Friday, February 03, 2006

Devils Honor Their Captain Only Way They Can

The Captain would've been proud. On a night the Devils retired their first ever number in honoring the legendary Scott Stevens' Number Four to the rafters, they put together a vintage performance against the NHL's best- shutting out first overall Carolina 3-0.

Brian Gionta scored his 30th goal and tallied an assist and Scott Gomez added two helpers. Martin Brodeur made 28 saves for his fifth shutout in the last 15 games.

Against a team they lost twice to earlier this season by a 12-2 margin, the Devils took it to their second straight tough opponent. Just like they had against Ottawa in a 5-3 win Wednesday, the Devils were the aggressor against the Hurricanes.

After a tightly played scoreless first period in which both clubs totaled just 13 shots, the Devils took control in the second with two goals 4:21 apart. First, the team's new leader Patrik Elias fittingly scored the opening goal on a nifty setup by Gionta. Off a neutral zone turnover, Gionta took a Gomez pass and streaked past Aaron Ward before backhanding a pass to a cutting Elias, who buried the one-timer past rookie goalie Cam Ward at 2:18.

Only a minute later, Brodeur made his biggest save of the game when he slid out to pokecheck Erik Cole's shorthanded break-in attempt. Brodeur also got help from a hustling Brian Rafalski who rushed Cole's shot and deflected it up in the air off the side of the net.

Rookie Zach Parise increased the lead to 2-0 when he stuffed home a Grant Marshall wraparound attempt for his second goal in two games. Sergei Brylin picked up the other assist.

Despite the Canes getting more shots the final two periods (22-14), the Devils made life easier for Brodeur by letting him see most of them. Gionta recorded his first ever 30-goal season off a two-on-one when his centering pass for Elias banked in off Niclas Wallin to make it 3-0 with 11:53 left. Next in line for the captaincy, Elias wisely retrieved the puck for his linemate.

To preserve Brodeur's 80th career shutout, the Devils killed off a brief five-on-three late in the third. It was a testament to how they responded with Stevens.

For one night, a Devil got his due. The best part is they get to do it all over again on March 24th for Ken Daneyko.

Before they dropped the puck, in a 35-minute ceremony befitting of the Devils organization, they gave the future Hall-of-Fame defenseman a night to remember. By showing comments from ex-teammates during a video tribute and highlighting Stevens' illustrious 22-year career which included eight seasons with Washington, one with St. Louis and the final 13 with the franchise he led to three Stanley Cups, the Devils captured the essence of what the former 2000 Conn Smythe winner stood for. Keeping opponents honest with clean body checks and most importantly, winning.

The Devils also showered their former captain with gifts which ranged from a vintage bow and arrow recognizing Stevens' penchant for hunting to a brand new 2006 pickup truck. He also received an all expense paid vacation to California and was presented a beautiful stone from team owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek commemorating the 14 years he spent in New Jersey.

When Stevens was finally introduced by emcee Doc Emrick, the capacity crowd of 19,040 showed him their appreciation with a loud ovation for their hero. To chants of "Scott Stevens," the low key classy leader made it known how he felt.

"I think this is the first time I've ever felt intimidated on this ice surface," he said to more cheers.

The 41-year-old Stevens held up well for most of his speech which lasted over 10 minutes. He thanked members of the organization including GM Lou Lamoriello- who wisely demanded Stevens in return from St. Louis back in 1991 as compensation for Brendan Shanahan- changing the plight of the franchise. Stevens also recognized former owner John McMullen, who passed away last year. He did get emotional when mentioning having led the Devils to three Cups ('95, '00, '03). Also emotional throughout was ex-teammate Patrik Elias, who helped Stevens win those last two Cups. Elias had tears rolling down his cheeks.

"With your support, I had the best years of my career in this arena. I feel privileged to have played on three Stanley Cup championship teams and finally help the New Jersey Devils get the respect they deserve," Stevens pointedly remarked to another well deserved ovation.

When Stevens thanked the fans, they serenaded him with "Thank you Scotty" chants.

He also teared up a little bit when thanking his parents, two brothers along with wife Donna and with their three children.

As Stevens was concluding his speech, one more round of "Scotty Stevens" went up forcing him to pause before finally adding, "You guys are awesome. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Number Four might be gone but he'll never be forgotten in their hearts.

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