PLAYOFFS
NJ Wins series 4-0
46-27-9, 19-16-6 away
4
123T
NJ0224
NYR1012
44-26-12, 25-10-6 home
2

Rangers' first playoff appearance since '97 ends in sweep

NEW YORK (AP) -- Without Patrik Elias, the New Jersey Devils were

questionable to even make the playoffs.

Now that the Czech Republic star is on top of his game, the only

question being asked is will anyone stop the three-time champions

from hoisting the Stanley Cup again.

Elias scored two goals and assisted on Scott Gomez's power-play

goal early in the second period that wiped out the Rangers' only

lead of the first-round playoff series. That was enough to lift the

Devils to a 4-2 win Saturday and a four-game sweep of New York.

"We put ourselves again in a good position to end the series,"

Elias said.

That wasn't the case for the first 39 games this season when

Elias was recovering from Hepatitis A, contracted during last

season's lockout. New Jersey was 16-18-5 when 2006 started, and

Elias' teammates looked to him to help turn things around.

The Devils made up a 19-point deficit in the Atlantic Division

and skated off with the crown on the final day when they won their

11th straight game.

"People don't realize when this guy is going, he's top five in

the league," Gomez said. "He's that good."

Brian Gionta scored 4:30 into the third period with the Devils'

third short-handed goal of the series after a terrible turnover by

Petr Sykora, and Elias ripped in his fifth of the series, with 6:39

left to make it 4-1.

The Rangers scored only four times in four games, while yielding

17 goals.

New Jersey will have to wait to find out who it will meet in the

second round, but will enter that series just as it did this one --

as the hottest team in the NHL. The workmanlike Devils stretched

their winning streak to 15 games, tying the league mark for the

longest run that spanned the regular season and playoffs.

Martin Brodeur made 31 saves and broke Patrick Roy's league

record by playing his 137th consecutive postseason game. His 88th

playoff win moved him into a third-place tie with Billy Smith and

Ed Belfour on the NHL career list.

"It's pretty sweet for everybody especially in a season that

the Rangers dominated all year long," Brodeur said. "It was a

long time coming for the Devils fans. For myself it's been a long

time, too."

The Devils, who turned sloppy Rangers play into goals throughout

the short series, earned their third playoff sweep. They have won

the Stanley Cup in the two other years they pulled off the feat.

New York was facing long odds at the start of the day, knowing

that only two NHL teams have rallied to win a series after trailing

3-0. But things got much worse just 53 seconds in when team scoring

leader Jaromir Jagr aggravated his injured left shoulder and was

forced out of the game.

"I dislocated my shoulder in Game 1," the 34-year-old Jagr

acknowledged for the first time. "I came back and tried in the

third game and didn't get hit. This game I got hit into the boards.

I don't know exactly what happened, but it wasn't good."

The right wing, who posted team records of 54 goals and 123

points this season, went into the right corner in the Devils end

when defenseman Brad Lukowich met him with a hit on the right

shoulder. The force drove Jagr into the boards, leading with his

left shoulder.

"I was just playing the game," Lukowich said. "He was no

target or anything."

Jagr crumpled to the ice and stayed down. He skated off, doubled

over and with his left arm drooping, and headed straight down the

tunnel to the dressing room.

"You lose a guy like him, it's not the same team," forward

Martin Rucinsky said. "Throughout the course of the season, he

took this team to a different level."

For the Rangers, it was a bitter end to a season that had so

much promise but finished with a flameout in their first playoff

appearance since 1997. New York led the Atlantic for most of the

season but fell to third by losing the final five games. The

Rangers will carry a nine-game losing skid into the summer break.

"We started to feel insecure about ourselves in the last couple

of games before the playoffs," said rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who never recovered his game after a late-season injury.

"Stepping into this series, we faced one of the best teams in the

league. It was a tough challenge for us."

Jed Ortmeyer gave his team and the frustrated fans in Madison

Square Garden a lift when he charged in to Brodeur's right and put

in a rebound of his own backhander with 18.6 seconds left in the

opening period.

It was his first goal in 38 games and snapped a stretch of 367

minutes, 23 seconds over 18 periods since April 13 when the Rangers

last held the lead.

Elias made sure it was gone quickly. That made summer vacation

come early for his seven countrymen in the Rangers' lineup.

"I'm happy with the way I played and happy to help this team

out," Elias said. "I'm glad I'm the one Czech staying."

After putting New York in a hole with two goals and four assists

in the Devils' 6-1 win in Game 1, he struck again one week later to

help New Jersey knock out its Hudson River rival for the first time

in four playoff meetings.

Gomez tied it 1-1 at 4:20 of the second when the Rangers were

serving a too many men on the ice penalty, and Elias put the Devils

in front at 7:21 while Michal Rozsival was off for the first of his

three straight infractions.

Brodeur was sharp in the third, making a quick, darting left toe

save on Darius Kasparaitis' long drive. Steve Rucchin beat him with

1:27 to make it 4-2.Game notes
Kasparaitis returned after missing two games with a groin

injury. ... Devils D Colin White sat out his third consecutive with

a groin injury. ... New Jersey swept Detroit in the 1995 Stanley

Cup finals, and Florida in the first round in 2000. The Rangers

held a 33-29 shots advantage in the game and 114-104 in the series.