- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Now what?

The Ottawa Senators have played two of their biggest trump cards. They produced a win the team had to have and also may have produced the leader they sought, but is the magic used up?

The New Jersey Devils, holding a 3-2 lead, play host to Ottawa tonight in Game6 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference finals. A win tonight at home, where the Devils are 8-0 this playoff season, and New Jersey is in the Stanley Cup finals for the third time in four years.

An Ottawa win means there will be a Game7 on Friday night in the Canadian capital, the fifth time this playoff season a series has gone the limit.

New Jersey found itself in this predicament because it played poorly in a 3-1 loss in Game5 Monday night in Ottawa. It lost its chance to put the Senators away easily by committing a series of errors that the defensive orientated club rarely makes. Even usually reliable backstop Martin Brodeur kicked a loose puck into his own net, one that turned out to be the winner.

The Senators inserted 19-year-old rookie center Jason Spezza into the lineup for his first playoff game and the youngster responded with an assist on the game-winner and an insurance goal. He played with poise, was responsible at both ends of the ice and may be the lightning rod Ottawa has been searching for.

But it was before Game5 that Ottawa used its ace in the hole. It brought in assistant coach Roger Neilson to speak to the team and the club, lifeless in the third period of Game4 when the Devils scored three times, responded as if the season could be saved only with a superior performance, which it produced.

Neilson is an icon in the sport in Canada, a man who has two forms of cancer and has had the last rites of the Catholic Church dozens of times, according to a close friend. He has a bone cancer that was discovered when he coached Philadelphia in 1999, and also has a form of skin cancer. It is the latter that is incurable.

Neilson, 68, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year and was recently presented with the Order of Canada, the highest award that country can give to a civilian. Neilson was gaunt and frail at that ceremony and hardly looked like the man who has been a fixture in hockey for nearly 40 years.

Neilson was hired by the Senators three years ago as an assistant to coach Jacques Martin and he continues to work closely with the staff, though he is too weak to travel. Neilson and Martin usually speak by phone between periods when the assistant has something he feels is important.

“If guys couldn’t be uplifted by what the man had to say, or just understand what he’s gone through, then your not much of a person yourself if you don’t take something away from it,” said veteran right wing Rob Ray, who has been a Senator only for a few months.

“It gives you goose bumps,” said Spezza, “just to hear him talk and to hear him share his stories and the life battles he’s had. For him to open up like that, it definitely gets the blood flowing.”

Meanwhile, Brodeur’s wife, Melanie, has filed for divorce in Essex County, N.J., according to the Newark Star-Ledger. The newspaper said she is seeking custody of the four children, support for herself and the children, a distribution of all properties and payment of her legal fees.

The couple has been separated since Christmas. The complaint accuses Brodeur of committing adultery “on numerous occasions at a variety of locations.” The complaint claims the goalie has been committing adultery with Genevieve Nault, his sister-in-law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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