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Avs open with a flourish

Joe Sakic scores twice and Colorado out-everythings the Devils in winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final 5-0.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001


DENVER -- It is widely assumed Joe Sakic is a lock to be named the NHL's regular-season MVP. If he keeps it up, the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs may not be far behind.

The Avalanche center scored twice and had an assist Saturday night as Colorado dominated the defending champion Devils 5-0 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final before a delirious sellout crowd of 18,007 at the Pepsi Center.

"Joe is Joe," Avalanche coach Bob Hartley said. "Since Game 1 of the regular season, Joe Sakic has been carrying this team offensively, and tonight was no different."

This was an important step for the Avalanche. Since the NHL began the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final series in 1939, the Game 1 winner has won the title 49 of 62 times (79 percent).

Sakic was not a one-man show. Goaltender Patrick Roy got his third shutout of the playoffs and record 18th of his career with 25 saves. Chris Drury and Steven Reinprecht scored. And Colorado's defense -- led by Rob Blake, who had a goal and two assists -- swarmed, hit and gave the Devils precious little room to maneuver.

So complete was Colorado's effort that New Jersey's top line, Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora, was limited to three shots. Sakic's line, which includes Alex Tanguay and Milan Hejduk, was responsible for that as well.

"Obviously, they weren't at their best," Sakic said, "and we came out ready to play."

Ready to keep New Jersey bottled up on all six of its power play chances and hand the Devils their worst playoff defeat since a 7-0 loss to the Penguins in 1993's first round.

As if that wasn't enough, right wing Randy McKay was lost in the second period when a clean check by Colorado's Ray Bourque fractured his left hand.

"I don't know," Devils defenseman Colin White said. "We weren't ready, for some reason. We didn't play hard, and they played hard all over the ice and won the little battles."

"We got our butts kicked," Devils center Scott Gomez said. "It's as simple as that."

At one point, Sakic made Stevens, who was minus-3, look like a Bantam player.

Sakic was one-on-one with Stevens in the Devils zone. He started right and deked left so quickly, Stevens fell, which allowed Sakic to cut to the slot. His shot beat goaltender Martin Brodeur high and right.

The goal, 15:06 into the second period, was Sakic's 11th of the playoffs and made the score 3-0.

"He has been playing great," Drury said. "He is on fire. Give him the puck when we can, I guess."

Sakic gave the Avalanche a 1-0 lead at 11:07 of the first period. Hejduk, who leads the playoffs in scoring with 21 points, made the play. The right wing's perfect turnaround pass hit Sakic in stride in the neutral zone.

Sakic blew past Sergei Nemchinov and beat Brodeur through his legs.

"I just went down the side, and he made a perfect play," Sakic said of Hejduk. "I just skated into it. I didn't mean to go five-hole, but it ended up going five-hole.

"I just think we didn't have our legs tonight," Devils coach Larry Robinson said. "We were a step behind all night. Maybe the trip up here took more out of us than we like to admit. Maybe it was just a lack of effort. Maybe a little bit of both.

"A lot of our big guys didn't play very well tonight, didn't put out the effort."

Blake missed the final eight minutes of the game and had one shift after his goal at 5:36 of the third period gave the Avalanche a 4-0 lead.

"He was a little excited on the bench," Hartley said. "He wanted to go out and look for big hits. I felt that was not the right time, so we decided to keep him quiet on the bench."

The Devils would have paid for Hartley to do the same with Sakic.

* * *

UP NEXT: New Jersey at Colorado, Game 2, 8 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN.

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