- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

If a team can be faceless while collecting championships in the world's biggest media market, it's the New Jersey Devils. Despite winning Stanley Cups in 1995 and 2000, coming within a game of doing it again in 2001 and leading the Eastern Conference standings this season, the Devils might as well have been playing across the street at the International Spy Museum as at MCI Center.
Defenseman Scott Stevens described it perfectly.
"We have the lowest goals-against in the league [1.86] and the best penalty-killing [88.1 percent], but at the All-Star Game last weekend, I'm reading an article about Selke Trophy [best defensive forward] candidates and there was no one from our team," said Stevens, who noted that 2001 Selke winner John Madden and 2000 Calder Trophy [top rookie] winner Scott Gomez are the only Devils to have been honored for their regular-season on-ice accomplishments since 1994. "That's just not realistic."
Most glaringly, Martin Brodeur has never won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie despite a post-World War II-low 2.19 GAA (1.89 this season).
That lack of attention is a fact of life for the Devils, who remain overshadowed by their archrivals across the Hudson River although they have been the East's top team for a decade while the big-spending New York Rangers haven't even made the playoffs since 1997.
"We don't have a guy who scores 40 goals or 100 points," Stevens said. "We've got so much depth, so many good players that individual acclaim can get lost."
No team has a top goal-scorer with fewer goals and only five teams have less effective power plays, but none can match New Jersey's balance or responsibility. Eight Devils have between 24 and 38 points, and six have between 10 and 15 goals. And eight Devils have defensive ratings of plus-10 or better compared to two for the Capitals, another division leader.
Last night's 4-1 victory over the Caps extended New Jersey's streak to 14 games without a regulation loss (12-0-1-1). The Devils have even been scoring during their tear, averaging 3.5 goals, but they have yet to sell out any of their 27 home dates.
Perhaps New Jersey's usual spring success made last season's surprising first-round loss to Carolina even more dispiriting for fans. But veteran center Joe Nieuwendyk, who arrived in a trade with Dallas last March19, said the early exit was therapeutic.
"You always want to win, but after playing a lot of hockey the two previous years, it was good to get a breather," Nieuwendyk said.
Left wing Patrik Elias, the top scorer on the champions in 2000 and the runners-up in 2001, said the elimination by the Hurricanes also served as motivation.
"We needed some new guys, some new desire," said Elias, one of 13 Devils to skate with Lord Stanley's hardware.
Two-way left wing Jeff Friesen, acquired from Anaheim for Elias' offensive-minded ex-linemate, Petr Sykora, in July has brought some of that enthusiasm for a Cup after not getting past the second round in eight years with the Mighty Ducks and San Jose Sharks. So has new bench boss Pat Burns, who never reached the finals in 12 seasons with Montreal, Toronto and Boston despite winning three Jack Adams trophies as the NHL's top coach.
The Devils have the defense, the experience, the balance and seemingly the right attitude to win another title, but even general manager Lou Lamoriello has said his team is short a big scorer or two. However, Elias is content to sit pat.
"Our goaltending has been outstanding, we're playing good defensive hockey and we're scoring goals at the right time," Elias said. "I wasn't here in 1995, but that's how this team won the Cup that year. I think we can do it again."

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