EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The sight of Scott Stevens being knocked to the ice was so stunning, everything seemed to stop.
Everything except Jamie Langenbrunner.
Langenbrunner had a goal and an assist 3:47 apart in the third period, and Martin Brodeur made 15 saves in his third shutout of these playoffs as the New Jersey Devils beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 Thursday night.
After Stevens, the Devils’ hard-hitting defenseman, was leveled by a shoulder check from Vincent Lecavalier in the neutral zone, Langenbrunner got the puck and skated over the blue line on his way to making it 1-0.
“I saw those guys collide at center ice and I just took off with the puck,” Langenbrunner said.
Langenbrunner was guarded by defenseman Pavel Kubina when he let a shot go that dipped on its way from above the left circle and got through Nikolai Khabibulin’s legs as the goalie shifted 7:41 into the third.
“I was as surprised as anyone that it was in the net,” said Langenbrunner, who had five goals and seven points in the first round. “I pride myself in playing well in big games.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday. The Lightning will be looking for a better effort in their first appearance in the conference semifinals in 11 years of existence.
Stevens shook off the check he absorbed, both on the ice and after the game.
“It wasn’t hard at all, he just caught a piece of me,” he said.
Not long after that, he sent Langenbrunner streaking down the ice again.
A shot clanked off Stevens’ leg in front of Brodeur, and he swept the puck right to Langenbrunner as he skated down right wing. John Madden crisscrossed behind him, took a drop pass, and ripped a shot past Khabibulin for Madden’s third goal of the playoffs. Madden had a team-high eight points in the first round.
“I think we can play better. You can always play better,” Madden said.
Brodeur and the Devils eliminated Boston in the first round with a 3-0 victory in Game 5. They made it back-to-back blankings with a stellar defensive effort, the fifth time Brodeur had consecutive playoff shutouts.
“It’s important that we establish ourselves,” Brodeur said. “It’s not going to be an easy series for them. They’ll have to work hard to try and beat us. We have a good system and we’ve got to play it well. In the first game we showed them how we’re going to play.”
Turner Stevenson scored with 2:50 left on New Jersey’s 31st shot, further sealing Brodeur’s 16th postseason shutout. The most he ever had in one playoff year was four in 2001.
“We’re not going to win versus this team if Marty has to make one save a game and their defense plays great,” Lightning forward Dave Andreychuk said.
The pre-series talk was about top goalies Brodeur and Khabibulin. Neither allowed a goal through two periods, mostly because so few pucks came their way.
Martin St. Louis and the rest of the Lightning quickly lost the scoring touch that led them to four straight first-round victories after dropping the first two games. St. Louis scored the game-winner in the final three games against Washington, but had his four-game goal streak snapped by the Devils.
“There’s a fine line between being patient and just sitting back,” he said. “I thought we gave them way too much respect. We didn’t play physical, we didn’t finish checks, we didn’t make it tough on them.”
Khabibulin looked shaky fighting off the six shots that reached him in the first period. He either kicked out big rebounds that were cleared away by teammates, or dropped pucks from his glove that he quickly covered.
The New Jersey power play that clicked only three times in 22 chances in the first round against Boston didn’t look any more potent this time in going 0-for-3.
Brodeur isn’t concerned.
“We’re playing playoff hockey,” Brodeur said. “We’re playing well enough to survive and we’re doing the little things that keep us out of trouble. We take a lot of icings. We take no chances of turning the puck over.”
Devils D Brian Rafalski was scratched due to illness. Tommy Albelin took his place, his first action in this year’s playoffs. … The Tampa Bay line of St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Vaclav Prospal, didn’t play together until nearly eight minutes elapsed. The trio was formed after Game 2 of the first round against Washington and scored 10 of the Lightning’s final 11 goals of the series. … New Jersey C Sergei Brylin returned from a broken wrist sustained Feb. 5. He missed the final 30 regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs.