Devils can't cast out Senators

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The Ottawa Senators were short on cash in the regular season. Now they're rich with momentum in the Eastern Conference finals.

Defenseman Chris Phillips scored 15:51 into overtime to lift the Senators to a 2-1 victory Wednesday night and force a Game 7 on Friday in Ottawa. It was the second straight game the Senators fought off elimination.

''Even when we were down 3-1, there was not one guy in our dressing room or organization that counted ourselves out,'' Phillips said.

Vaclav Varada was trying to hit the loose puck in front of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, but all he was making contact with was the New Jersey goalie. Trailing the play, Phillips found the loose puck behind Varada and fired it into the net.

''I was just able to get in there and get a whack at it,'' Phillips said. ''I didn't even realize it went in until the other guys started celebrating.''

Patrick Lalime kept the Senators alive in the extra session by fighting off several New Jersey flurries. The biggest threat came from Brian Gionta, who was stopped on a 2-on-1 with Patrik Elias.

New Jersey, trying to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the third time in four years, has never lost a series in which it led 3-1. The Senators have never advanced this far in the playoffs in their 11-year history.

''We have to play one game. That's going to be the hardest game,'' said forward Marian Hossa who assisted on both Ottawa goals. ''We're going to be home and that's a good thing.''

The West champion Anaheim Mighty Ducks haven't played since last Friday, but will face the winner on the road in Game 1 of the finals on Tuesday night.

''That's all we wanted to do, to have practice tomorrow,'' forward Bryan Smolinski said.

There have been 17 comebacks from 3-1 deficits, including three in this year's playoffs.

''We have a big Game 7 ahead of us and we have to start thinking about that,'' said Joe Nieuwendyk, who scored the Devils' goal.

The Senators, 4-0 in overtime in the postseason, filed for bankruptcy and were late with players' paychecks during the season. Now they have squared the series.

''We like our odds going back home, but we know we are going to have to be better,'' Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. ''They are a veteran team that's going to come to Ottawa and play their best.''

The Devils were beaten on the road in Game 5 and then sustained their first home loss in this postseason following an 8-0 start. New Jersey sports 15 players who have won the Stanley Cup compared to only one on the Senators.

''We're a good hockey club when our backs are up against the wall,'' Devils forward John Madden said. ''Sad to say, but that's what it takes sometimes to see the character of this team.''

Despite choppy ice that had to be attended to several times during the game, both goalies were sharp. A daytime college graduation held at the arena left holes in the ice in the neutral zone.

In making 30 saves, Lalime looked more like the goalie who held opponents to two goals or fewer in 11 straight playoff games than the one who yielded 10 goals to the Devils in three consecutive losses after Game 1.

Brodeur made 32 saves for New Jersey and has allowed just nine goals in nine home playoff games.

New Jersey, on its first two-game losing streak of the playoffs, tied it in the third period when Wade Redden was off for cross-checking.

On the power play, Scott Niedermayer sent the puck behind the net to Jeff Friesen. He tried to slide the puck in front, but it bounced off Senators defenseman Karel Rachunek, kneeling in front of him.

The puck caromed into the pads of Lalime and out to Nieuwendyk, who slid it back between the goalie's pads at 2:41 for his 60th playoff goal. The Devils are just 3-of-21 on the power play in the series.

Nieuwendyk almost scored earlier, but Lalime stopped a breakaway in the second period. Nieuwendyk left the ice with assistance after the game due to an injury sustained in overtime.

Ottawa took a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal. The Senators failed on their first 20 power-play attempts of the series before rookie Jason Spezza scored in Game 5 to seal Ottawa's 3-1 victory on Monday.

The Senators were 1-for-23 when Radek Bonk put the Senators in front.

Brodeur failed on a clearing attempt, and Hossa worked the puck over to Bonk in the left circle. Bonk sneaked a shot between Brodeur's pads.

Both teams had early chances that were turned away either by the goalies or the posts.

Devils defenseman Colin White sent a fluttering shot from the left point that got through and hit the crossbar less than four minutes in. White also took the blame for leaving the front of the net clear on the winning goal.

Jamie Langenbrunner hit the post in the third period as he was seeking his first goal of the series for New Jersey after getting seven in the first two rounds. Hossa also found the crossbar after deflecting a shot in front late in the third.

Notes: D Ken Daneyko and RW Turner Stevenson returned to the New Jersey lineup, replacing D Richard Smehlik and LW Jim McKenzie. ... Hossa, Ottawa's leading playoff scorer, hasn't scored in nine games. His longest drought in the regular season was seven. ... Ottawa had 13 shots in the first period, but only 14 more the rest of regulation.

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