EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Even in street clothes, Scott Niedermayer helped the New Jersey Devils come back against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Patrik Elias scored twice and Scott Stevens had a goal and an assist in a four-goal second period that carried the defending Stanley Cup champions to a 5-1 victory in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal on Wednesday night.
It marked the second straight year the Devils staged a major comeback to keep their hopes of a championship alive. This rally was particularly sweet since New Jersey did it with Niedermayer sidelined the last three games with a concussion caused by a vicious elbow by Tie Domi late in Game 4.
''Everybody was thinking of Nieder,'' fellow Devils defenseman Colin White said. ''We wanted to give Nieder a chance to play again, and I think we may have just done that.''
Niedermayer was close to returning for Game 7 but he was scratched from the lineup after developing post-concussion headaches after skating on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.
The Devils didn't need him, not with everyone playing the team game that allowed them to win 19 of their last 21 regular-season games.
The Devils, who also got goals from Sergei Nemchinov and John Madden, will play the winner of the Pittsburgh-Buffalo series, which has its Game 7 Thursday night, in the conference finals. That best-of-seven series opens Saturday at New Jersey.
''Hopefully, I'll be better,'' said Niedermayer, who shook hands with Domi in a hallway after the game. ''I want to play.''
In extending the Maple Leafs' cup drought to 34 years, the Devils rallied from a 3-2 series deficit. They won in Toronto 4-2 on Monday and then blew out Toronto before a home crowd that started chanting ''67'' in the third period, the last year the Maple Leafs won the cup.
''We have a lot of pride playing for this organization,'' Elias said. ''We never give up. It looks like every time we have our backs to the wall we pick our game up and play our best games.''
The one-sided loss overshadowed how well Toronto played in the hard-fought series. There was an opening-game shutout by Toronto goaltender Curtis Joseph, overtime wins by New Jersey in Games 2 and 3, Domi's cheap shot in Game 4 and a controversial game-winning goal in Game 5 when Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur was bowled over.
However, the Devils overcame it all, just like they did in overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the conference finals against Philadelphia last year.
''You can never be satisfied in losing a series, especially in a series we truly felt we could have won,'' said Steve Thomas, who gave the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead with his sixth goal of the series. ''We could have won the series in five or four, but it went seven and we lost a big one at the end.''
Elias' line keyed the win in Game 6 and the Devils then dominated in the deciding game despite finding out just hours before that Neidermayer would not be able to play.
''We won it for him,'' Devils forward Randy McKay said. ''We won it for all of us, but to see Scott and to think he might be close makes it great.''
Thomas scored a first-period power-play goal with Jason Arnott off for a bad hooking penalty.
The Devils, who looked out of synch in the opening period, played like champions in the second while the Maple Leafs made one mistake after another.
Nemchinov tied the score at 1:32, converting a cross-ice pass from Alexander Mogilny in close after Nik Antropov seemingly lost him in coverage.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.