EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—Like most of the New Jersey Devils, John Madden sat in the players’ lounge and watched the New York Yankees’ comeback win over the Cleveland Indians on Thursday before coming out to talk about the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The baseball game was mesmerizing. Down by four runs in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, the Yankees scored six times, winning on a three-run homer by Alex Rodriguez.
A roar went up from the players after A-Rod hit the ball over the center field fence.
“I never would have pitched to him,” Madden said, referring to first base being open and Rodriguez being one of the hottest hitters in baseball. “I never would have thrown the ball down the middle either.”
Sounds simple. But solutions in games aren’t always that obvious.
Just ask Madden about stopping Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis of the Lightning in the first-round, best-of-seven Eastern Conference series that is tied at heading into Friday night’s game at the Continental Airlines Arena.
Madden really doesn’t have an answer for that one.
Lecavalier, who led the NHL with 52 goals, has five in the series, two more than St. Louis. Most of them have been with the Devils’ highly regarded checking line of Madden, Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin on the ice. The line is minus-4 for the series.
“We have to keep doing what we are doing,” Madden said. “We are making progress. He (Lecavalier) is obviously still getting his goals. We’re making him work. There is not much one person can do. You have to do it by committee and keep working at it.
“He led the league for a reason,” Madden added. “But we have to find a way to stop him.”
What’s frustrating for Madden and company is that Lecavalier simply isn’t overpowering them with his size and speed. The center has been making great shots, and from different parts of the ice.
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who prides himself on being able to anticipate his opponents, said Lecavalier has been hard to predict in this series, which the Devils tied on Wednesday night with an overtime win in Tampa on a goal by Scott Gomez.
Brodeur also noted the Lightning have made things tough on Madden’s line by splitting up Lecavalier and St. Louis at times, and by playing both of them more than 25 minutes a game.
New Jersey also has been hindered with Colin White, its most physical defenseman, sidelined the last two games with a back problem. He skated on Thursday, but his status is uncertain.
“You look at the kind of goals they score, it’s going to the net, they tip and they get a few one-time goals,” Brodeur said. “We’re playing them well, but they are playing a lot. They are spending a lot of time on the ice.”
Lecavalier said his line has forechecked well and forced mistakes.
“We have been pretty opportunistic and the chances we had went in,” he said. “We’re forechecking them, hitting their defense and playing in their zone as much as we can.”
Lightning captain Tim Taylor can’t say enough about the way Lecavalier and St. Louis have played, especially against a Devils checking line that usually shuts down opponents.
“They have done an incredible job,” Taylor said. “I know its a tough job for the Madden line to have and those guys are just overpowering them right now. They are one of the best, so you have to give the guys scoring the goals credit, too.”
Pandolfo said Lecavalier and St. Louis, who have accounted for eight of Tampa Bay’s 12 playoff goals, have taken their game to yet another level in the postseason.
“Those guys never stop coming,” Pandolfo said. “Those guys have that knack. They are always around the net and trying to score every shift they are out there, whether they are killing penalties or on the power play. They are going to get chances, we just have to do the best we can to stop them from getting too many.”
After four games, players on both teams expect the series to go the distance.
And just like the game the Devils watched on television on Thursday, it may not be decided until the final at-bat.
“It’s so even right now, whoever gets a break or a bounce will probably win,” Gomez said.