DAYS off give Devils time to recover, plot comeback

Tuesday, May 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) _ While watching videotape of his team's miserable Game 1 performance in the Stanley Cup finals, New Jersey Devils coach Larry Robinson didn't have to take many notes.

Late to the puck, Colorado goal. Missed assignment, Colorado goal. Turnover in the neutral zone, Colorado goal.

``We made the same mistake over and over again,'' Robinson said after putting his team through an efficient practice in advance of Game 2 Tuesday night. ``The biggest thing was that we stood and watched and they skated.''

In beating the defending champion Devils, the Colorado Avalanche skated faster, checked harder and found time to score five goals before the game deteriorated into a school yard shoving match.

After six weeks of bullying overmatched teams in the Eastern Conference, New Jersey received a wake-up call that needs to be answered in Game 2. Otherwise, the Devils will return to the Meadowlands facing long odds.

Only three times in Finals history has a team recovered to win the series after trailing 2-0.

``It's a big difference going to New Jersey up 2-0 than tied at 1,'' said Colorado goalie Patrick Roy, who has a 213-minute, 12-second shutout streak in the Finals dating to 1996.

Roy's stingy play and an injury to forward Randy McKay prompted the Devils to shuffle their lines during the two-day break between games.

Hoping that familiarity will breed success, Robinson put three Russians _ Alexander Mogilny, Sergei Brylin and Sergei Nemchinov _ together. Scott Gomez, usually on the ice with Mogilny and Nemchinov, will skate with Bobby Holik and Bob Corkum, who is replacing McKay.

``Who knows what goes through Larry's mind,'' Gomez said with a laugh. ``The guy's done it all, he's seen it all. He knows best. He's not scared to mix it up, he's not scared to change it and obviously it's going to show.''

After becoming the first team in 54 years to be blanked in Game 1 of the Finals, change can't hurt a team that had more penalty minutes than hits and surrendered 30 shots on goal for the first time in 15 games.

``First of all, you don't push any panic buttons,'' New Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens said. ``We have to go out and play a better game. That's the bottom line.''

While the Devils were playing musical chairs with their personnel, Colorado went through practice as usual Monday at its suburban headquarters about 20 miles southeast of the Pepsi Center.

Considered underdogs just three days ago, the Avs are carrying the confidence befitting the league's top team during the regular season.

``We don't want to change a thing,'' coach Bob Hartley said. ``If the bus is late or the Zamboni is on the ice too quick, that doesn't bother us. We are on a mission, and right now we are fearless.''

Nobody is playing better than Roy, whose icy blue-eyed stare could seemingly freeze a slap shot at this point. He needs two more victories to tie Ken Dryden's NHL-record, 11-game Finals winning streak.

Ask Roy about Dryden's record or any other personal statistic and he shrugs the information off like someone who's been told the weather forecast on Pluto. It has no effect on the series.

``When he's sitting around at a barbecue, he's going to laugh and say, `I accomplished this, this and this,''' teammate Rob Blake said. ``Right now, I think he's just focusing on what he has to do and the records will take care of themselves.''

If the Devils hope to end Roy's staggering streaks, they will need better play from their so-called ``A-line'' of Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora. The three combined for three shots in Game 1 as they fought for room against defensemen Ray Bourque and Adam Foote.

The A-line and the rest of the Devils can take solace in the fact that they have overcome lethargy twice already in the playoffs, eliminating the Carolina Hurricanes after consecutive losses in the opening round and then rallying from a 3-2 series deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

``The fact that we believe in ourselves is probably the biggest thing,'' defenseman Scott Niedermayer said. ``We were definitely disgraced in the first game and we believe we're a lot better team than that.''