Scott Stevens once again was a physical force and Martin Brodeur recorded his second straight shutout as the Devils grabbed a commanding three games to none lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with a 4-0 blanking of the Hurricanes.
In Game Two on Sunday, Stevens put his stamp of the series by sending Shane Willis sprawling with a patented open-ice hit late in the contest. Willis suffered a concussion and missed Tuesday's game.
It did not take Stevens long before he established his presence in Game Three, sending Hurricanes captain Ron Francis to the ice with a hit along the right boards less than three minutes into the contest. Francis staggered to the bench and returned briefly later in the period before leaving for good with what was described as a slight concussion.
Even though no penalty was called on the hit, Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice indicated there should have.
"I don't think that you can leave your feet on a hit like that but that will be a debate," Maurice said. "You guys (media) could debate it depending on what your zip code is. I'm not saying anybody should get a free ride out there, but certainly there is a certain amount of respect that has to go into the game. I don't think Ronnie Francis deserves to be run like that."
Devils coach Larry Robinson had a different view afterward.
"This is a physical game and if they can't take the hitting than maybe they should change professions," Robinson said. "The last time I looked this was a physical game and body checking was allowed."
"It was just playoff style hockey, but you hate to see anyone get hurt like that," said Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko. "But hey, Scottie (Stevens) plays tough."
In last season's playoffs, Stevens had a series of punishing open-ice hits, including one in Eric Lindros' last NHL game, en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the postseason as the Devils captured the Stanley Cup.
The defending Stanley Cup champions have dominated this series from the outset, leading for 142 minutes, eight seconds. They could complete a sweep in the quarterfinal round for the second straight season Wednesday.
Brodeur stopped 11 shots over the first two periods and turned aside five in the third en route to his 10th career playoff shutout. He has stopped 52 of 53 shots in the series.
Scott Gomez scored once and set up two other goals for the Devils, who also continued to dominate away from home in the playoffs. Last season, New Jersey went 10-2 on the road in the postseason.
Showing their frustration in the third period, the Hurricanes took numerous runs at Stevens and the game turned into a chippy affair. Stevens also got the best of Hurricanes defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh in a fight 6 1/2 minutes into the third period.
"It doesn't bother me. I love that type of game," Stevens said. "If you want to come at me, I'll be hitting too."
Carolina was assessed 71 minutes in penalties, compared to just 33 for New Jersey. There were 20 combined penalties called in the third period.
"Everybody gets mad at Scottie, they're all upset because he checks people but he is probably one of the cleanest checkers in the league," added Robinson. "There is a lot more dirty stuff that went on other than Scott Stevens' body check."
Playing their first playoff game ever at the Entertainment and Sports Arena before a less than capacity crowd, the Hurricanes came out fired up but seemed to become deflated when Stevens plowed into Francis.
New Jersey capitalized just 4:44 into the contest when Bobby Holik skated to the bottom of the left faceoff circle and wristed a shot past the glove of goaltender Arturs Irbe for his second goal of the series.
Irbe, who has been under heavy fire the entire series, made a mistake less than three minutes later that helped New Jersey take a 2-0 advantage.
Irbe threw the puck errantly into the left corner, where Alexander Mogilny picked it up. Mogilny made a quick pass to Gomez, who tapped home the puck from just to the right of the crease for his fifth career playoff goal.
Carolina had one of its few chances to get on the board with less than 10 minutes left in the period. Stationed all alone at the bottom of the right circle, Martin Gelinas shot wide of the net.
After that dominating opening period, it took the Devils just 1:35 before they extended the lead in the middle period.
Off a 2-on-1, Gomez made a beautiful drop pass to Mogilny. Trailing the play, Randy McKay drove to the net and took a pass from Mogilny and tapped the puck past Irbe for his 15th career playoff goal and a 3-0 New Jersey lead.
Defenseman Brian Rafalski capped the scoring at 4:37 of the period, beating Irbe from the bottom of the left circle for his third career playoff goal.
Brodeur has not allowed a goal in 128 minutes, 33 seconds since Josef Vasicek scored in the third period of Game One.
"Obviously they are up 3-0," Hurricanes center Jeff O'Neill said. "We've got to go out and play accordingly to the situation. If we lose, we're done."