Work in Sports
SUNRISE, Florida (Ticker) -- The New Jersey Devils ended a string of early playoff failures in impressive fashion, defeating the Florida Panthers, 4-1, to complete a four-game sweep of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Patrik Elias and Scott Niedermayer scored second-period goals for the Devils, who completed just the second playoff series sweep in franchise history. The other came against Detroit in the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals.
Since that championship, the Devils had won just one previous postseason series, getting upset in the first round each of the previous two years as the top seed in the East.
"It's nice to get that first series out of the way," Devils coach Larry Robinson said. "This is the game that probably scared me the most of all because the fourth one is the hardest to win and in each game you risk injury."
Sergei Nemchinov broke the game open with a a pair of goals in the final four minutes with Elias assisting on both tallies.
The support would be more than enough for Martin Brodeur, who stopped 35 shots to extend his unbeaten streak against Florida to 12 games (9-0-3).
"That's the Marty I've seen in the past," said Devils center Bobby Holik. "What else can I say? You saw it. He was awesome."
Pavel Bure scored for Florida, the only goal of the series for the Russian star who was frustrated by the Devils' tight checking and was shadowed for most of the game by Scott Stevens.
The Panthers have lost 12 of their last 13 playoff games.
"I thought we played with a lot of passion and a lot of hard work and intensity," Panthers coach Terry Murray said. "There was a lot of good offensive play. It certainly wasn't a 4-1 game when you broke it down. Brodeur was the best player on the ice tonight. That's why they won."
The banged-up Devils, who fired coach Robbie Ftorek in March in favor of Robinson, likely gave themselves at least five days of rest before beginning their Eastern Conference semifinal series. Defenseman Ken Daneyko (strained abdominal muscle) and center Jason Arnott (sprained wrist) were among the Devils playing with injuries.
Florida goalie Mike Vernon stopped 31 shots in defeat, but fell to 0-8 lifetime against New Jersey in the playoffs. Vernon was in the nets for Detroit in the 1995 Finals.
Niedermayer gave the Devils their first lead of the game at 15:02 of the second. He bounced off a check from Mike Wilson in back of the net and skated along the back line. Randy McKay gained control of the loose puck in back of the goal and fed Niedermayer, who found the back of the net with a shot from a sharp angle.
"I'm glad we got this over with and didn't let them hang around," Niedermayer said.
Elias manufactured New Jersey's first goal at 4:26 of the second period. Rob Niedermayer of Florida coughed up the puck along the right boards after being checked hard by Elias. Petr Sykora gained control of the puck and passed cross ice to Arnott.
Elias, streaking toward the goal, poked a pass from Arnott past Vernon to tie the game at 1-1.
Brodeur, meanwhile, continued to frustrate the Panthers by stopping 14 shots in the second period, including a spectacular kick save on Peter Worrell.
"We played hard and they had a lot of chances the second period," Brodeur said. "But we find ways to win hockey games. We go out and play the game the way it's supposed to be played."
Bure, who led the league in scoring with 58 goals during the regular season, finally broke through with a power-play goal at 5:17 of the first period. With Holik off for interference, Bure blasted a slap shot from the top of the left circle through the legs of Brodeur.
"In the playoffs, it doesn't really matter if you lose 4-0 or in the seventh game. You're still losing," Bure said.
Florida scored just one goal in each of the last three games.
""We certainly would need more than one goal to beat the New Jersey Devils. Scott Stevens did a great job on Pavel and Marty Brodeur did the rest," the Panthers' Ray Whitney said. "Show me a happy loser in the playoffs and I'll show you a loser."
Nemchinov made it 3-1 when took a cross-ice pass from Elias and put a backhander past Vernon at 16:12. With 1:57 left, Nemchinov parked himself in front of the goal and easily converted a pass from Lemieux.