New Jersey captain has been skating (alone)

WEST ORANGE, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils coach Pat Burns has no idea whether star defenseman Scott Stevens will be active in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the defending champions.

Stevens has been sidelined since early January with post-concussion syndrome. The 40-year-old captain has skated by himself in recent weeks, but Burns said Wednesday that Stevens' status is uncertain.

The Devils open a best-of-seven, first-round playoff series with the Flyers in Philadelphia on Thursday.

"We all love Scotty," Burns said before the Devils left on a bus for the trip down the New Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia. "I would throw him in the game right now. You all know that. But what we have to do, and what we did a while ago, was put ourselves in the frame of mind that he was not going to be there.

"That's exactly what we did and what we are doing until we are told. It makes great writing stuff for you to talk about, but we don't talk about it."

Burns has not spoken with Stevens in person since Feb. 27, the date Burns coached his 1,000th career game.

Stevens has not played since Jan. 9, missing the last 43 games of the regular season.

"If he came back, it would be a huge bonus," center Scott Gomez said. "But if the guy is not 100 percent healthy, basically this is what we have. Everybody has to step it up. That's the mentality we've had since he has been gone, and that's been awhile."

Gomez said he has heard so many rumors about Stevens returning that he doesn't believe any of them now.

"This is what we have, and we are pretty confident now," Gomez said.

Fellow defenseman Scott Niedermayer has taken over as the Devils' acting captain. He also has become the constant on the defense, being matched against all the opponents' top lines.

The Devils' defense has changed since last year's run to the Stanley Cup.

Not only is rugged Stevens out but Ken Daneyko retired after last season.

Brian Rafalski and Colin White are back, along with Niedermayer. The other three spots are being played by rookies Paul Martin and Ray Giroux, who will be appearing in their first NHL playoff games, and veteran Sean Brown, who split the season with the Devils and their AHL affiliate in Albany, N.Y.

Burns thinks the Devils and Flyers match up well.

"It's easy to say Scotty Stevens is not there, the Devils don't have a chance," Burns said. "That's the easiest way out. If you look at the overall games, the overall points, the power plays, the two teams are similar."

Goaltender Martin Brodeur said that although the Devils will miss Stevens, he is just one piece of their system.

"That's the beauty of this team," Brodeur said. "We don't rely on one guy. Scotty is down. We have other guys who will pick it up. We did it the last half of the year, all the way to the playoffs and finished good, with a lot of confidence. We'll bring that to the playoffs."