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It Was Too Risky for Nieuwendyk

June 10, 2003|Jerry Crowe and Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Joe Nieuwendyk gave it one last shot.

The injured New Jersey Devil center, suffering from what he finally revealed Sunday was a torn oblique muscle in his left side, participated in the morning skate Monday, took a few faceoffs and unhappily declared that he would be unable to play in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

"It's frustrating, but I don't think I can put the team at risk like that," said Nieuwendyk, who sat out the entire series after suffering the abdominal injury in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final against the Ottawa Senators. "I don't want it to be a situation like in Ottawa, where I played a few shifts [in Game 7] and then couldn't go again. I don't think that would be fair to the guys.... "

Less than an hour earlier, Nieuwendyk had been hopeful. He participated in light drills, then took a few faceoffs against teammate Pascal Rheaume.

"I won my first two and was feeling pretty good about myself," he said, "but then Pascal leaned into me and the same old pain flared up. I know it would be there again tonight and it just wouldn't be fair for me to take somebody else's spot."

He spoke briefly with Coach Pat Burns before skating off.

"We talked about how I was feeling and he made me aware that he needs everybody tonight," Nieuwendyk said. "I think we both agreed."

Unable to comfortably take faceoffs, shoot or accelerate, Nieuwendyk said he was not sure he would be able to last all the way through Monday night's game. The injury will heal with time, he said, but the championship series wouldn't wait.

"It's very difficult," said Nieuwendyk, who won championships with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and the Dallas Stars in 1999. "But I've been as emotionally involved in this series not playing just as much as some guys that are playing.

"I feel a part of it, and the guys have certainly made me feel a part of it. But it will make it a lot easier for me to deal with if we come out with a win tonight."

The Devils eased his burden with a 3-0 victory, making Nieuwendyk the sixth player in NHL history to win championships with three teams.


Bowing as much to sentiment as anything else, Burns added veteran defenseman Ken Daneyko to the Devil lineup for Game 7, taking out Oleg Tverdovsky.

"I thought about it all night," Burns said of the decision to insert the 39-year-old Daneyko, who before last month had played in every playoff game in Devil history but had been scratched in the first six games of the finals. "To get him in there one last time, to hoist that Cup was something I'm sure he won't forget."

Daneyko said he was "flabbergasted" to get the chance. Tverdovsky, traded from the Ducks last summer, said he understood.

"I knew Dano could jump in," he said. "He's an experienced guy. He's the heart and soul of this team and he didn't sulk when he didn't play. I can't be happier for him. It's great for him."

Tverdovsky, however, said it wasn't easy to sit out.

"I couldn't watch," he said. "... You can't do anything but stare at the screen and say, 'Oh, my God,' 'Oh, my God.' "


Burns said he planned mostly to leave his veteran team on its own in the hours before the decisive game.

"If anybody believes I'm in there all the time with two Devil flags waving, you've got it all wrong," he said after the morning skate.


Burns, who matched a league record by coaching in his ninth Game 7, on the "beauty" of a Game 7: "Beauty? You call it beauty. It's exciting. I don't know how pretty it is. I don't know if I'd go out on a date with it very often, and I've been to a couple."

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