- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Since Larry Robinson became their coach last March, the New Jersey Devils have thrived under pressure.

New Jersey trailed Philadelphia 3-1 in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals before winning the last three games, two on the road. The Devils lost Games 2 and 5 of last year's Stanley Cup finals to visiting Dallas but bounced back each time with a victory en route to the title.

This spring has been similar. The defending champions trailed Toronto 3-2 in the conference semifinals before winning the last two games. And after Pittsburgh had tied the conference finals at 1-1, New Jersey shut out the host Penguins in consecutive games.

So even though New Jersey's 5-0 loss at Colorado in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals on Saturday was its worst in the postseason since 1993, the Devils weren't fazed. Nor did they panic when they gave up the first goal in the first period of Game 2 on Tuesday and were facing the potent Avalanche power play for the third time in 11 minutes.

Not only did New Jersey kill the penalty, but Bob Corkum scored his first playoff goal in three years a second after it expired. And less than three minutes later, fellow grinder Turner Stevenson followed suit, just three seconds after the second of New Jersey's back-to-back power plays had expired. And that was enough for a 2-1 victory and a deadlocked series which resumes tonight at Continental Airlines Arena.

"We do seem to play our best when our backs are against the wall," Robinson said. "It seems like we're resilient after a loss, but it's more we just get back to playing the way we should. We're very guilty of some nights coming out and not playing our best. Sometimes we forget that it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and focus [to play their tight-checking style]."

New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, who before Saturday's blowout had allowed five goals just once in his past 94 playoff games, was looking down and out early in Game 2. Brodeur was knocked down by Dan Hinote right off the bat and soon needed a visit from the trainer when he was smacked by Ville Nieminen. And Brodeur badly misplayed Joe Sakic's power-play goal that made it 1-0 Colorado with just 5:58 gone.

But like the skaters in front of him, Brodeur bounced back smartly, stopping every shot the rest of the way.

"They came out really strong and there were some bumps and they got the big goal on the power play," Brodeur said. "When they got another [power play], we kind of said, 'Whoa. Let's bear down.' We killed it really well and from that kill, we picked up our game."

The goals from the 33-year-old Corkum and the 29-year-old Stevenson were fortunate byproducts of the unfortunate broken hand suffered by right wing Randy McKay in Game 1. Corkum, who was headed for Los Angeles' top farm team when New Jersey acquired him for future considerations on Feb. 24, took McKay's spot in the lineup. Stevenson, whom the Devils acquired from the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets for future considerations last summer, inherited McKay's power-play time.

"The playoffs are for unlikely heroes," said Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko, whose goal in Game 1 of last year's finals was his first since Feb. 9, 1999.

They don't come much unlikelier than they did on Tuesday. No New Jersey skater who had played in more than six playoff games this year had fewer points than Stevenson did before his goal, his fifth in 42 career postseason games. Corkum, a healthy scratch the previous four games, had scored just six goals in 56 career playoff games before he ended Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy's finals shutout streak just 101 seconds shy of the NHL record of 227 minutes, 41 seconds.

"Turner does a really good job [on the power play]," Robinson said. "He's got real good hands for a big guy and with his size [6-foot-3, 225 pounds], he does make for a pretty good screen up front. Corky's a penalty-killer by trade. I don't really consider his goal a bonus. He works hard every time he's in the lineup."

Despite the huge turnaround, the Devils remember last year's finals when they blew out Dallas in Game 1, lost Game 2 by a goal at home and won the next two on the road to take command of the series. Now, Colorado has a chance to follow that script with Games 3 and 4 here, where New Jersey is just 8-8 in its past 16 playoff games.

"Momentum is here and it's gone," said center John Madden. "You don't know how long it's going to last."


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