Work in Sports
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Ed Belfour returned to form and put the Dallas Stars right back in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Belfour made the saves he didn't make in Game One and Brett Hull scored his second goal of the night with 4:16 remaining as the Stars evened the best-of-seven series at one win apiece with a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.
Pulled after allowing six goals on only 18 shots in Tuesday's opener, Belfour made 27 saves and won for the ninth time in as many starts following a loss. He stopped all 19 shots over the final two periods and helped the defending Stanley Cup champions kill a key power play midway through the third.
"I felt a lot stronger today and was seeing the puck really well," said Belfour, who blamed his Game One performance on an adverse reaction to a prescription decongestant. "It definitely felt like I was back on track."
The game was deadlocked at 1-1 for more than 43 minutes until Hull got his league-leading 11th playoff goal and fourth game-winner.
Off a turnover in the neutral zone, Mike Modano carried over the Devils blue line on the left side and got the puck through rookie defenseman Brian Rafalski's legs. Jere Lehtinen skated onto it and flipped a shot from the bottom of the left faceoff circle that Hull tipped past goaltender Martin Brodeur's glove.
"I saw Jere going wide, went to the net and kind of saw him flip it to the front of the net and just threw my stick out there.
And I didn't know that went in until I saw Mike raise his arms," said Hull, who scored on Dallas' first and last shot of the game.
"Lehtinen, I think, kind of just backhanded it real soft and I went to grab it," said Brodeur, who made 15 saves. "Brett Hull was cutting through and just hit it out of mid-air."
Belfour had no trouble protecting the lead as Dallas effectively prevented the Devils from gaining the zone over the final four minutes.
"They played smart, they played very well in the neutral zone and we didn't get through there very well, like we did in the first game," noted New Jersey captain Scott Stevens.
Coming off an uncharacteristic 7-3 loss, the Stars gained home-ice advantage and will host Game Three on Saturday night.
"You look at teams that have won for a long time, they seem to have a fierce pride about being embarrassed and they respond," Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They consider a loss, whether it is 7-3 or 2-1, to be an embarrassment. They usually come back with their best effort. And I thought our effort got better and better and better as the game went on."
The loss was New Jersey's first in six Stanley Cup Finals games and ended an overall four-game winning streak that dated to the Eastern Conference finals.
"We just didn't play as well as we did in the first game," Devils center Bobby Holik said. "They played the way they wanted to play. We let them get back in the series. It shouldn't have happened. It's our fault, we just didn't show up determined enough to win. They showed us they wanted to win more than we did."
New Jersey had its chances to break the tie early in the third period. Belfour got his right pad on a pair of point-blank rebound chances by Claude Lemieux, then made a chest save on Randy McKay's backhanded deflection. McKay had another chance with 13:15 remaining, but Belfour squeezed his pads to stop his one-timer from the low slot.
"We knew that Eddie was going to come back a lot stronger," said Stars center Guy Carbonneau. "He has that reputation and he is a big warrior and he has done it for us a lot since he has been here."
"The game was certainly there for us, that's the only disappointing part," Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko said. "We had enough opportunities to win, we kept their opportunities down, but unfortunately we had a few defensive miscues. It's a fine line of winning or losing, especially in the Stanley Cup Finals, and you can't afford the little defensive breakdowns."
It took the series a little more than four periods to get down to the kind of trench warfare that was expected between two of the top defensive systems in the NHL.
Both teams had chances early in the second period. Petr Sykora's blast off a 2-on-1 was stopped by Belfour, and linemate Patrik Elias could not get to the rebound in the opening minute.
Former Devils captain Kirk Muller beat Brodeur from the right faceoff dot but rang his shot off the far goalpost with 16:17 left. Just over a minute later, Belfour stopped McKay as he cut across the crease.
Elias and Sykora had another odd-man rush with 13 1/2 minutes to go, but that was the last solid chance of the period as much of the play was confined to the neutral zone with both teams refusing to yield the blue line. New Jersey emerged with an 8-7 advantage in shots in the penalty-free frame.
The opening period was one of firsts.
The Stars grabbed their first lead of the series at 4:25 on Hull's 10th playoff goal. Dallas' Mike Keane rammed Jay Pandolfo into the boards, shattering a pane of Plexiglas between the player benches.
Just 15 seconds after play resumed, Modano passed off the left boards and Hull snapped a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat a surprised Brodeur to the top right corner of the net. It was the game's first shot on goal.
The Stars also had their first power play of the series after Lemieux was penalized for holding at 8:20, but they failed to muster a shot.
Rookies Blake Sloan of Dallas and Rafalski took roughing penalties at 10:56 and the Devils tied it during the ensuing 4-on-4.
Scott Gomez, the favorite for the Calder Trophy, drew three defenders as he skated over the Stars blue line but managed to kick the puck ahead to Alexander Mogilny. Mogilny got past the other defender, then put a wrist shot from the edge of the left faceoff circle past Belfour's glove side for his fourth playoff goal.
"I didn't have complete control of it and I saw how (the puck) was flying and I think the only way I got it to him was to kick it off my skate," Gomez said. "I got a little lucky and Alex has been shooting great."
Dallas went nine minutes without a shot after Hull's first goal as New Jersey dominated the second half of the period and had a 9-3 edge in shots.