- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim play in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom and this year their run to the Stanley Cup Finals is akin to one of Disney’s fairy tales.

And yet the Ottawa Senators, who played a lot like Sleeping Beauty in the first four games of their Eastern Conference finals with the New Jersey Devils, continued to play like a waking giant and are on the verge of a pretty unbelievable tale of their own.

The Senators defeated the Devils 2-1 on a goal by Chris Phillips 16 minutes into overtime at Continental Airlines Arena. It was their second straight win and made the best-of-7 series a best-of-1. The series, which the Devils led 3-1 and seemed to be in complete control, will be decided tomorrow night in the Canadian capital.

And if that rally wasn’t impressive enough, this is the same Senators franchise that filed for bankruptcy earlier this season and asked its players to accept late paychecks. Talk about your turnarounds.

Last night was a superior hockey game with crisp passing, excellent goaltending, and solid play at both ends of the ice. The momentum swayed back and forth with individuals from both clubs making excellent efforts.

But in the end it was Marian Hossa, the offensive star who has been silent much of this series, shredding the Devils’ defense, drawing New Jersey players to his side in an effort to slow him down. Then he set up two teammates who finished the job.

First, Vaclav Varada — obtained for his toughness from Buffalo at the trading deadline — was alone in front of goalie Martin Brodeur. Varada had two good chances and the goalie turned them both back.

As Brodeur kicked out the second rebound, defenseman Phillips stormed in from the left side. He gained control of the puck as Brodeur turned toward him and flicked it into the side the goalie could not get to. The Devils’ defense, which normally puts up an unbreakable umbrella to defend their goalie, was nowhere to be found.

“Chris, no doubt in my mind, has played the best hockey since he joined our organization,” said Senators coach Jacques Martin. “I think it just shows that sometimes it takes a while for players to reach a certain level, especially [for] defensemen. I really think he has been playing very consistent all through the playoffs and played very strong.”

The win sets up the fifth Game7 of the current playoff season. Last night was the 20th overtime game of this year’s playoffs.

“It’s such a weird year this year,” Devils coach Pat Burns said. “Everything that has happened all year long in these playoffs [has] been really odd. [Now], the pressure all of a sudden is going to fall on them, not on us anymore. They are going back home and they have to win at home. We have to go in there and play our little easy game and see what happens.”

The teams traded power play goals during regulation. Ottawa took the lead in the second period on a Radek Bonk strike and New Jersey tied it in the third when veteran Joe Nieuwendyk scored. Other than that, it was a battle of defenses and solid goaltending, with Patrick Lalime starring for the Senators.

“We had an opportunity tonight,” Burns said. “We exchanged chances. Both goaltenders were very good. In overtime, [there was] miscommunication [between] two defensemen and the puck is in the net. That’s what the game is all about.”

The overtime should have favored the younger, faster Senators but the Devils led in shots 8-7 as the teams went back and forth. It took Hossa to break through the New Jersey trap and cause some confusion on the part of the Devils defense to shift the flow one final time.

“They are such a skilled and fast team, they are so much faster than we are and we didn’t want to play that type of game [4-on-4 in overtime],” Burns said. “But I was concerned the whole game through when you give them opportunities [and] room to skate. They are one of the good teams in the NHL and you know if you are going to trade chances with Ottawa, you will probably end up on the losing end of it.”

He was right.

Now, all that is left to be decided is a Game7 winner so the Ducks can end their 11 days of inactivity and continue their storybook season.

Note — If nothing else, the Devils’ home rink, then known as Brendan Byrne Arena, will always be known as the place where amateur referees officiated an NHL playoff game. It happened when New Jersey coach Jim Schoenfeld lost Game 3 of the conference finals, 6-1 to Boston in 1988, and the future Capitals coach had a few choice words for referee Don Koharski: “Have another donut, you fat pig.”

The league finally reached NHL president John Ziegler in his London retreat and the league head suspended Schoenfeld for the next game. The Devils went to court at the last minute and were granted a stay. The normal officials said if Schoenfeld was behind the bench for Game 4, May 8, they would strike. Schoenfeld worked; the officials didn’t.

The league hurriedly rounded up three local amateur officials and they worked the game, a 3-1 New Jersey win (the Devils lost the series in seven games). The referee was Paul McInnis, who was experienced refereeing local collegiate games and was an off-ice official for the Devils, a position he still holds.

The ice at Continental Airlines Arena last night was horrible, probably due to the college graduation conducted on the floor of the building a few hours before the game. The first period was stopped several times while workers tried to patch the spots exposing bare cement. … Defenseman Ken Daneyko was back in the lineup last night in place of error-prone Richard Smehlik; Turner Stevenson was also put back into the lineup, replacing Jim McKenzie.

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