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.

Elias Says

New Jersey Devils
The Devils clinched their series against Tampa Bay with a 3-2 victory in Game 6. Coupled with Anaheim's ousting of Minnesota, it marks the first time since 1996 that the second seed in both conferences advanced beyond the first round of the NHL playoffs. Under the current playoff format, which the NHL instituted in 1994, No. 7 seeds have a series record of 14-12 against No. 2 seeds in first-round matchups.

• Read more Elias Says.

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.