New Jersey has regained home-ice advantage.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
PITTSBURGH -- At least a video montage saluting the opening sequence of "The Sopranos" was entertaining.
Not much else that took place on the Mellon Arena ice Thursday tickled the fancy of the 17,148 customers who witnessed the Pittsburgh Penguins give back the home-ice advantage they had stolen from the New Jersey Devils earlier in the week.
New Jersey defenseman Brian Rafalski scored once and set up Jason Arnott for another first period goal, in the Devils' 3-0 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"This was about our best 60 minutes of [playoff] hockey," Rafalski said. "Our goal is to do it again Saturday."
"We couldn't have played any worse than we did tonight," Penguins left winger Kevin Stevens said. "They were dominant. We didn't skate well, we couldn't get the puck into their zone."
Stopped all 20: Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who surrendered three goals in the second period of Game 2, was brilliant, stopping all 20 shots thrown at him.
"We played well -- we kept it simple by not turning the puck over," Brodeur said. "This was a big game for us to get back home-ice advantage. This is a tough building to play in."
How strong was New Jersey? Trailing by three goals in the final period, it took the Penguins 14 minutes to register their first shot on goal.
"We have to be better in our transition game," Pittsburgh coach Ivan Hlinka said. "We didn't make [anything] -- our passes were too slow, to the standing position, and that's really not our game."
The Devils, who peppered Penguins rookie goalie Johan Hedberg with 15 first-period shots, jumped ahead after Alexander Molginy stole a pass and skated untouched into the Pittsburgh end.
Molginy passed to Rafalski in the slot and his 10-foot shot beat Hedberg 8 minutes, 42 seconds into the game.
Key sequence: "They played solid in all areas of the game," said Mario Lemieux, who took three shots at Brodeur but none after the second period. "That 5-on-3 really killed us."
Lemieux was referring to the two-man advantage power-play that produced New Jersey's second goal late four minutes later.
Already shorthanded, Penguins defender Bob Boughner was caught tackling Rafalski as he broke in on Hedberg.
Eleven seconds later, Arnott blasted the puck from the faceoff circle for the two-goal lead.
It could have been worse had not Hedberg twice stopped Molginy on first-period breakaway shots.
"The guy played his butt off for us the other night, and we just sort of left him hanging," Boughner said of Hedberg. "[We] gave up 15 shots or whatever in the first period, some were breakaways [and] dead-on."
Ahead 2-0 just as in Game 2, Rafalski said the Devils knew "we needed to be smarter, make the plays off the boards, get the puck deep. We had a lot of odd-man rushes [that helped] us get those chances."
Teamed together: Desperate for an offensive spark, Hlinka restored the Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr-Jan Hrdina line late in the second period.
The plan initially worked as the unit fired two shots at Brodeur right before the period expired.
But 87 seconds into the third period, the Devils padded their lead when Patrik Elias scored on a 2-on-1 breakaway, flipping the puck off Hedberg's right shoulder into the net.
Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko said the key to success was keeping the Penguins' top guns as far from Brodeur as possible.
"They're going to get their chances, they are going to get their shots, so we have to try and limit them as best we can," Daneyko said. "Tonight, we did an excellent job of that."
The Devils limited Jagr to two first-period shots.
"Obviously, this team learned a lesson on Tuesday," Devils center Bobby Holik said. "We knew that the only way to win in this building was to limit them to as few opportunities as possible. That's where Marty steps in and takes this team to another level.
"It's not a science -- it's very simple for this team. It's a system of 60 minutes of disciplined, patient hockey."