With Game 6 win, New Jersey would retain Stanley Cup, Colorado would force Game 7

Avs playing for time, Devils playing for keeps

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2001

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils are one victory, one more game when all goes right, from doing something special.

Something that would make a handful of engraved names on a silver chalice stand out all the more, perhaps glitter a little brighter. Something that separates the great teams from merely the good ones.

They would be Stanley Cup champions, perhaps as soon as Thursday night. And if dynasty is too all-encompassing a word to describe what they would have done, it would be close.

For only the fourth time since expansion in the 1960s, the NHL would have a three-time champion. The others already hold a special place in the game: the Montreal Canadiens of Ken Dryden, the Edmonton Oilers of a guy named Gretzky, the New York Islanders of Bryan Trottier.

Still, there are two significant challenges to the Devils as they take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, when they could win their third cup since 1995.

The first, of course, is Colorado, which only a week ago seemed on the verge of winning this very cup. The second is the Devils' sporadic history on home ice.

To avoid a Game 7 in unfriendly Denver on Saturday night, when they would be favorites no more, the Devils must win in an arena that hasn't been supplied much of a home-ice advantage during the last two postseasons. They are 13-10 at the Meadowlands, 1-1 in this series, compared to 18-5 on the road.

''There are more distractions at home than on the road,'' Devils coach Larry Robinson said Wednesday. ''You have family here, you have friends. People calling you, wanting tickets, wanting you to do this and go here. On the road, you only have to think about what time to go to bed and what time to get up. You only have to think about hockey.''

Still, it is who the Devils are playing rather than where they are playing that worries them more.

The Avalanche, who have allowed six of the last seven goals in the series, are promising to play with all the desperation required of a team in their situation, one that may be behind but is not yet beaten.

Colorado is trying to become the fourth team, but only the second in 37 seasons, to rally from a 3-2 deficit in the finals. The last to do it was Montreal against the Chicago Blackhawks in 1971.

''We know we can win there, and we've won some big games all year on the road,'' said Ray Bourque, still trying to win the cup for the first time in his 22 seasons. ''This is the biggest one. We're going to go out there and win the hockey game and come back to Denver for the seventh game.''

There is speculation the end of the series will be the end of the line for the 40-year-old Bourque, one of the game's best defensemen ever. However, several teammates expect him to return for another season, and Bourque is convinced Thursday won't be his last game.

''No, not at all,'' he said. ''We're going to go out and play a great game and bring it back (to Denver) and make sure it's not.''

To do that, the Avalanche must find a way to get the puck past goaltender Martin Brodeur, who has played consecutive strong games. They also must slow the Devils' A-Line, with or without center Jason Arnott, who sat out Monday's 4-1 victory at Colorado with a possible concussion.

Arnott, who didn't sound very optimistic Tuesday about playing, skated Wednesday, and Robinson said, ''All indications are he'll be ready to perform.''

Arnott's linemates -- Patrik Elias (2 goals, 1 assist in the last two games) and Petr Sykora (1 goal, 2 assists) -- already are performing superbly. They have picked it up offensively since Bobby Holik moved onto their line to defend against the Joe Sakic line, allowing Elias and Sykora to save more of their energy for scoring.

Sakic had three goals in the first two games, but none since Holik began opposing him on nearly every shift. Another shutout of Sakic and Holik could be holding up the cup for the third time in seven seasons.

''The first time we won it in 1995, I thought it was the greatest,'' Holik said. ''But it gets better and better.''

Only if the Devils win one more game -- the one they and the Avalanche agree will be the toughest to win.

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