Originally created 04/27/01

Maple Leafs 2, Devils 0



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So much for the rumors about Curtis Joseph having a sore right hand. Hot hand is more appropriate.

Joseph stopped 32 shots and the Toronto Maple Leafs showed their new playoff look is for real, beating the New Jersey Devils 2-0 on Thursday night in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinal.

Joseph's third shutout of the playoffs and 12th of his career came after days of speculation about his right hand. He didn't use it much in practice all week, sparking rumors that it was injured.

"Whoever made that up is full of it," Devils center Jason Arnott said with more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

Joseph, who would not comment on his hand in recent days, just smiled when asked if it was safe to say that his hand didn't bother him.

"No comment," he said again.

"Hey, this guy is a great goalie," Devils center Bobby Holik said. "One of the top three or four in the league. We just didn't create enough traffic and weren't determined enough and willing to pay the price. When he sees the puck, he plays like he did tonight."

Nik Antropov and former Devils forward Steve Thomas scored to provide the support for Joseph, and Toronto's penalty killers blanked New Jersey on eight extra-man chances in getting a little revenge for a miserable six-shot performance in being eliminated in Game 6 last year.

The Maple Leafs made some major changes after losing that series, but Joseph wasn't one of them.

Joseph kept the Maple Leafs in the Devils' series last year, allowed only three goals in a first-round sweep of Ottawa and he was just as dominant in the opener of this best-of-seven series.

"Everybody is committed to playing good defense," Joseph said. "Our penalty killing is tremendous. We had a lot of penalties tonight. That was the story of the game."

Once Antropov and Thomas scored in about a six-minute span in the second period, the only question was whether Joseph would get the shutout against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski and Scott Niedermayer had good chances in the final minutes, but Joseph was always in the right spot. On the ones he was out of place, the puck failed to find the net.

"This was a regular game for him," Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin said. "He's been excellent in the regular season and the start of the playoffs."

Game 2 also will be played at the Continental Airlines Arena on Saturday before the series shifts to Toronto for two games.

Antropov, who missed the Devils' playoff series last year with a knee injury, put Toronto ahead at 3:16, just seven seconds after an interference penalty to New Jersey's Jason Arnott expired.

Sergei Berezin carried the puck into the Devils' zone, only to have the puck checked off his stick by defenseman Sean O'Donnell. It went straight to Antropov, who beat Martin Brodeur from between the circles. Brodeur faced 17 shots, including one in the third period.

"My defenseman got caught in no man's land and I never saw it," Brodeur said.

Toronto, which had only three power plays, converted on its last one, with the aid of a couple of lucky bounces.

With Holik off for tripping, Thomas sent a pass from behind the Devils' net to Sundin on the left boards. He sent the puck toward the net. The puck hit off the skate of Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko, then off Maple Leafs forward Gary Roberts and went to Thomas low in the right circle. Once he controlled the puck with his skate, the net was wide open for his first goal of the playoffs.

"Special teams cost us the game," Devils forward Randy McKay said. "They pretty much got two on their power play and we didn't get any."

The Maple Leafs looked nothing like the team that was limited to six shots in being eliminated in Game 6 last year. The addition of Roberts and fellow veteran Shayne Corson has given them some grit. Antropov and fellow center Yanic Perreault are healthy for this series and defenseman Aki Berg and Bryan McCabe add stability along the back line, where the Leafs were outstanding blocking shots and taking away passing lanes.

This is the second straight year that Toronto won the first game.

"He (Joseph) played a great game," Devils center Scott Gomez said. "But at the same time, we have some positives. We had a lot of shots. We just didn't convert. But we've been through this before."

Notes:

The Devils have sold out all four of their home playoff games. ... New Jersey is 2-for-32 on the power play in the playoffs, including 0-for-19 at home. ... Sundin, who did not have a goal in last year's series, hit the crossbar early in the third period. ... Thomas led the Maple Leafs with four shots, all in the second period. ... Gomez had five for New Jersey, including a great chance in close right after Antropov scored.