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.