Devils are cut off

DENIS GORMAN, SPECIAL TO SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

NEWARK, N.J. -- Confusion and anger hung in the air last night. Gazes were averted in the quiet dressing room.

And the strongest words belonged to John Madden.

"We'll find out," the New Jersey winger said when asked if the Devils have the leadership and experience to rally from a two-game deficit following their 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center.

The Rangers now own a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final with Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden, beginning tomorrow. All-time, the Devils are 1-4 in the playoffs after falling behind 2-0.

"We can't score goals. That's it," said Madden, who did solve Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with 83 seconds remaining in the third period to make it close. "We score goals, we turn this thing around."

Madden denied that Lundqvist was in his head, but couldn't explain the netmindnder's mastery of his Devils. Through two games, Lundqvist has outplayed Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting Martin Brodeur, allowing just a pair of goals on 54 shots.

Lundqvist was particularly sharp in the first period, stopping Patrick Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner and Paul Martin in succession on one sequence, then stoning Elias and Langenbrunner again with 16 seconds remaining and the Devils on a power play.

"They help, obviously," Rangers coach Tom Renney said of the key saves. "It's certainly inspiring."

With the match goalless 4:49 into the third, Jaromir Jagr scored his first of the playoffs, coming around the Devils net, whirling and firing a wrist shot that beat Brodeur high.

"There are no weird goals. It's goals and no goals. That's hockey," Jagr said. "It was a relief, that's for sure. Third period, have a lead, it's big. Especially against New Jersey. They play very good defence. There's not many chances. You have to cycle the puck and shoot on net."

Just 23 seconds later, Sean Avery hammered a shot from the high slot that Brodeur never saw. Both goals came off faceoffs and with Rangers in front of Brodeur.

Through two games, the Rangers have out-Deviled New Jersey. Historically, it's the Devils who take away the middle of the ice, forcing teams to shoot from the perimeter.

But in this series, it is the Devils who cannot get to prime scoring areas. And they are halfway from experiencing a franchise first: Being swept in a playoff series.

"It takes four games to win a series," Devils' coach Brent Sutter said, "and they've only won two."

If Wednesday was a skirmish, a feeling out process between the two rivals, game two was the escalation of hostilities. The Rangers and Devils exchanged dirty looks, cross words, shoves and wrestling bouts seemingly after every whistle.

The most egregious instance involved noted pugilists Scott Gomez and Jamie Langenbrunner. Following a whistle, Langenbrunner skated past his Gomez, who threw an elbow into the Devils' captain's ribs. That act prompted Langenbrunner to get his stick up while a Gomez (stinks) chants cascaded from the Devils' fans. Gomez and Langenbrunner were each given a two minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Since signing with the Rangers in the off-season, Gomez has been jeered by Devils' fans every time he has touched the puck this season at the Prudential Center. In seven years with the Devils, Gomez is sixth on the franchise's all time scoring list with 450 points (116 goals, 334 assists) and won two Cups. If he is bothered by the Devils' fans abhorrence to him, it doesn't show.

"It's different. I didn't play at the Prudential. The Continental is my home," Gomez said.

Notes: Baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra was at the game. Berra, who lives in New Jersey, wore a Devils cap and sat in a luxury box. The former Yankees catcher received a loud cheer when he was shown on the Jumbotron.

The game was delayed for 15 minutes due to a broken hinge connected to one of the penalty boxes.


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