EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- The "A" line kept rolling and the New Jersey Devils brought their "A" game.
Patrik Elias scored twice in a four-goal second period as the Devils survived the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 5-1 victory in the decisive seventh game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The defending Stanley Cup champions fought off elimination on Monday night with a 4-2 victory at Toronto but trailed, 1-0, on Wednesday before a dominant second period put them in total control.
"I think we knew that we had to pick it up," Sykora said. "We entered the playoffs as one of the best lines in the league. In the first round, in the first three games of the second round, we didn't play that well. We were still getting chances, but it doesn't mean anything. You've got to score in the playoffs. This line has got to score. The last three games, we just kept it simple."
The trio helped the Devils return to the conference finals, where they will face the Buffalo Sabres or Pittsburgh Penguins. Game Seven of the other East semifinal is Thursday night, and Game One of the conference finals will be Saturday night in New Jersey.
"I think it's unfair to just pick a couple of guys. Tonight we won as a team," said Devils coach Larry Robinson. "When we play as a team like we did tonight we're tough to play against."
As the home coach, Robinson has the last line change. And he used that to his advantage over the final two periods when he kept the Elias-Arnott-Sykora line away from the unit of Shayne Corson, Darcy Tucker and Garry Valk.
"They were being held up and hooked and everything else. They were working hard, but they were just getting frustrated because they weren't getting any room," Robinson said. "We made some adjustments after the first period and got them away from the Corson line. They got going."
New Jersey hopes to have defenseman Scott Niedermayer back for the conference finals. The victim of a vicious elbow from Tie Domi in the final seconds of Game Four, Niedermayer missed the last three contests with a concussion, although he skated in warmups on Wednesday night.
The Devils were 1-5 in the postseason when yielding the first goal and fell behind midway through the opening period on another goal by Steve Thomas.
But Sergei Nemchinov scored 92 seconds into the second to steady New Jersey and Elias tallied twice in a 1:59 span to put the Devils ahead for good. Defenseman Scott Stevens scored before the end of the period as Curtis Joseph was beaten four times on 10 shots.
John Madden capped the scoring midway through the third period and Martin Brodeur stopped 15 shots to help New Jersey improve to 4-5 all-time in Game Sevens. Brodeur has won his last five games when facing elimination, yielding a total of six goals.
The Leafs fell to 9-8 in seventh games and had their season ended at the Continental Airlines Arena for the second year in a row. The Devils eliminated Toronto in six games in the 2000 conference semifinals.
"It's hard to stomach right now because I think we dropped the ball two years ago. We dropped the ball last year and we had an opportunity this year to really make a name for ourselves and apparently dropped the ball again," Thomas said.
Last year, New Jersey held the Maple Leafs to six shots in the series clincher. But Toronto showed early it would not go as quietly. Arnott took an ill-advised penalty for hooking Shayne Corson in the offensive zone 7:43 into the first period and the Leafs needed 83 seconds to convert on the ensuing power play.
Thomas got the puck along the right boards, worked his way to the inside edge of the faceoff circle and put a wrist shot under Brodeur's glove and inside the right goalpost. It was the sixth goal of the series for Thomas, a former Devil who was blanked in the first round against Ottawa after scoring eight times in 57 games during the season.
"Yeah, scoring the first goal was important, we all believed," Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "But we couldn't seem to maintain that position, obviously."
New Jersey killed a high-sticking penalty on Elias late in the period and generated a solid scoring chance as Joseph stopped Bob Corkum's shot on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Elias' infraction also was the Devils' last penalty of the series.
The line of Nemchinov, Alexander Mogilny and Scott Gomez threatened twice late in the first period, then broke through against Joseph early in the second. Mogilny carried down the right side and shoveled a backhanded pass in front to Nemchinov, who skated in unchecked and deflected the puck past Joseph.
Quinn cited that goal as a turning point.
"Looked safe as you could get from the standpoint of handling the rush. And then, suddenly, there was a wide-open guy and somehow they made the play through our defenseman," he said.
It ended a 24-game playoff drought for Nemchinov, who had not scored since Game Five of last year's conference finals against Toronto.
"I think Nemchinov's goal gave us a huge lift. That was a big boost of confidence for us," Arnott said. "After that, there was no looking back. We just went out and did what Larry told us to do. Good things happened and it opened it up for us."
Nik Antropov, a healthy scratch in Games Five and Six, took a retaliatory high-sticking penalty at 6:09 of the second period and New Jersey scored on the power play for the sixth straight contest.
Elias was at the edge of the right circle, took a cross-ice pass from Sykora and one-timed a wrist shot over a sliding Joseph and under the crossbar. Elias scored both goals in Game Seven of last year's conference finals against Philadelphia.
"He was playing very well before. He was getting chances," Sykora said of his linemate. "Tonight he really beared down on his chances and he scored two very important goals. Tonight the puck was going in for him."
The onslaught continued less than two minutes later as New Jersey scored on its next shot against Joseph. Stevens made a perfect diagonal pass from the top of the left circle, finding Elias low in the right circle, where he whipped another one-timer by the scrambling goaltender.
I hit Patrik once in the first and nothing materialized. But we did it again in the second and we got a goal from it," Stevens said.
Joseph recovered to deny Madden from point-blank range, but Stevens beat him through traffic from the left point with 5:19 to go in the period. It was Stevens' first playoff goal in 18 games and established the first three-goal lead by either team since Game Two, when New Jersey also scored four times in the second period.
"We got the lead finally, and then they have to score," Sykora said. "When they have to score, they're going to give us 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s. We've got a lot of offense here and when you get those chances, you're going to score. It's so much easier to play with the lead, especially in the playoffs."
"I thought we played a great first period. I don't think we even gave them an opportunity to get a good scoring chance on Cujo in the first," said Thomas. "The second period, for whatever reason, we just went flat. I don't know what it was. And that was the game right there."
Typical of the Maple Leafs' struggles Wednesday night was Jonas Hoglund fanning from the doorstep after he and Tucker were left alone in front against Brodeur with 13 1/2 minutes left in the third period.
Just over four minutes later, Madden got away from Antropov's check in the slot and banged in Sykora's centering pass from behind the net for his second playoff goal.