Work in Sports
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- "The Eagle" has crash-landed.
After going eight straight games without allowing more than two goals, Ed Belfour surrendered six before he was pulled in the third period as the New Jersey Devils captured the opener of the Stanley Cup Finals with a stunning 7-3 rout of the Dallas Stars.
Nicknamed "The Eagle," Belfour looked shaky on second-period goals by low-scoring defensemen Ken Daneyko and Scott Stevens as New Jersey broke open a tight game. In between, Belfour had no chance as Petr Sykora scored off a spectacular feed from Patrik Elias.
After yielding two goals on as many shots in the third period, Belfour was pulled for the first time since December. Afterwards, he said he has been fighting a cold.
"I think some of the medication (antibiotic and decongestant) I am on right now maybe caused some misjudgment," he added. "Hopefully I can get over it and feel a little better for the next game. I didn't feel like I had a lot of energy tonight and was making bad decisions, misjudging the puck and stuff like that."
The result was a surprise, not only for the margin but also because two of the NHL's top defensive teams combined for the highest-scoring Stanley Cup Finals game since Pittsburgh edged Chicago, 6-5, in Game Four of the 1992 series.
"We have to maintain our composure," Daneyko said. "This is one hockey game. This means we're up one game, that's all. It doesn't matter how we won, 2-1 or 7-3. We're realistic about it. It's one game and it doesn't get you nothing. We've got a lot of guys in this room who realize that."
"For whatever reason, we have played games like this," said Stars coach Ken Hitchcock. "The only difference between 7-3 and 4-3 has been Belfour. We have had a couple of performances from our team like this and we have always bounced back with a good performance."
Like the Philadelphia Flyers before them, the Stars could not contain the line of Sykora, Elias and Jason Arnott, which combined for four goals and seven assists. Sykora and Arnott each had two goals and two assists, and the trio has accounted for 21 of New Jersey's 53 playoff goals.
"We're playing pretty good hockey right now," Elias said. "We're confident, we're making the right plays, we're playing good positional hockey. We're skating well and we're putting the puck behind the goalies."
In contrast, Daneyko had not scored in 108 games and his last playoff goal came in Game Five of the 1995 Eastern Conference finals. But he broke a 1-1 tie 2:52 into the second.
Off a faceoff in the left circle, the puck squirted to New Jersey's Sergei Brylin. He pushed it back to Daneyko, whose slap shot hit Belfour's right knee, ricocheted off his left skate and found the net.
"I know that's not my forte or my job, but I kept telling the guys I'm going to save it for a special occasion," said Daneyko, who has appeared in all 126 playoff games in team history. "I think my patience was wearing thin."
The turning point came with 12:51 left in the period. Dallas' Guy Carbonneau, the NHL's oldest player at 40, poked in a rebound of Kirk Muller's deflection, but referee Don Koharski immediately waved it off, ruling he blew his whistle because he lost sight of the puck.
"We thought they might look upstairs and see it," Muller said.
"I haven't seen the replay, so I don't know really how close it was or what."
Moments later, Martin Brodeur got his glove on Brett Hull's rebound to preserve the lead and Sykora struck to make it 3-1.
Elias did not get off a shot on a breakaway but made a beautiful behind-the-back pass through defenseman Sergei Zubov's legs that was deflected inside the left goalpost by Sykora.
"I was just going to the net and I didn't expect him to make that pass, but I knew there was a chance because I know he tried that before," Sykora said. "And he made a very nice play."
"He didn't give me anything, he played me great," Elias said, referring to Belfour. "Then I thought about wrapping it around.
But I just kinda by intuition put it back behind my back and Petr was at the right place."
The Devils extended to a 4-1 lead on their 12th shot of the game with 3:56 left in the period. Stevens took a drop pass from Jay Pandolfo and ripped a shot from the top of the left circle.
Belfour got a piece with his right arm but it trickled in for Stevens' third playoff goal.
The onslaught continued in the third period. Randy McKay sent Brylin into the Dallas zone and Brylin warded off Zubov before putting a backhander over Belfour's left shoulder at 2:21. Two of Brylin's six career playoff goals have come in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Sykora ended Belfour's night 42 seconds later, slapping a loose puck over the goaltender's right shoulder for his team-best eighth goal of the postseason.
Belfour gave up six goals on 18 shots after entering with a .931 save percentage.
"It was 6-1 and things weren't going our way, and I think Hitch maybe realized that it was time to get me out of there," he said.
Rookie Manny Fernandez made his NHL playoff debut, but Arnott converted Bobby Holik's centering pass during a power play at 5:12 to make it 7-1. The defending Stanley Cup champions had not allowed more than five goals in a game during the regular season or playoffs.
Rookie Jon Sim and former Devil Kirk Muller scored 12 seconds apart to give Dallas something on which to build for Game Two, which is Thursday in New Jersey.
Devils rookie John Madden, who returned from a knee injury in Game Six of the Eastern Conference finals, limped off after his brace buckled late in the third period but said he should be back for Game Two. Stars captain Derian Hatcher suffered a hyperextended knee midway through the period, but Hitchcock described the injury as "minor."
Brodeur was not all that much better than Belfour, stopping only 18 shots. He faced just one shot over the first 10 1/2 minutes as the Devils grabbed a 1-0 lead.
Elias tried an unsuccessful wraparound, but Sykora made a behind-the-back pass to Arnott, who got away from Joe Nieuwendyk's check and deflected the puck by Belfour's glove.
The Stars tied it at 13:13 on their fourth shot. Jere Lehtinen passed from behind the goal line to defenseman Darryl Sydor, whose slapper from the top of the left circle beat Brodeur to the glove side for his first playoff goal.