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Devils Hook Sharks

With the best record in the NHL, it might seem that the New Jersey Devils don't need any additional help.

Rookie defenseman Brian Rafalski has been providing some anyway, playing solid defense and becoming an attacking force, as well.

Rafalski scored the Devils first goal and added assists on the other two Sunday, lifting New Jersey to a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks.

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  • "I'm beginning to feel more relaxed and more confident," said Rafalski who had the game winning goal in Wednesday's 4-1 win over the Rangers and has three goals and 21 assists for the season. "I understand my role and the coach is showing more confidence in me and giving me more freedom to make plays."

    The rookie's biggest play Sunday came late in the first period with the game still scoreless, even though the Devils had the first 10 shots of the game. Then Rafalski scored at 19:11.

    He took a backhanded pass from Sergei Nemchinov at the blue line and burst in alone on goalie Steve Shields, slipping the shot between the goalie's legs.

    "We had some good chances in that first period but didn't score so that first goal gave us a little confidence going into the second period," Rafalski said.

    San Jose coach Darryl Sutter agreed that Rafalski's goal made a big difference.

    "Their opportunities came in flurries in the early parts of the game but we got through it," Sutter said. "That was a tough goal against us."

    Patrik Elias got the Devils' second goal at 18:10 of the second period, tipping in Rafalski's slap shot. Rafalski's shot came from ust inside the blue line and rebounded off Shields and a San Jose defenseman. It was the 24th goal for Elias.

    The Devils made it 3-0 just 1:40 into the third period. Bobby Holik took a pass from Rafalski, carried it down the left wing and then dropped a pass to Nemchinov, who skated past the goal and then scored on a backhander.

    "He's been playing pretty steady all season but he seems to be getting better now," Devils captain Scott Stevens said about Rafalski. "He's fast, quick, get the puck up ice and now he's scoring goals. I enjoy playing with him."

    The Sharks got their only goal 39 seconds later when Niklas Sundstrom jumped on a rebound of a wraparound attempt by Vincent Damphousse for his seventh goal of the season.

    Martin Brodeur turned aside 20 shots for the Devils to earn his 33rd victory (33-10-6) of the season.

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