GAME: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Game 1.
TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.
Martin Brodeur is ready to lead the New Jersey Devils in their pursuit of another Stanley Cup title. Team captain Scott Stevens probably isn't.
With Brodeur raring to go and Stevens' status still uncertain, the Devils will begin defense of their championship when they visit the Philadelphia Flyers for the opener of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Brodeur backstopped New Jersey to its third title since 1995 last season, outdueling Anaheim's Jean-Sebastian Giguere in Game 7 of the Cup finals. With 10 years of playoff experience and four trips to the finals on his resume, Brodeur knows what it takes to survive the NHL's grueling postseason.
"I think mood swings are the biggest thing in the playoffs," Brodeur said. "It's important you are able to control that. I think experience will help us out, knowing one game is not that big of a deal. You always have another life until you are pushed to that limit."
Brodeur, who led the league in wins (38) and shutouts (11) this season, has posted a 49-29 record in the playoffs the last four years. He was 16-8 with seven shutouts and a 1.65 goals-against average in leading the Devils to the championship last year.
"Marty is Marty," Devils center John Madden said. "He doesn't get enough credit for what he does. You take him for granted, but we know he is going to be there to make saves when we make mistakes. That's why he is the best in the business."
Stevens, another key member in the Devils' three title-winning teams, has been out since early January with post-concussion syndrome. While many predicted the feisty defenseman would be back in action by playoff time, Devils coach Pat Burns was not sure about the All-Star blueliner's availability, either for this series, or beyond.
"We all love Scotty," Burns said Wednesday. "I would throw him in the game right now. You all know that. But what we have to do, and what we did a while ago, was put ourselves in the frame of mind that he was not going to be there.
"That's exactly what we did and what we are doing until we are told. It makes great writing stuff for you to talk about, but we don't talk about it."
The Flyers are quite sure about the status of their own injured star defenseman, Eric Desjardins. After returning from a broken right arm to play the final three games of the regular season, Desjardins is out for the entire playoffs after the metal plate protecting his injured limb broke on Tuesday while he was playing catch with his son.
"Obviously we don't want to lose a player of Desjardins' stature, but someone will have to step up," Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke said.
Philadelphia's defense has been depleted by injuries this season. Vladimir Malakhov just returned after breaking his jaw, while Dennis Seidenberg still is recovering from a leg injury.
"It's been that type of year. We were healthy for one day," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said.
The banged-up defensive corps will put even more pressure on goaltender Robert Esche, who will have to outduel Brodeur in an attempt to end Philadelphia's long lineage of postseason failures in net.
Goalies like Roman Cechmanek, Brian Boucher and Ron Hextall, among others, have been unable to deliver a Stanley Cup title for powerful Flyers teams in the past.
As for Brodeur, he's more concerned with Philadelphia's talented forwards, like Mark Recchi, Michal Handzus and John LeClair.
"For a goalie that's the only problem you need to get into," Brodeur said. "You try to get into these guys' heads. The guy on the other side (Esche), I'm not going to score on."
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Devils - 101 points; 3rd seed. Flyers - 100 points; 6th seed.
TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Patrik Elias, 38 goals and 81 points; Scott Gomez, 56 assists; Colin White, 96 PIM. Flyers - Recchi, 26 goals, 49 assists and 75 points; Donald Brashear, 212 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Devils - Power play: 16.3 percent (51 for 312). Penalty killing: 85.3 percent (287 for 337). Flyers - Power play: 20.7 percent (65 for 314). Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (290 for 348).
GOALTENDERS: Devils - Brodeur (38-26-11, 11 SO, 2.03 GAA); Scott Clemmensen (3-1-0, 2, 1.01). Flyers - Esche (21-11-7, 3, 2.04); Sean Burke (6-5-2, 1, 2.55)
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Tied, 2-2-1. The Flyers went winless in their first three meetings with New Jersey (0-2-1) before posting a pair of critical victories over the Devils in March. Philadelphia won 3-1 at New Jersey on March 9, and followed it up four days later with a 2-1 home triumph as Esche got the best of Brodeur in both meetings. The Devils outscored the Flyers 9-4 in the first three meetings.