- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Ask the New Jersey Devils if you're in the market for firsthand knowledge on what it takes to rebound from a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Trouble is, the Devils aren't about to share that experience with the people who really need to put it to good use right now, the Dallas Stars.

The 1999-2000 hockey season could end tonight if New Jersey, a 3-1 leader in the best-of-7 series, defeats the Stars. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs have come back from a 3-1 deficit (actually, Detroit led that series 3-0) to win a Cup.

As recently as May 20, experts counted the Devils out of the playoffs. They trailed Philadelphia 3-1 and star goalie Martin Brodeur appeared to have lost his concentration.

Since then New Jersey has gone on a 6-1 streak, outscoring the opposition 21-10. And that is precisely why the Devils are wary of Dallas: They know that what the Stars are setting out to do can be done.

"We were there firsthand and we know that everybody was kind of counting us out," said New Jersey coach Larry Robinson, who is shooting for his eighth Cup ring. "The fourth win is always the toughest one. The end looks like it is so close, but yet it is so, so far away."

Said Ken Hitchcock, coach of the Stars, who were favored before the series started: "Are we going to be able to recover? Yeah, no problem. We will come back; we will play like hell on Thursday, I have no doubt about that."

The Stars played excellent hockey for 43 minutes Monday night and scored once. Then New Jersey played well for four minutes and scored three times. Among the scores was a shorthanded goal by John Madden that deflated Dallas at least for the night and perhaps for the series. It was that devastating.

"I don't think we would have ever thought we would be in this situation," said Stars captain Derian Hatcher, "especially when [the series] was 1-1 and we were coming home. I think to lose both games on our ice was something we didn't expect. We were hoping to be up 3-1 right now."

Why aren't they leading?

"Over the course of a 60-minute game, their passion [has been] stronger than ours," Hitchcock said. "That is why they have won the last two games. By the smallest of margins, whether it is speed or whatever, size or whatever, they have had that ability for more minutes than we have. That is why they have won."

Perhaps it is because of the Devils' cast of rookies, four of them who are playing like veterans of a dozen seasons. They are taking this series like just another home-and-home matchup against Tampa or Nashville.

"I asked [fellow rookie Scott Gomez] if he was nervous," Madden said. "He said no. Imagine being 20 years old and one game away from winning the Stanley Cup and not being nervous? Either he's got ice water running through his veins or he just doesn't know any better."

Whatever it is, Robinson said, "you have to deal with reality and reality is we still got to win another game."

Notes Hitchcock said forwards Guy Carbonneau and Jamie Langerbrunner, both trying to go with sore knees, would probably play tonight because there might not be a tomorrow for Dallas… . Robinson said first line center Jason Arnott, who was jarred and knocked to the ice when he was hit in the face by Hatcher in the third period Monday night and had to be helped to the dressing room, did not suffer a concussion and also would play.

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