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Gionta, Brodeur send Devils to conference semifinals

TAMPA, Fla. -- A bounce here, a bounce there. The way Martin
Brodeur sounded, the New Jersey Devils were fortunate to close out
the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In reality, the three-time Stanley Cup champion goalie was the
difference in the first-round Eastern Conference series that the
Devils won Sunday with Brodeur stopping 32 shots and Brian Gionta
scoring two goals in a 3-2 victory.

Faced with criticism after playing poorly in the first three
games, the 34-year-old goaltender reverted to the form that helped
him set a regular-season record for victories and win three
straight to end the best-of-seven matchup in six games.

"We won, and it doesn't matter if you play well or not,"
Brodeur said. "It's a fine line in the playoffs -- winning and
losing, and how somebody performs -- because the luck factor is such
a big factor."

Brian Rafalski also scored and Patrick Elias assisted on all
three of New Jersey's goals. The Devils advanced to the East
semifinals against the Ottawa Senators, who eliminated Pittsburgh
in five games.

Brad Richards scored two power-play goals for Tampa Bay, which
was shutout by Brodeur in Game 5 after scoring three goals in each
of the first four games and making the New Jersey star look nothing
like a goalie that won a league-record 48 games this season.

Brodeur's performance in the first three raised questions about
his vulnerability. He rebounded from squandering a two-goal lead in
the second period of Game 4, which New Jersey won in overtime, then
stopped 31 shots for his 22nd career playoff shutout Friday night.

"It wasn't like he was playing horrible. It was just some
bounces. The two game-winning goals that they did get came off shin
pads," New Jersey's John Madden said. "It wasn't like everybody
was out of position or anything like that. You've got to keep
plugging away."

That's exactly what Brodeur did.

"When you've been through it, you just put your head down and
work harder. I can't make the bounces go my way if I don't believe
that I'm able to stop the puck," Brodeur said. "I know when it
doesn't go well, I'll get that criticism."

Brodeur's 93rd postseason win moved him ahead of Grant Fuhr and
into second place on the career playoff list behind Patrick Roy's
151.

"I don't think he was totally on his game through the first
four (games)," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "The
opportunity we had in overtime, we didn't get it done. But you knew
he was going to come up sooner or later, and I think the last two
games he was the difference."

Despite being shutout in Game 5, the Lightning outshot the
Devils 31-14 and carried the same mind-set into Sunday. They
dominated early again, making Brodeur work to keep New Jersey from
falling behind.

Gionta's power-play goal snapped a scoreless tie late in the
opening period and Rafalski's second goal of the playoffs made it
2-0. Gionta's shot from the left circle gave the Devils a 3-1 lead
just 39 seconds after Tampa Bay broke through against Brodeur for
the first time since the second period of Game 4.

Gionta, who had five goals in the series, was aided when
Lightning defenseman Filip Kuba got tangled up with Elias in front
of the net and wound up knocking over goalie Johan Holmqvist, who
was sprawled on his back when the shot whizzed past.

Richards, who teamed with Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St.
Louis to score 11 of Tampa Bay's 14 goals in the series, trimmed
the Lightning's deficit to 3-2 with his second power-play goal with
just over 9 minutes remaining in the second period.

Tampa Bay outshot the Devils 10-7 in the third, but was unable
to capitalize on its only power-play opportunity of the period to
finish 2-for-6 with a man advantage. New Jersey converted its first
two power-play opportunities and finished 2-for-4.

Holmqvist made 23 saves, including stops on point-blank shots by
Elias, Zach Parise and Jay Pandolfo to keep the outcome in doubt
until the final horn.

"They're moving on and we're not," St. Louis said. "It's an
empty feeling and it's disappointing, but we have to remember how
this feels."

Game notes
The first team to score won each game of the series. ...
New Jersey D Colin White did not make the trip, missing his fourth
consecutive game with a back injury. ... Lightning RW Ruslan
Fedotenko was a healthy scratch after dressing for Game 5 but not
playing. He was benched because of a lack of production. He scored
one goal in his last 29 games. ... The Lightning were eliminated in
the first round for the second straight season. A year ago, they
lost to Ottawa in five games.