Defense leads Devils in playoffs

Posted: Friday, May 12, 2000

WEST ORANGE, N.J. -- There's no secret to the New Jersey Devils' success in the playoffs. It's all about a defense that has frustrated opponents and given goaltender Martin Brodeur a vacation in the postseason.

While opponents call it the neutral zone trap, the Devils prefer to leave it nameless.

It's more mysterious that way, and that's just what the Devils want heading into the Eastern Conference finals against the Philadelphia Flyers, starting Sunday.

''I just think we are playing good positional hockey,'' Devils center Bobby Holik said. ''I don't see the trap being created that much. We play well in our end and we play well in their end. We're responsible with the puck. People can watch it and name it whatever they want, whether they like it or not. We like it, we're winning.''

Not only have the Devils won eight of 10 games in the playoffs, they dominated Florida and Toronto in the first two rounds. Those teams averaged just over 22 shots against Brodeur, scoring 15 goals in 10 games.

In eliminating Toronto on Monday night, New Jersey allowed a modern-day, NHL-record low six shots in a 3-0 win.

After the series, the Maple Leafs whined about the neutral zone trap, a system which clogs up center ice and makes it difficult for opposing teams to get into the offensive end.

Veteran defenseman Ken Daneyko laughed at the suggestion that Larry Robinson has gone to the trap since replacing Robbie Ftorek as coach in March.

''Larry hasn't talked too much about a defensive system,'' Daneyko said. ''I don't know what system we are playing. Larry says when you have the puck go offense and when you don't, I want the forwards to come back hard and get in position. That's why we are successful defensively.

''When people use the word trap, I get a kick out of it because I still haven't heard it from Larry once,'' Daneyko added.

The one thing that has changed since Robinson took over is that the Devils are doing the little things to help their defense. When the puck is in their end, they get it out quickly. They don't allow much traffic in front of Brodeur and they have been very good in limiting odd-man rushes.

Much of the time that leaves opponents in the neutral zone trying to get into the Devils' end, which makes them feel like they are playing a neutral zone trap.

New Jersey's defense has given the Flyers problems in recent years because the Devils are as big and strong as Philadelphia.

The Devils won the season series 4-1 and it is 11-2-2 against the Flyers over the past three years.

What should be interesting to see is whether the Flyers can beat the system now that they are seemingly playing a different style of hockey with star center Eric Lindros sidelined with a concussion.

''Some people believe in opening it up, but that's not the way this team plays now,'' defenseman Chris Therien said after the Flyers' practice on Thursday. ''It's defense first. The Devils play the same way we do. It's almost like a chess match. It's who wants to be the most patient. Some goals are going to be scored by which team makes a mistake. That's the way the playoffs are.''

There is a difference in the way the teams play defense.

Brodeur has faced just 221 shots in 10 playoff games. Flyers rookie Brian Boucher has faced 299 in 11 games, or an average of 27.2. He has given up 22 goals, seven more than Brodeur.

''Our styles are a lot alike now,'' said Simon Gagne, who will move to second-line center in the expected absence of Keith Primeau (concussion) for Game 1. ''The games will be tight, the shots might be 15-15. We have to dump the puck, pinch our defensemen and work really hard against that team.''

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