Friday, May 9, 2003
By TOM GULITTI
WEST ORANGE - The Devils are closer to the prize now, but they don't dare look at it.
With only four teams remaining, the temptation is there to start thinking of playing in the Stanley Cup Finals - and winning it all. It's a nice dream, one the Devils are trying to keep tucked in the back of their minds while they prepare to face the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference finals, which begin Saturday afternoon at the Corel Centre.
They hear the Senators talking about the Cup and they shrug.
They don't mind if the Senators dream. It's just that they won't.
Burns' words seemed to indicate he felt the Senators were looking past his team. He insisted that wasn't the case, that he was simply pointing out the difference in the teams' approaches to the series.
"We don't talk about Stanley Cups," Devils' coach Pat Burns said after Thursday's practice at South Mountain Arena. "We talk about conference finals. We go step by step. I've been reading a lot about them, how they want the Cup and how they want to win the Cup and how the Cup is important. Well, to get to the Cup, you've got to go through somebody first and that's us. And I think that we're ready for that.
"We'll worry about the other stuff when we get through that."
"It doesn't bother me," Burns said. "It's just that we're a team that talks a little different. The Cup is another round away. It doesn't bother me. They can say whatever they want. I'm just saying that we're going to prepare about winning the conference finals before we start talking about the Stanley Cup."
After having Wednesday off, the Devils began making thorough preparations to face the Senators before and during Thursday's practice. They met for 45 minutes before taking the ice for another 45 minutes. Their meeting included video review and lengthy discussion of how they will take on the Senators.
What it didn't include was a discussion of what comes next if they are able to defeat the Senators. Perhaps, that's because they already know.
This is the Devils' third trip to the conference finals in four years. The Senators are making their first appearance in the NHL's final four since the franchise was reincarnated in 1992.
"We just know that it's so far away from us and there's so many things that can happen before we put a foot on the ice on Saturday afternoon," Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur said. "We just have to worry about that game. It comes with experience."
The Devils know they are facing their toughest challenge of the playoffs. The Senators captured the President's Trophy by finishing first overall with 113 points. They have impressive scoring depth with six players who scored 20 goals or more, play solid team defense, and have a reliable goaltender in Patrick Lalime.
"We're the underdog and that's the way it should be," defenseman Ken Daneyko said. "That might be good for us. I think we're a little bit afraid that if we don't play our best, we can get blown out here. They're a good team. They're very skilled. At times it can be intimidating looking at their lineup. You go, 'Wow, that's a good team.' But, hopefully, we'll be able to contain some of that high-flying offense."
If the Devils believe the Senators are looking past them by talking about winning the Cup, they're not admitting it. That, too, is a sign of experience.
"You've got to play every game on the ice," Daneyko said. "Leave it to everybody else to stir it up. When I was younger, maybe I got too caught up in it. Other teams can say what they want. If you need motivation this time of year, there's something wrong. I don't need any extra motivation from people making comments or not making comments. The only motivation that we need is to know that we have the chance of a lifetime here of getting to another Finals."
"Every team's goal is to win the Stanley Cup," added center Joe Nieuwendyk. "I think you have to go through a lot to get there. Words are words and I think they realize that we're a pretty good team here and they're not getting too far ahead of themselves."
DEVILS BRIEFS: Burns said right wing Turner Stevenson's groin strain, which kept him out of the final two games against Tampa Bay, is "100 percent" healed and that he will be in the lineup for Game 1 Saturday. ... Scott Gomez said his sprained right ankle is "almost 100 percent.''