The New Jersey Devils are halfway to another Stanley Cup. And they're making it look as easy as, well, shooting Ducks on a pond.
They grounded the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim into the Continental Arena ice again Thursday night with a carbon-copy 3-0 victory in Game Two of the Stanley Cup finals in front of a delighted sellout crowd of 19,040.
With a mostly pedestrian 16 saves, Martin Brodeur became the first goaltender in 58 years to open the finals with consecutive shutouts. He also blanked the Mighty Ducks, 3-0, with 16 saves in Game One.
Game Three of the series is Saturday night in the Arrowhead Pond.
"It hasn't been easy," insisted Devils left wing Jeff Friesen, who scored his third goal in two games. "They're a great team and they've rolled in playoffs and beaten some great teams. It's just been a good team effort in both games. We've just got to continue to get better because we know they will."
Only one team has come back to win the Stanley Cup after losing the first two games of the finals on the road -- the 1971 Montreal Canadiens against Chicago. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1966 Canadiens are the only other teams to win the Cup after losing the first two games of the finals.
The Devils have never lost a playoff series after winning the first two games (8-0). They improved to 10-1 at the Meadowlands in the playoffs. The way this series is going, they might not have a chance to tie the NHL record of 11 home wins in one postseason.
With two more victories, the Devils can claim their second Stanley Cup in four years and third in the last nine years, a feat equaled only by Detroit during the time span.
No Devil was willing to admit he was thinking about that, though. Still, by getting five goals (and one empty-netter) on the previously unbeatable Jean-Sebastien Giguere in the first two games, they are proving they do have enough offense to win a championship.
"We're playing the way we played all year," Devils coach Pat Burns said. "We're being patient. We're not trying to do things that are not us and we're generating offense from it. Whether I'm impressed or not, I'll be impressed if we win."
Brodeur, whose best save was a glove snag on a Sandis Ozolinsh right point shot with 7:52 remaining, tied Dominik Hasek's NHL record for most shutouts in one postseason with six. His 19 career playoff shutouts are four behind Patrick Roy's all-time record. In addition, Brodeur moved ahead of Ken Dryden into fifth place with his 81st postseason victory.
Few goaltenders have had better starts to the finals. Toronto's Frank McCool shut out Detroit in the first three games of the 1945 finals. Clint Benedict (1926 versus Victoria) is the only other goaltender to open the finals with two shutouts.
"I have to credit my teammates in front of me. You can't do it yourself," Brodeur said. "Definitely, these guys, that's as good defensively as they've played. Seeing 32 shots in two games, you've got to be really excited."
While the Ducks were faring no better offensively, the Devils' sleeping offensive giant came to life. Patrik Elias, the team's leading goal scorer during the regular season with 28, potted just his third of the playoffs, a power-play tally 4:42 into the second that stood as the game-winner.
Scott Gomez won a faceoff from Steve Rucchin in the right circle, dropping the puck back to Oleg Tverdovsky at the point. The former Duck took a slap shot that deflected off Anaheim defenseman Kurt Sauer in front and ricocheted to Elias, who was stationed alone outside the right post.
Elias calmly collected the loose puck and tucked it inside the post before goaltender Giguere could react at 4:42. Elias also assisted on Scott Gomez's even-strength deflection goal at 12:11 of the second.
That prompted more chants of "Mar-ty's Better!" from the fans.
"I could have gotten a couple more tonight," Elias said. "We're playing well as a line. (Winger Grant) Marshall's playing with confidence and making good plays out there."
Former Ducks defenseman Tverdovsky emerged from Burns' doghouse to assist on the first two Devils goals.
The final score and the Ducks' shots are somewhat misleading because they actually played much better than in Game One, when they were rusty from a 10-day layoff. They skated better and competed harder in the battles in the corners and in front of the net.
But for the Ducks it was a better night only in the sense that dropping a flower pot on your foot feels better than dropping an anvil on it.
"I know that crowd there and that building," Tverdovsky said of playing in Anaheim. "They'll come out very hard. They came out hard tonight. Despite what the score says, I think it's one of the hardest games I've ever played. We just got a couple of lucky breaks."
The Ducks still didn't get close enough to the net to determine if the New Jersey goaltender is Martin Brodeur or Adrien Brody.
Instructively, the Devils got all three of their goals with someone standing in Giguere's kitchen. Brian Gionta was there on Friesen's goal, Marshall was jousting with Kurt Sauer when Tverdovsky's first assist bounced over to a wide-open Elias, and Gomez was hanging around when Tverdovsky's shot ricocheted off him and past Giguere.
"That is the way the goals are scored these days," Tverdovsky said. "You don't have many offensive goals anymore, you have to score hard-working goals with people in front of the net."
So even though the Ducks played better, the Devils also elevated their game.
The Ducks had a whopping two shots on goal in the second period as the Devils continued to suffocate them with a masterful defensive wall. Ducks coach Mike Babcock tried shaking up his lines, briefly reuniting Paul Kariya with Adam Oates and Petr Sykora, something he said he would wait to do until he was on home ice. Nothing worked.
"It looks to me like they're doing to us what we did to two teams before us," Babcock said. "They've got everybody jumping, no matter what line or what matchup, and they're a hungry, hungry team."