PITTSBURGH -- Lots of odd-man rushes, plenty of breakaways and scoring chances. This is exactly how the Pittsburgh Penguins envisioned the Eastern Conference finals -- only not with the New Jersey Devils generating all the offense.
Brian Rafalski and Jason Arnott scored as the Devils opened an early two-goal for the second consecutive game, then avoided the letdown that cost them the previous game as they seized the series lead with a 3-0 victory Thursday night in Game 3.
''I don't think there is any doubt this was our best game of the playoffs,'' defenseman Scott Stevens said.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Devils can open a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series by winning Game 4 Saturday in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins have lost seven of their last 10 playoff games. The Penguins have been outscored 21-16 on home ice while losing four of seven this spring.
Not even Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, hockey's two most dangerous scorers, could solve the Devils' trapping defense or prevent the Penguins' first shutout defeat in a home playoff game since a 1-0 loss to the Islanders and goalie Glenn Resch on April 26, 1975. Resch is now a Devils broadcaster.
It was the 11th career playoff shutout for goalie Martin Brodeur, tying him with Ed Belfour for seventh on the NHL list, and his third this spring. He had consecutive shutouts against Carolina in the first round.
''We played really, really well,'' said Brodeur, who often struggles against the Penguins. ''We didn't break down at all. It's important for us to keep dominating, because they needed only six minutes to beat us in Game 2. If we don't keep doing the little things, Game 2 will happen again.''
The Devils' top line of Patrik Elias, Arnott and Petr Sykora came out fast and dominated a depleted Penguins defense, which badly missed agitator Darius Kasparaitis, who sat out with two broken toes sustained in Game 2.
In that game, the Devils opened a two-goal lead -- they have in all three games of the series -- only to squander it as the Penguins scored four consecutive goals off giveaways, defensive breakdowns and Lemieux-generated plays to win 4-2 Tuesday night.
This time, the Devils went into a shutdown mode after seizing the 2-0 lead at 12:31 of the first on Arnott's power-play goal six seconds into a 5-on-3 advantage, created by a pair of ill-advised Pittsburgh penalties in open ice.
The Devils tried to build on the lead -- and ultimately did, with Elias scoring 1:27 into the third period -- but were equally efficient at shutting down a Penguins attack that was without second line forward Robert Lang, who sat out with a strained back muscle.
''It's simple. We have to have good defensive positioning against this team and when we do, we get plenty of scoring opportunities,'' Bobby Holik said.
Forced to reassemble all four lines, the Penguins never did develop any offensive consistency or the flurry of chances that marked their second game comeback, and were outshot 36-20. Jagr didn't score for the fifth consecutive game, and Lemieux, who draws two defenders nearly every time he sees the puck, was held without a goal for the eighth time in nine games.
''This is a great team we're playing,'' Lemieux said. ''We've got to find a way to play against them. They've got four men back all the time, and you get around one, and then another, and they've still got two back.''
As the Penguins failed to take a shot for the first 14 1/2 minutes of the third period, even while trailing 3-0, their frustrated fans began chanting, ''Shoot the puck! Shoot the puck!''
The Devils created the open ice the Penguins couldn't find by attacking a seam in the middle of the Pittsburgh defense that opened up for New Jersey's first two goals. The Devils had 12 odd-man rushes to only one for Pittsburgh, and most came as they got 24 shots in the first 1 1/2 periods.
''We've got to understand this isn't an accident,'' defenseman Marc Bergevin said. ''Those guys are good.''
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