Langenbrunner living up to own expectations

The fact that Devils right winger Jamie Langenbrunner is a factor in big games isn't a surprise to anyone who has followed his career.

"He was like that in high school, in juniors, in the minors and at the NHL level," said ex-Flames GM Craig Button, who, as an amateur scout with the Dallas Stars, had a hand in selecting Langenbrunner with the 35th overall pick in 1993. "His inner drive is exceptional. He's one of those players who wants to make a difference in the game."

During this playoff spring, Langenbrunner again is finding a way to make a difference. Through the first two rounds, the 27-year-old Minnesota native leads the Devils with seven goals and a playoff-best four game winners. His 11 points ties him for the club's playoff scoring lead with part-time linemate John Madden.

His strong playoff performance -- reminiscent of his 10-goal (three game winners), 17-point performance during the Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup run -- doesn't come as surprise to Langenbrunner, either.

"I've always felt I was a decent offensive player," says Langenbrunner, who scored 12 goals and totaled 32 points in 18 career Ontario Hockey League playoff games with Peterborough in 1994 and 1995. "This is how I saw myself as a player in this league."

Acquired at the 2002 trade deadline from the Stars, with Joe Nieuwendyk for Jason Arnott, Randy McKay and a first-round pick in 2002, Langenbrunner needed a little time to get used to his new surroundings. The trade, which he didn't see coming, left him a little unsettled. After all, despite being moved up and down the lineup, Langenbrunner seemed to be a core player for the Stars.

In his first playoff series as a Devil, Langenbrunner didn't score a single goal as the club fell to the upstart Carolina Hurricanes in six games.

"I pride myself on being able to play and contribute in big games," Langenbrunner said. "It was pretty disappointing."

This season, riding shotgun for Nieuwendyk, Langenbrunner posted a career-best 55 points. Had he not been slowed by an early-season illness that forced him to miss four games and set back his conditioning, he likely would have pushed past the 60-point mark and led the team in scoring.

While regular-season success is great, Langenbrunner loves taking it to the next level during the playoffs where he usually finds a way to ratchet up his game.

"He is a very hard working guy," Nieuwendyk said. "He's a gritty player who can skate and shoot and plays well in all areas of the game. In the playoffs, to be effective, you have to be able to play in a lot of different situations. He can do that."

Nieuwendyk, who has enjoyed close friendship with Langenbrunner since the two players met in Dallas in 1996, believes "Lags" possess another important characteristic.

"He's a character guy," Nieuwendyk says. "He always believes he can do it. And in this environment, he's getting a great opportunity to show all his skills."

As for Langenbrunner's propensity for the big goal, Devils coach Pat Burns doesn't see it as a big mystery.

"It's because he really wants the puck," Burns says. "He takes a shot and follows it to the net. He wants to score. Really, it's as simple as that."

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.