- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The New Jersey Devils were one loss from elimination after losing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at home against Toronto last Saturday.

But the defending Stanley Cup champions are nothing if not resilient. They beat the host Maple Leafs in Game 6, setting up last night's decisive seventh game. And after trailing 1-0 after a listless first period last night, the Devils scored four second period goals en route to a 5-1 thumping of Toronto at Continental Airlines Arena.

New Jersey, trying to become just the third repeat champion in 13 years, will open the Eastern Conference finals here on Saturday against the winner of tonight's Game 7 between Pittsburgh and Buffalo.

"We showed the last two games why we're the champions," said Devils captain Scott Stevens, who enjoyed a rare two-point playoff night in Game 7. "Every year there's a challenge. Maybe this is the challenge this year. I'm very proud of the way we responded. Sometimes when we're backed against a corner, we play our best hockey."

That also was true in last season's conference finals, when New Jersey rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Philadelphia. The comeback against Toronto wasn't as dramatic, but it was more emotional.

The series began as a grudge match when Leafs coach Pat Quinn implied that the hard-hitting Stevens was a dirty player. The series turned bitter when Toronto enforcer Tie Domi knocked Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer unconscious with a vicious elbow at the end of Game 5. Niedermayer, who was hoping to return last night, was scratched when he was bothered by a "slight headache" after yesterday's morning skate.

"I had Nieder in the back of my mind [last night]," Stevens said. "This has been a tough, hard-fought battle. We didn't want to lose to that team."

The Devils played the first period as if they would do just that, testing Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph just twice in the first 15 minutes.

Center Jason Arnott, who scored the Cup-winning goal last June in Dallas, was penalized for hooking Shayne Corson at 7:43. That mistake proved costly when Toronto forwards Steve Thomas and Mats Sundin worked the puck loose in the corner to the right of New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur. Thomas skated into the slot and snapped a shot past Brodeur's glove with help from a screen by Gary Roberts for the 1-0 lead.

Arnott and linemates Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias more than made up for that error. After Sergei Nemchinov tied the game on a pretty feed from Alexander Mogilny just 92 seconds into the second period, the Devils who had converted just two of 28 power plays on home ice this season took the lead for good on the power play at 7:13. As Toronto defenseman Dmitry Yuskevich fell down, Sykora rifled a cross-ice pass to Elias, who whipped the puck past Joseph from the right circle. A second shy of 2 minutes later, Stevens threaded a pass from the left point through traffic directly to Elias in the lower right circle and again the Czech left wing's aim was true.

Stevens added a personal take-that with a blast from the left point with 5:19 remaining in the period. John Madden's goal with 9:10 to go on assists from Sykora and Arnott rounded out the scoring and gave the Elias-Arnott-Sykora line six points on the night and 19 in its past five games.

Notes Toronto extended its NHL record to 34 straight seasons without reaching the Cup finals. The Leafs haven't won the title since 1967, the last pre-expansion season… . The Devils are the fourth defending champion in the past five years to make the conference finals. Only Detroit in 1999 failed to do so.

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