," said Thomas, a former Devils player. "We worked on a few things in practice to try and combat that."