Devils heat up Texas

New Jersey edges Dallas, takes 2-1 lead

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2000

DALLAS -- The New Jersey Devils lured the Dallas Stars into their trap. Now, they have the lead -- and the momentum -- in the Stanley Cup finals.

The Devils' top line scored twice, with Petr Sykora and Jason Arnott each scoring their third goal in three games, and shut out the Stars' frustrated big scorers for a 2-1 victory Saturday night in Game 3.

The Devils overcame an early deficit, in one of the toughest buildings for any road team to win, behind goaltender Martin Brodeur's strong play to seize a 2-1 advantage over the defending champions. Game 4 is Monday night in Reunion Arena.

''We controlled the puck and didn't give a whole lot of chances,'' Devils defenseman Scott Stevens said. ''They can't score if they don't have the puck.''

It has started at the top for the Devils, who lack Dallas' big names and big guns yet are getting a huge series from Sykora, Arnott and Patrik Elias, who have 14 points to four for the Stars' Brett Hull, Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen.

Before the game, the Devils' top line met privately to discuss their ineffectiveness in the Stars' 2-1 victory in Game 2. In the opener, trio combined for four goals and 11 points as the Devils won 7-3.

''We were pretty quiet,'' Arnott said. ''We all knew what we had to do to get out of it.''

Mostly, get a lead, then let the Devils' neutral zone trap defense and Brodeur protect it. Brodeur made 22 saves, several during a power play resulting from his own delay-of-game penalty with 4:15 remaining.

''Our penalty killing won this game for us,'' said coach Larry Robinson, whose Devils killed off a two-man advantage after Dallas opened a 1-0 lead.

Brodeur's biggest save may have come against Hull in the closing minutes. Modano set Hull up perfectly in the slot, just as he did during Hull's two-goal night in Game 2, but the shot bounced off Brodeur's shoulder.

''It's tough, because we had enough chances,'' Stars defenseman Derian Hatcher said.

Arnott scored the tying goal late in the first period, then set up Sykora's game winner on a power play in the second. Apparently, the Devils' top liners paid attention when Robinson said he wished he had split them up because of their ineffectiveness in Game 2.

''We didn't play that well in second game. We knew we had to come back and score some goals,'' Sykora said. ''This is the way we wanted to come back. We could've scored a couple more, but we'll take those two goals.''

Sykora, who had two goals in Game 1, took Arnott's pass and snapped it past goaltender Ed Belfour, who mistimed the hard shot, closing his glove a millisecond after the puck flew by at 12:27. The power play resulted from Sylvain Cote's elbowing of John Madden directly in front of referee Terry Gregson.

It was only the 14th goal allowed by Belfour in the Stars' 11 home playoff games. Belfour played well, turning aside 29 of 31 shots, many on acrobatic saves, but had no help from his offense.

''Their desperation to defend was more evident than our desperation to score,'' Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. ''Their ability to defend was everything.''

Modano was unhappy his line didn't go against the Devils' No. 1 line nearly as much in Game 3, and that the Stars had so much trouble getting open in the clogged neutral zone.

''We feel very flat footed in the neutral zone,'' Modano said. ''We are standing around, and they are coming through pretty fast and they have some defensemen who can skate. They also counter off mistakes very well.''

The Stars' top line ineffectiveness is even more glaring because it isn't getting help from the second line. Joe Nieuwendyk, the MVP of last year's playoffs, doesn't have a point in the series.

''Obviously the key to our success is our depth,'' Modano said. ''If we're scoring one or two goals a game, we need support. That's they way it was last year, we always got key goals from the other guys in our lineup.''

The Stars supposedly had the advantage going back to a humid Reunion Arena, where the ice is always soft and the Stars hard to beat, going 9-1 previously in the playoffs and 11-1 since the Cup finals a year ago.

But the Devils' defense-driven road show plays successfully just about everywhere, as evidenced by their 8-2 playoff road record.

''The ice was bad and it was really hot, but we came through,'' Brodeur said.

Dallas took a 1-0 lead, just as it did in Game 2. With the Stars on only their second power play of the series, Lehtinen's hard shot from the left circle deflected off Brodeur's chest. Stevens tried to clear, but swept the puck into the right circle directly to Cote, who wristed it into the top of the net at 13:08 of the first.

Later in the period, the Stars missed an excellent opportunity to expand the lead when they couldn't score during a two-man power play lasting 49 seconds.

''We could have put a nail into things if we had scored there,'' Hitchcock said.

About a minute after Claude Lemieux's cross-checking penalty expired, the Devils tied it at 18:06 on Arnott's seventh goal of the playoffs. Derian Hatcher and Dave Manson couldn't get the puck out of the Stars' end, allowing Arnott to drive down the slot and steer a shot by Belfour just as he was swept off his skates.

The 2-1 lead -- New Jersey is 9-1 when leading into the third period -- allowed the Devils to be at their neutral zone-trapping best in a third period in which Brodeur had to make only a couple of difficult saves. He stopped 22 of 23 shots.

Dallas had a chance to tie it when Brodeur drew a delay of the game penalty for shooting the puck into the stands at 15:45.

''I didn't know my backhand was so good,'' Brodeur said. ''It was a bad mistake, but my team came through for me.''

Just after the penalty was called, Madden skated up to Brodeur and said, ''Don't worry about it. We'll kill it.''

They did and, along with it, any chance Dallas had to take command of the series at home.

''That was a great opportunity that slipped by us,'' Modano said.

The Stars got their usual thunderous support from their 101st consecutive sellout crowd in Reunion Arena, a low-roofed concrete relic from the 1970s they will abandon a year from now for a new arena.

However, the white towels the fans usually wave were missing. It seems they were shipped to Minnesota -- the Stars' former home -- and weren't rerouted in time for the game. Late in the second period, arena staffers handed out substitute white paper towels.

But, just like the Stars' ineffective top line, they weren't a reasonable facsimile of the real thing.

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