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For Stevens, it's about the win column

When I think of Scott Stevens, I always think of the visiting locker room at the Pepsi Center in Denver, about a half hour after the Avalanche beat the Devils in Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup final.

Stevens had showered, shaved his playoff beard and dressed. He stood in the nondescript dressing room to face a small gathering of media scribes, who wondered how the defending champs had blown a 3-2 series lead.

One by one, Stevens quietly answered the questions. But, in his watery blue eyes, you could see the pain of that loss. A consummate old-school competitor, Stevens was devastated. It was plain to see -- the guy with the chiseled features just hated to lose.

Thinking of those moments in Denver, I figured it would take more than a slap shot to the head to keep Stevens out of a playoff game. After all, since joining the Devils in 1991, Stevens has played in 918 of the club's 952 games and all 138 of their playoff games. So, it wasn't much of a surprise to see old No. 4 -- his helmet fitted with protective earflap on the left side -- on the ice for the opening faceoff of Game 4 against the Lightning.

Right from his first shift, Stevens made his presence felt, massaging Tampa's tiny terror Martin St. Louis into the corner boards. By the end of the first period, Stevens had logged more than 10 minutes of ice time and was a plus-2.

On a third-period power play, with the Devils nursing a 2-1 lead, Stevens threaded a quick wrist shot over the shoulder of Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin -- off the cross bar and post -- and into the net for a key insurance goal. It was a reminder of a time earlier in Stevens' Hall of Fame career, when he regularly provided offense from the blue line, once scoring 21 goals in a single season (1984-85).

Stevens, who said he made his decision to play after the pregame skate, finished the evening with a team-high 27:35 minutes of ice time. He was named the game's second star by the press box clowns who couldn't see past the scoresheet. (Scott Gomez with a goal and an assist was named first star.)

But Stevens has never been about individual awards -- somehow he's never won a Norris Trophy. Stevens is about two things: competing and winning. On Wednesday night, when he and his team pushed a step closer to the Conference final, Stevens once again did both.

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Lost in the Game 3 line-change controversy was the brutal defensive zone play by Devils defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky. The fleet defenseman -- apparently looking to avoid physical contact -- made a weak backhand pass up the sideboards which caused the chaos that resulted in Dave Andreychuk's game-winning goal for the Lightning.

Earlier in that same game, Tverdovsky allowed St. Louis to beat him to the net on the Lightning's second goal. On the play, Tverdovsky was much too soft on the dangerous St. Louis.

Tverdovsky's mistakes didn't go unnoticed by coach Pat Burns, who scratched the offensive-minded defender in Game 4 and inserted veteran Tommy Albelin in his place alongside fellow vet Ken Daneyko.

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