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Sens, Devils face Game 7

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2003

OTTAWA The Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils will resolve their differences in a most fitting way: a seventh game for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals.

They raced each other all season for the best record in the Eastern Conference. When the Devils took a 3-1 series lead, the Senators rallied, forcing Game 7 in Ottawa on Friday the reward the Senators received for finishing five points better than the Devils in the regular season.

''Why we got the Presidents' Cup is for tomorrow night,'' Senators coach Jacques Martin said Thursday. ''That's the key. You want to have that seventh game here. We have the luxury of having our fans, the noise, the support, the energy. I think that's a big, big thing.''

These playoffs have already been big for an Ottawa team that has overcome bankruptcy and its small market, while also erasing the dreadful memories of postseason disappointments.

The Senators, in their 11th year of existence, are making their deepest postseason run. But their last two victories, including Wednesday's 2-1 overtime thriller, ended an 0-6 streak in games they faced elimination.

And Ottawa accomplished it against the playoff-savvy Devils, who have uncharacteristically stalled in attempting to reach the finals for the third time in four years.

''It's something that's developed, something that's been cultivated,'' Martin said of his team's newfound maturity. ''I've said it before, I think this team is special.''

The Devils believe they've got something special, too, not giving the Senators any edge.

''We're not disappointed at all,'' New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur said. ''To be in a Game 7 to decide if we are going to go to the Stanley Cup or not, we'll take it any time against any team.''

Devils coach Pat Burns put the pressure on Ottawa.

''It's not us anymore,'' Burns said. ''They are going back home and they have to win at home.''

The survivor will host the well-rested Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the opener of the finals Tuesday night.

Devils center Joe Nieuwendyk, after requiring assistance to leave the ice in Game 6, said he feels fine and expects to play.

''I'm ready to go,'' Nieuwendyk said as the team arrived at its hotel in Aylmer, Quebec. ''It's amazing what a day's rest can do.''

Nieuwendyk was hurt late in overtime when he fell in the corner. He was seen limping into the team's locker room about 25 minutes after the game ended, seeming to favor his left leg.

Burns said he didn't anticipate making any lineup changes, and expected Nieuwendyk to play.

''This is playoff time, you bite your lip and you take it, whatever it is,'' Burns said. ''Everybody has bumps and bruises.''

History doesn't provide either the Senators or Devils an edge.

Ottawa has an 0-2 Game 7 record, but both losses came on the road. New Jersey is 4-6 in seventh games, and 2-5 on the road.

The Senators are attempting to become the 20th team in NHL history and fourth this postseason to overcome a 3-1 deficit. That includes the 1975 New York Islanders and 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the only teams to rally from 3-0 holes.

Coincidentally, New Jersey was the only team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a conference finals series, against Philadelphia in 2000.

The Devils, in comparison, are 8-0 when holding a 3-1 series lead, but they've never allowed it to reach a seventh game.

The Senators aren't underestimating the Devils.

''I think with their experience, they can be a very dangerous team,'' Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. ''They know how to win. If we're not at our best, we can't win.''

And winning the last two doesn't count for much.

''There's no way around it,'' Alfredsson added. ''If we don't win tomorrow, Games 5 and 6 don't mean anything.''

The Senators remain alive despite getting little production from their top threats. Alfredsson, Marian Hossa and Todd White, who combined for 97 regular-season goals, have accounted for just two against the Devils.

New Jersey's top players have also struggled, as the team is led by checking forward Jay Pandolfo, who has two goals and five points.

Both goalies have been inconsistent.

After allowing 12 goals in the first four games, Ottawa's Patrick Lalime has stopped 51 of the last 53 shots.

Brodeur has allowed only 11 goals, but all three Senators' game-winners have come in either the third period or overtime.



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