Work in Sports
PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- It appeared the New Jersey Devils were history after a disastrous loss in Game Four. Patrik Elias made sure they would make history en route to a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Elias scored twice, including the tie-breaking goal with 2:32 remaining, to lift the Devils to a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference finals.
The victory enabled New Jersey to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1995, when it swept the Detroit Red Wings for the franchise's first championship.
Since the NHL expanded in 1967, no team had bounced back from a three games to one series deficit in the conference finals. The Devils found themselves in that situation after a 3-1 loss in Game Four.
However, New Jersey rebounded and forced the decisive seventh game with a 4-1 victory in Game Five here and a 2-1 triumph at Continental Airlines Arena on Wednesday.
"We made some small adjustments because Philly trapped us a lot so we were trying to work against their trap as the same they were trying to work against ours," Devils coach Larry Robinson said. "It is not that we played more defensively; we just played smarter, held our position and were more patient."
It all culminated in the third period of a game that seemed destined for overtime. Jason Arnott centered the puck toward the net and Elias lifted the stick of defenseman Dan McGillis in the slot.
After sneaking off his check, Elias flipped a shot over the right shoulder of rookie goaltender Brian Boucher for his team-leading seventh goal of the postseason and fourth of the series.
"Arnott kind of fanned on the shot and I snuck from behind the net," Elias said. "McGillis didn't see me and I just lifted his stick up. I wasn't really even looking. I just threw the puck into the net. At that moment, I didn't know what I was feeling. It was just such excitement."
The tally stunned Philadelphia, which could not manage a serious surge with Boucher pulled for an extra attacker. Time ran out on the Flyers and their chance to make it to the Finals for the first time since 1997, when they were swept by the Red Wings.
The Flyers already were hurt by the loss of superstar center Eric Lindros, who was carried off the ice and hospitalized after taking a shoulder-to-head hit from defenseman Scott Stevens. Although there was no word on whether it was another concussion, he was to be kept overnight for observation.
Philadelphia rallied without its former captain and took control in the second period, dominating play and peppering goaltender Martin Brodeur with 15 shots. The Flyers tied the game with just their second power-play goal of the series when Rick Tocchet scored 6:01 into the period.
"We played a hell of a hockey game," Flyers coach Craig Ramsay said. "I am as proud as I can be of this group of men and the battle they put up tonight. The second period was one of the best periods we have played in a long, long time. They just played with so much heart, so much courage."
The Devils opened the scoring after they were given a power play due to a roughing call on the Flyers' Keith Jones. Just 20 seconds later, Arnott fired a pass from behind the net through the legs of defenseman Chris Therien right to Elias, who one-timed the puck past Boucher at 6:44.
With the 20,037 fans at the First Union Center already stunned, they were brought to almost a hush just over a minute later.
Lindros was skating across the blue line when he was clobbered by Stevens, who had delivered a similar hit that knocked Daymond Langkow out of Game Two.
"I didn't watch it (the hit), I didn't want to watch it," Stevens said. "I didn't want to celebrate about it. It's a hit and people sometimes get hurt and I found it a little tough playing after that."
But as much the hit quieted the crowd, it also seemed to deflate the Devils. The Flyers had golden chances, but Brodeur was up to the task by making a glove save on rookie Simon Gagne with five minutes remaining and another stop on Keith Primeau toward the end of the opening 20 minutes.
Stevens, a possible candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP, was his usual self. He blocked five shots and delivered four other crushing hits.
As he did in all of the previous games, Boucher did not let the pressure of his first career Game Seven get to him. He was brilliant, keeping the game deadlocked with crucial saves on Scott Niedermayer and Petr Sykora in the second period.
New Jersey recovered after a sloppy second period and had chances to break the tie early in the third. Arnott had a pair of opportunities in the first four minutes, but both sailed wide from the side of the net.