Work in Sports
Allegations of rough play making Scott Stevens smile
Posted: Sunday May 07, 2000 10:54 PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- At the mention of the words "dirty play," a smile briefly appeared on the face of New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens.
It was hard to tell whether the Devils captain was laughing at the accusations the Toronto Maple Leafs are making about him or wondering how anybody could confuse tough physical play with being dirty.
Either way, Stevens didn't really care Sunday after the Devils held a short team meeting. All that was important was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal on Monday night at the Continental Airlines Arena.
If the Devils win, they advance to the conference championship round for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 1995 and they extend the Maple Leafs' Cup drought to 33 years.
New Jersey moved within a game of the conference final by beating the Maple Leafs 4-3 in Toronto. Stevens helped set the tone Saturday night with devastating open-ice hits on Tomas Kaberle and Kevyn Adams.
Those hits didn't upset the Maple Leafs as much as what they claim are little extra whacks and punches that Stevens takes during plays. Toronto claims they have not been called by the referees in the series.
After 18 NHL seasons, Stevens admits it's upsetting being called a dirty player for the first time.
"I find that hard to understand," Stevens said. "I know what type of player I am and it doesn't bother me. Sometimes you have to look at the source. I feel I am a very clean hockey player. I always keep my elbows down and use my shoulder, and I'm not going to change.
"I think we don't see enough of that anymore," Stevens said about his physical play. "I think it's too much of a free-style European game and we need more of the good, hard hitting, personally. I think it makes for a good hockey game, and we need to get back to it a little."
In his own defense, Stevens noted that for all the hits he has made in nine games since the playoffs started, he's only been called for two minor penalties.
The other positive for the Devils is that Stevens has helped take out the opposition's top lines since the postseason began.
Pavel Bure, who led the league with 58 regular-season goals, had just one goal in the first round. Stevens was his constant companion on the ice.
Against Toronto, Stevens has been matched against the Maple Leafs' top line of Mats Sundin, Steve Thomas and Jonas Hoglund. That trio had 10 goals in an opening-round win over Ottawa. It has one in five games against New Jersey.
Hence the gripes, Stevens said.
"I must be hurting them a bit," he said. "They must be feeling it a bit. If they are concerned about hitting, I think it's great. It's fun and I enjoy it. It's a big part of hockey. I have always played that way, since I was small. I think it's very important in playoff hockey to be a physical team and finish your checks."
The end to Saturday night's game was ugly, with the teams scuffling in front of the Devils' net after the final horn. Stevens got in the middle of that incident after leaving the penalty box, which doesn't violate league rules because the game was over.
While calling Stevens a great defenseman, Toronto forward Darcy Tucker also questioned his play.
"When the guy doesn't have the puck and he's getting punched in the face and getting crosschecked in the back, it's tough to get anything going," Tucker said.
If the Maple Leafs are going to come back, they have to get their power-play on track. They have not scored a power-play goal since Game 3 of the Ottawa series and are 2-for-41 overall.
"We know we can win at New Jersey. We've done that already," Tucker said. "We have to go in there and take it period by period, and bring it back home here."
Going back to Toronto is the last thing the Devils want. They lost a seven-game series in the opening round with Pittsburgh last year and they are still haunted by playoff collapses the past two years.
"We have to approach every game like it's a Game 7," Devils center Bobby Holik said. "We played that way in Toronto and hopefully we'll bring that same attitude to this game and not let up for one second."