From the moment the topic turned to hitting and Eric Lindros' name was mentioned, it was obvious Scott Stevens was uncomfortable.

His eyes seemed to glisten and it took a couple of seconds for the New Jersey Devils captain to decide on Sunday whether he wanted to discuss the crushing hit on Lindros, one that has been seen over and over in replays since Friday night.

It was still being talked about two days before the Devils open the Stanley Cup finals at home against the Dallas Stars.

Lindros, who had just returned to the Philadelphia Flyers last Wednesday after missing 10 weeks with a series of concussions, skated into the Devils' zone with the puck early in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

What Lindros didn't see was Stevens.

He had No. 88 lined up and caught him flush in a jaw with a devastating check in which he led with his triceps.

Lindros appeared unconscious even before the back of his helmet hit the ice.

"It's very hard, it's tough," Stevens said Sunday in recalling the play and knowing how bad he felt. "It's something I don't like to think about and I try to put it behind me and go on."

Stevens then explained why he didn't hesitate to check Lindros, who has had four concussions in the last five months and was looking down at the ice.

"It's an important time and the way Eric played in his first game back (on Wednesday), he was their best player, which is unbelievable being off 10 weeks," Stevens said. "Coming into Game 7, I'm thinking there is one player on that team that can win that game and it could have been him."

So when Stevens had the opportunity to check Lindros coming into the Devils zone 7:50 after the opening faceoff, he hit him.

While one or two Flyers complained it was a dirty hit, replays showed Stevens caught Lindros mostly with his upper arm and shoulder.

That's the same way Stevens hit Pavel Bure of Florida in the opening round and Tomas Kaberle and Kevyn Adams of Toronto in the second.

It's the same way he'll treat anyone on the Stars in the next few weeks with hockey's biggest prize on the line.

"Hitting is part of the game," Stevens said. "That's the bottom line. I get hit and I'm going to give a hit. This is an important time. I have been playing physical the whole playoffs and I think everyone knows I'm not going to change."

Stevens has always been physical, whether it was playing hockey and football (middle linebacker) or just being around his family growing up in Kitchener, Ont.

"`I have two brothers (Mike and Geoff), we were all a year apart, so there was a lot of fighting going on in our house," Stevens said.

Stevens also isn't immune to hits

. The worst one he took was in the 1994 playoffs against Boston when he was hit behind the net by Bryan Smolinski.

"I skated to the bench, sat on the bench and then went to the dressing room and the next thing I knew I was on the medical table," Stevens said. "I guess I was unconscious.

"That was a scary feeling," added the six-foot-one, 215-pounder. "When I woke up I asked (current Devils assistant coach) Bobby Carpenter why he wasn't playing. He was hurt and he wasn't playing in the game, but I didn't know."

Devils coach Larry Robinson wishes everyone would stop bringing up the Lindros hit.

While it was unfortunate, it was clean.

Robinson also knows how much it bothered Stevens on Friday. For a while it got him out of his game.

"I tried to relate a little bit because the same thing happened to me, so I know how it felt putting a guy out of a game," said Robinson, whose hip check on Edmonton's Craig Simpson hastened the end of his career. "It's not a great feeling. It's not maliciously done. This is a physical game and it happens."

The one hope the Devils have is that it somehow doesn't stop Stevens from being himself.

"Scotty will be fine," Devils veteran Randy McKay said. "Scotty is a great leader. I'm sure he felt for Eric a little bit, but it's part of the game. I'm sure he'll do the same thing if he can catch someone else. That's the game. It was clean. I'm not worried about him at all."

By Tom Canavan