Work in Sports
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- This is why the New Jersey Devils brought back Claude Lemieux.
Lemieux's goal with 8:34 remaining broke a scoreless tie and Martin Brodeur came within 30 seconds of a shutout as the Devils forced a decisive seventh game with a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Lemieux, who scored the game-winner against Philadelphia in Game Five of the 1995 conference finals, made no mistake after getting to a loose puck on the left side of the net. He put a backhander past diving goaltender Brian Boucher after Bobby Holik's shot from the right side was blocked by defenseman Adam Burt and Boucher got his blocker on Jay Pandolfo's chance from the doorstep.
"We kept getting opportunities, we kept getting shots on net and our guys were skating well and playing well," Lemieux said. "And I felt something had to happen at one point or another. Every guy felt we were playing hard and we weren't going to worry about what was going to happen. And we knew the outcome would take care of itself."
It was the 80th career playoff goal for Lemieux, who was re-acquired from Colorado in November to provide veteran leadership during the postseason.
"I think you shouldn't get a guy just for the playoffs. That's not fair to Claude, either," Devils coach Larry Robinson said.
"He's a competitor and everybody likes to have a competitor around, kind of a go-to guy when you need a goal. When you want somebody out there in the last part (of the game), he's the kind of player you want to have out there."
Another midseason acquisition, Alexander Mogilny, scored a much-needed insurance goal just over five minutes later. It became the game-winner when Eric Lindros, playing for the first time since March 12, wristed a shot over Brodeur's left shoulder with 29 seconds to play.
But New Jersey was able to hang on as it tries to become the 16th team in playoff history to win a seven-game series after trailing three games to one. The Devils allowed only 13 shots en route to their first home win of the series.
Game Seven is Friday in Philadelphia, where New Jersey has won twice in this series and five times in six postseason trips.
"We've been facing Game Seven since Game Five, so we really just have to keep going, keep thinking the same way," Robinson said.
"They've had tomorrows. Now we're both going back there with no tomorrows. That's how we've got to play."
It will be the Flyers' first seventh game since the 1989 Patrick Division finals, when they won at Pittsburgh, 4-1. They have not hosted a seventh game since defeating the New York Islanders, 5-1, in the 1987 Patrick Division finals.
"You don't get many chances to play in a seventh game. I think the players are going to be excited about it," Philadelphia coach Craig Ramsay said. "It is a great opportunity to play in a seventh game. There is a lot of pressure there, but I am confident our boys will be ready."
Lindros nearly authored a storybook finish. Stripped of his captaincy and his career placed in jeopardy by two concussions in less than two months, he saw spot duty but almost put the Flyers in front in the waning moments of the second period.
With 2.7 seconds left, Lindros won a faceoff in the right faceoff circle and worked the puck to Mark Recchi, putting in motion a set play. Recchi fed Eric Desjardins, who passed down low to Lindros. His first shot was stopped by Brodeur, but Lindros put home the rebound just after time expired.
"Obviously, it would have helped," he said. "But at the same time, we were heading into the third period on the road, we were tied up, and that's not a bad situation to be in. You take that situation heading into another team's building."
Lindros had three shots during 19 shifts totaling 14 minutes, 47 seconds.
"I think as the game went on, I felt more and more comfortable out there," he said. "There's still a lot of things to work on, but things will be better in the second game."
"Eric was ready to play," Ramsay added. "He has put in a lot of time to get himself ready, a lot of hard work off the ice to get the OK to play, and it paid off."
While the Devils came out energized to start the game, neither team had a shot until Brodeur sprawled to stop chances by Rick Tocchet and Keith Jones with 14:56 left in the first period.
With 2:02 to play in the period, New Jersey rookie Scott Gomez snapped a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that lodged in Boucher's mask.
"I was more in shock than anything," Boucher said. "You're looking right there and all you see is black. You don't expect the puck to come through the cage like that. Nothing bad came out of it."
The Devils' first good scoring chance came with 7:03 left in the second period. At the end of a shift, Holik came in on a breakaway, but Boucher outwaited him and forced a weak shot that was easily stopped.
Philadelphia went 17 1/2 minutes without a shot in the second before John LeClair tested Brodeur from the right side.
New Jersey had more solid opportunities in the third, but Boucher kept the game scoreless. He stacked the pads and made a sliding stop on Holik's wrister from the high slot, and Lemieux was unable to get his stick on the rebound.
With 12:27 remaining, Petr Sykora beat Boucher but hit the right goalpost with a wrist shot from the slot.
Lemieux broke through on the Devils' 23rd shot and Mogilny ended an eight-game scoring drought with 3:27 left. Sergei Brylin stole the puck from Desjardins behind the net and got the puck in front. Mogilny shifted to his backhand and lifted a shot over Boucher's glove.
"Alex scored just a huge goal for us," Lemieux said. "I had a little talk with him today and I know how bad he wanted to score and how bad he wants to make this opportunity count for him. He came through for us tonight and it ended up being the game-winning goal."
That's because Lindros took Keith Primeau's pass from behind the net and put a wrister from the bottom of the right circle over the shoulder of an unaware Brodeur.