- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Ottawa Senators were looking for a little leadership from just about anybody but especially from right wing Daniel Alfredsson, their captain.

On the other bench, the New Jersey Devils could have picked a leader by lottery and come up with someone to follow proudly into battle. And therein lies the difference.

New Jersey rallied from a rare deficit to trample the Senators 5-2 yesterday for its eighth straight victory at home during the playoffs. It gave the two-time Stanley Cup champions a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference finals, with what might well be the deciding game scheduled tomorrow night in the Canadian capital.

There was no dispute about this game. When it was time to get serious, entering the third period with the score 2-2, New Jersey was all business, while Ottawa was little more than a bundle of jangled nerves. The Senators fell apart; the Devils waltzed within one win of advancing to the Stanley Cup finals for the third time since 1995. The Eastern champion will meet Anaheim, which won the Western title Friday night.

The game was decided when Alfredsson took a bad roughing penalty 52 seconds before the end of the second period. Forty-one seconds into the final period, left wing Jeff Friesen, a defensive forward (which sort of describes every player for New Jersey), redirected a point shot by Brian Rafalski; the puck dropped and went right through goalie Patrick Lalime’s legs.

School was out. To get to the next level, the Senators must win three in a row, including two in New Jersey, against Martin Brodeur. Not likely.

The Devils scored on their first shot of the game when Grant Marshall put a stoppable shot over Lalime’s left elbow. But Ottawa scored the next two and continued to have the momentum even after the Devils’ Jay Pandolfo, another defensive forward, ripped another stoppable shot past Lalime to tie it.

Then came Alfredsson’s ill-timed penalty. The tide turned, and Ottawa was left wondering what went wrong.

“They came out really strong in the first period and in the first part of the second, also,” Devils coach Pat Burns said. “We really took over the game after that. We settled down. I think Jay’s goal … really took the pressure off. We realized enough is enough, let’s play structured hockey. We did that.”

Which was the difference. Scott Stevens is the Devils’ captain, but once the game starts, that title could easily be shared by a dozen or so other players. The difference is that New Jersey plays like a team. Who got the winning goal doesn’t matter as much as who finished their checks.

New Jersey won because Brodeur, who has played better, was able to withstand the early Ottawa pressure while his teammates regrouped and got their act together. Lalime failed badly when it was his turn to do the same in the third period, but he wasn’t alone — he got no support from his mates.

“It’s part of playoff hockey — everybody needs to chip in,” Brodeur said. “As a goalie, you don’t need to do it for 60 minutes, but sometimes doing it for five or 10 minutes sometimes is just enough to wake everybody up to say, ‘Let’s go.’ It goes the same when you’re not playing well and your team is playing really well in front of you. Kind of gives you a kick in the butt a little bit and you move forward.”

To illustrate how the Devils win, Patrik Elias was the only New Jersey player accustomed to scoring who did so yesterday.

Marshall, Pandolfo, Friesen and John Madden got the other Devils goals, the latter short-handed on a feed from Pandolfo. All are muckers and grinders, and all have their names on the Stanley Cup.

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