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Brodeur outplayed by Esche in series

4/21/2004

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- New Jersey Devils coach Pat Burns sat
dejectedly in the hallway outside the locker room.

While leaning against an equipment bin, Burns stared out through
the tunnel that leads to the ice. Periodically, he picked his head
up to view the playing surface where the defending Stanley Cup
champions had just lost their first-round series against the
Philadelphia Flyers.

"This isn't the same team we had last year, and I realize
that," Burns said. "We brought some guys into the lineup that
learned something. When you learn how to win, you learn how to
lose."

Three years ago, the Devils stormed back from a 3-1 deficit in
the Eastern Conference finals to stun the Flyers on their home ice
in Game 7. When Philadelphia took another 3-1 lead this year, New
Jersey was primed for another shocking rebound.

This time, though, it wasn't to be for the Devils, who won three
championships the previous nine years.

The Flyers took a 1-0 lead on Saturday and, after the Devils
tied it in the second period, Philadelphia kept the pressure on
Martin Brodeur.

Brodeur had his best game of the series, turning away numerous
chances from close range in the final period. He stopped Alexei
Zhamnov on a two-on-one break early in the frame, then made saves
on a wraparound by John LeClair and a three-whack attempt from
Michal Handzus.

But with 5:23 to play, Brodeur allowed Danny Markov's long shot
to get past him. When Sami Kapanen scored into an empty net, the
Devils' reign was all but over.

"You have to give them credit," Brodeur said of the Flyers.
"They went out and got big guys, key guys the last couple months
of the season and that made a huge difference in the series. We
stayed there and thought we were all right and I think that wasn't
a bad decision. We competed real well with a team that's full of
talent."

For the second year in a row, the defending champs were
eliminated in the first round. Last season, the Detroit Red Wings
were swept by Anaheim.

The Devils also failed in their attempt to become the first team
to repeat since Detroit in 1998.

"That shows you what the playoffs are all about. Streaks, luck,
bounces," center Scott Gomez said. "When you win one, you realize
what it takes and how hard it is to defend one. Everyone wants to
knock off the defending champs."

The Devils entered this postseason without captain Scott
Stevens, out since Jan. 7 with post-concussion syndrome. He even
stayed away from practices and team meetings but on the ice is
where his absence was felt the most.

"We would be lying if we said it wouldn't help us," Patrik
Elias said. "But it wasn't on anybody's mind because we knew he
wasn't coming back."

Now the Devils must wait at least five months to start again.
With the threat of a lockout next season, the difficult memories of
this loss might linger longer than usual.

"You look around the room and you don't know who's coming
back," Gomez said. "But the guys played hard to the end. That's
all you can ask."