- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

OTTAWA — Rookie Jason Spezza produced when Ottawa needed him most, allowing the Senators to stay alive in the playoffs.

Spezza, making his Stanley Cup playoffs debut, had a goal and assisted on Martin Havlat’s game-winner, lifting the Senators to a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils in Game5 of the Eastern Conference finals last night.

Todd White also scored for the Senators, who cut the Devils’ lead to 3-2. The best-of-7 series shifts back to New Jersey for Game6 tomorrow.

The win not only ended Ottawa’s three-game losing streak, but also reversed the team’s troubling past of going 0-6 when facing elimination.

“This is big for us,” said Spezza, inserted into the lineup to bolster the team’s struggling offense. “We’re only getting started now, and we’ve got a long way to go. But obviously it feels good to help contribute.”

Scott Stevens scored for the Devils, who appeared to have the series momentum coming off Saturday’s 5-2 victory. New Jersey, attempting to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in four years, has never lost a series it led 3-1.

No worries, the Devils players said, noting that they’re 8-0 at home this postseason.

“A lot of us have been through this before,” defenseman Scott Niedermayer said. “No one thought that the Senators were just going to sit there and die. That’s not their club.

“We can’t get too low. We’ll just regroup.”

The series winner will face the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who are resting after completing a sweep of the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference finals.

Spezza’s addition, replacing tough guy Chris Neil, did plenty for a Senators lineup that lacked spark and poise around the net. Ottawa managed just three goals in its previous three games.

And Spezza immediately showed his offensive capabilities, the key reason the Senators selected him second overall in the 2001 draft.

After the teams traded second-period goals, Spezza almost scored the go-ahead goal late in the second when he outjumped Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur for the puck. When he brought the puck down, Spezza faced an open net but failed to get a shot off as he was pushed down from behind by New Jersey’s Colin White.

“I’m sure he was nervous, but he didn’t look nervous. He looked very poised,” Senators forward Bryan Smolinski said. “I’m sure all of Canada’s talking about him right now. And he deserves every bit of it.”

Havlat put the Senators up for good on a broken play with 12:01 remaining. Peter Schaefer sparked it when he stripped the puck from New Jersey’s Sergei Brylin behind the Devils net.

Schaefer failed on his wraparound attempt, but the rebound rolled to Havlat, standing at the right post. Brodeur prevented Havlat from jamming the puck in and then blindly kicked the puck away.

The puck, however, hit the skate of New Jersey defenseman Richard Smehlik and rolled back into the net.

Spezza sealed the victory with 7:32 remaining, redirecting Chris Phillips’ point shot for a power-play goal. It was Ottawa’s first man-advantage goal of the series, ending an 0-for-20 streak.

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was impressed by Spezza’s contributions.

“He came in and played awesome,” Alfredsson said. “It is a very tough situation to come in, and he handled it well. … We’ve had trouble scoring goals and Jason, great offensive player.”

Don’t ask Devils coach Pat Burns to rate Spezza’s performance.

“How many shifts did he have?” Burns asked. “I didn’t notice him that much. I’m not a scout. I am coaching. I have to prepare my lines. … I imagine he’s going to be a great player. Good for him. Good for Ottawa.”

Forward Joe Nieuwendyk said the Devils have to respond like the Senators did.

“We’re going to have to play with the same desperation they played with,” Nieuwendyk said. “We have to treat it like Game7. We can’t have the breakdowns that we had tonight, or we’re going to be in big trouble again.”

White, set up by Magnus Arvedson, opened the scoring with a short-handed goal four minutes into the second period. Stevens tied it 2:20 later off a faceoff. His shot from the left point appeared to deflect in off the skate of Phillips in front.

Notes — Spezza had seven goals and 21 points in 33 games this season. … Senators right wing Marian Hossa returned for the start of the second period after missing the final 10 minutes of the first with what the team described as a lower body injury. Hossa limped off the ice after being hit by Stevens. … Devils right wing Turner Stevenson (groin) missed his third straight game. … The Senators improved to 6-0 in the playoffs when they score first.

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