PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference final; tied 3-3.
The Ottawa Senators have their exceptional team speed going and a rejuvenated Patrick Lalime in goal. Those attributes have them on the verge of overcoming a 3-1 series deficit and reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time.
The Senators look to complete their comeback and beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 as the Eastern Conference finals shifts back to the raucous Corel Centre.
The Senators may have deserved their reputation as a team that lacked mental toughness in the playoffs, given their 0-6 mark when facing elimination prior to this postseason.
Ottawa has gone a long way toward erasing that stigma in this series.
After keeping their season alive for the first time with a gritty 3-1 home victory in Game 5 Monday night, the Senators forced Game 7 in dramatic fashion Wednesday, as defenseman Chris Phillips scored 15:51 into overtime for a 2-1 victory at Continental Airlines Arena.
“Even when we were down 3-1, there was not one guy in our dressing room or organization that counted ourselves out,” Phillips said.
Lalime is a major reason that his teammates kept their faith through three straight losses in the series. After allowing five goals in Ottawa’s Game 4 defeat, he’s given up two in the consecutive victories.
Ottawa’s superior speed, which lifted the Senators to victory in Game 1, has also become a factor again. The Senators carried the play Wednesday, outshooting the Devils 34-31.
Marian Hossa’s outstanding skating set up the winning goal, as the big forward carried the puck wide of the Devils’ net on a rush, drawing New Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens and Colin White to him before passing to the front of the net.
Vaclav Varada was stopped twice by the Devils’ Martin Brodeur as Varada tried to convert Hossa’s pass, but Phillips darted in to finish the play and send the series back to the Corel Centre for Game 7.
That could be bad news for New Jersey. The Devils, who suffered their first home defeat in nine games this postseason, have lost twice in Ottawa in the series as the Senators have been spurred on by their loud and enthusiastic fans.
“We have to play one game. That’s going to be the hardest game,” said Hossa, who assisted on both Ottawa goals Wednesday. “We’re going to be home and that’s a good thing.”
The playoff-tested Devils, though, apparently aren’t feeling pressure.
“We’re not disappointed at all,” said Brodeur, who finished with 32 saves. “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.”
New Jersey, trying to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the third time in four years, has never lost a series it led 3-1.
The Devils’ task will be made even tougher if veteran center Joe Nieuwendyk is limited in Game 7. Nieuwendyk, who scored the Devils’ goal on a power play early in the third period Wednesday, had to be helped from the ice after the game due to an apparent knee injury.
However, he says he’ll be ready to play.
“I’m ready to go. I feel much better today,” Nieuwendyk said Thursday. “It’s amazing what a day’s rest can do.”
History doesn’t suggest an edge for either team Friday. 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. The Devils are 8-0 when holding a 3-1 series lead, but they’ve never allowed it to reach a seventh game.
While the Devils are focusing on the opportunity to play one game for a berth in the Stanley Cup finals, The Senators are looking to their home crowd to give them one more emotional boost in the series.
“Why we got the Presidents’ Cup is for tomorrow night,” Senators coach Jacques Martin said. “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.”
Whoever survives will meet the well-rested Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who haven’t played since completing a sweep of Minnesota last Friday, on Tuesday night.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Senators - 1st seed; beat New York Islanders 4-1, quarterfinals; beat Philadelphia Flyers 4-2, semifinals. Devils - 2nd seed; beat Boston Bruins 4-1, quarterfinals; beat Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1, semifinals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Jamie Langenbrunner, 7 goals; Scott Niedermayer, 10 assists, John Madden, 14 points; White, 23 PIM. Senators - Four with 5 goals; Hossa, 10 assists and 15 points; Chris Neil, 24 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Devils - Power play: 16.4 percent (10 for 61). Penalty killing: 88.9 percent (48 for 54). Senators - Power play: 15.0 percent (12 for 80). Penalty killing: 91.5 percent (65 for 71).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Senators, 3-1. The Devils won the first meeting 2-1 in Ottawa on Oct. 10, but the Senators took the next three, outscoring New Jersey 12-6. Brodeur allowed 10 goals on 73 shots in the final three meetings.