NHL

Devils disappointed by early playoff exit

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The Canadian Press
4/19/2008 5:36:54 PM
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NEWARK, N.J. - The New Jersey Devils opened the season with a new coach, a new arena and a relatively new identity.

Ending the campaign with an embarrassing first-round playoff loss to the rival New York Rangers is going to bring about more changes next year.

"It's definitely going to be a long off-season for a lot of us," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "We expected to be playing into June. This is definitely tough.

"You work all year to get to the playoffs," he added. "We thought we would play for (the Cup) again. It's up for grabs and we liked our team. I feel we didn't reach our potential. That's frustrating."

Despite losing centre Scott Gomez to free agency, the Devils had hopes of winning a fourth Stanley Cup in this season of change.

Brent Sutter was going to give them a no-nonsense coach. The team expected an emotional lift moving from the Meadowlands sports complex to Newark and the new Prudential Center, and they seemingly had the best goaltender in hockey in Martin Brodeur.

After a slow start, the Devils started clicking and eventually took over the top spot in the Eastern Conference in late February. They stayed there on-and-off through the middle of March and then slumped in the final month, finishing with a 4-5-1 record.

They did not win a game in regulation after a 4-2 win at Colorado on March 15.

The Rangers, who won seven of eight games against New Jersey in the regular season, continued the trend in the post-season, taking out the Devils in five games. New York won all three games at the Prudential Center, the first time the Devils lost all three games at home in a playoff series.

"When you limp into the playoffs, this is the result you get," veteran centre John Madden said.

Watching the Devils, there is no doubt that president and general manager Lou Lamoriello needs to go out in the off-season and find a scorer.

Zach Parise led the team with 32 goals this season, but there were only three other players with at least 20 goals - Brian Gionta (22), and Patrik Elias and Madden with 20 apiece.

Langenbrunner, who missed the first five weeks of the season with a groin injury, finished with only 13 goals. Dainius Zubrus, who was signed as a free agent in the off-season, scored only 13, while centre Travis Zajac suffered the sophomore blues and finished with 14 goals, three less than his rookie season.

The lack of scoring hurt in losing the first two playoff games against the Rangers, but it was mistakes and a sub-par Brodeur that eventually sent the Devils packing.

New Jersey was at its worst in the third period, being outscored 9-2 by the Rangers.

"It used to be we would win when we were in those positions (in the third period)," Elias said. "We used to thrive on that, the third period was our period. This year, we just found a way to lose those games."

The third-period mistakes were glaring. Brodeur started it with a puckhandling error against Ryan Callahan in Game 1. Colin White made the goof in Game 2, bumping Brodeur off the goalpost in a scoreless third period to set up Jaromir Jagr's go-ahead goal.

Turnovers in the final two games led to 5-3 wins by the Rangers.

"I think to some degree as the series went on he (Brodeur) looked tired mentally," Sutter said. "He did a lot for this team this year."

Brodeur, who will turn 36 next month, posted his fourth straight 40-win season (44-27-6), and his eighth overall.

However, he did not come up with the big saves against the Rangers.

Jagr said it's tough to judge Brodeur on one series.

"I don't think he lost confidence, but it looked like he didn't make the big saves like he used to," Jagr said. "It doesn't make him a bad goalie. For me, he is still the best ever."

Defensively, the Devils only gave up 197 goals in the regular season, but the Rangers tallied 19 in the playoffs, including two into empty nets.

"We're a team that took pride in playing well, especially in our own zone," Sutter said. "We didn't do enough to be successful. That's the bottom line. It's disappointing."

White and Drury (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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