Work in Sports
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Scott Niedermayer provided a spark in his return to the lineup, but fellow defenseman Scott Stevens came up with the big goal for the New Jersey Devils.
Stevens scored off a 2-on-1 with 16:18 remaining as the Devils took a two games to none lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Stevens carried down the left side and worked a give-and-go with rookie John Madden, who threaded the return feed through defenseman Todd Simpson's legs. Stevens deked to his backhand before sliding the puck between goaltender Mike Vernon's pads for his 21st career playoff goal and second of the series.
"I've heard coaches in the past talk about when you get a 2-on-1 to move it up quickly the first time and then drive to the net," Stevens said. "I tried to give it to John quickly and the defenseman had to make a decision. He challenged John and he slid it over to me. It was just a great play."
Martin Brodeur made it stand up, stopping all five shots in the third period and finishing with 22 saves.
Niedermayer sat out Thursday's series opener while completing a 10-game suspension for slashing Florida left wing Peter Worrell during the regular season. But he lifted New Jersey into a 1-1 tie in the opening minute of the second period, scoring while the Devils were killing a 5-on-3 power play.
"I tried to get it. It was bouncing and I tried my best to get a stick on it," Niedermayer said. "I just wanted to put it towards the net. Maybe it was a little luck, I just tried to watch as close as I could."
Madden squeezed the puck past defenseman Robert Svehla at the right point, carried into the Panthers' zone and unleashed a slap shot from the left faceoff circle. Vernon stopped it, but Niedermayer corraled the bouncing rebound and whacked a backhander under the goalie's stick.
"You don't have you many chances to score, so if somebody makes a mistake, it can hurt," Panthers superstar Pavel Bure said. "It was really tough. We have a 5-on-3 power play and chances to score, but we get a goal against. You can't be happy when losing. It doesn't matter if it's 2-1 or 5-0."
Stevens took an ill-advised penalty for cross-checking Worrell with one minute remaining. Florida pulled Vernon for a 6-on-4 advantage but never tested Brodeur.
New Jersey had not had a 2-0 lead in the playoffs since defeating the Montreal Canadiens in the 1997 East quarterfinals for their last postseason triumph. The Devils are 4-0 in the playoffs when winning the first two games.
"Comfort is June 17, when the playoffs are over," New Jersey coach Larry Robinson said. "We did what we were supposed to do. You're supposed to win your home games. Tonight's game could have gone either way and we have to be realistic. We got off to a quick start, but we didn't play well for the whole 60 minutes. I'd still like to see our team play well for the whole 60 minutes to see where we stand."
Mike Sillinger scored the lone goal for Florida, which lost the only other series in which it fell behind 2-0.
"If you look at the way it unfolded, there was an opportunity to tie the series up. We have a big job in front of us," Panthers coach Terry Murray said. "We have to go back and play better as a team."
Sillinger gave the Panthers their first lead of the series with 5:15 left in the first period. Just 16 seconds after a Florida power play expired, Brodeur made a stick save on Bure's bad-angle shot. But Sillinger put in the rebound for his fourth career playoff goal.
Devils center Sergei Brylin was helped from the ice with a a bruised right knee early in the second period after a knee-to-knee collision with Florida's Oleg Kvasha.
New Jersey nearly tied it in the final minute of the period, but Alexander Mogilny's shot from the left circle hit the crossbar.