2003 NHL Playoffs 2003 NHL Playoffs

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Ottawa 3, New Jersey 1
Posted: Tuesday May 20, 2003 12:00 AM
New Jersey Devils
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Ottawa Senators
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OTTAWA (Ticker) -- Playing his first NHL playoff game, Jason Spezza helped the Ottawa Senators win an elimination game for the first time.

Spezza set up Martin Havlat's go-ahead goal in the third period before scoring the Senators' first power-play tally of the series as they stayed alive in the Eastern Conference finals with a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.

A healthy scratch in each of Ottawa's first 15 playoff contests, Spezza replaced Chris Neil to provide offense after the Senators totaled just three goals in losing the previous three games. He did just that as Ottawa scored more than once in the third period for the first time in the postseason.

"He came in and played awesome," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "It is a very tough situation to come in and he handled it real well, I thought. He worked himself great into the game, made smart plays and played with poise."

More importantly, the Senators improved to 1-6 all-time when facing elimination. They must win again Wednesday in New Jersey to force a seventh game on Friday at the Corel Centre.

"Obviously, going into it, I knew it was an important game, and this is big for us," Spezza said. "We're only getting started now, we've got a long way to go because they're a great hockey team. But obviously, it feels good to come in and help contribute."

"We don't really care too much about what has happened in the past. We're focused on what our task is now and what is ahead of us," Alfredsson added.

Havlat snapped a 1-1 tie with 12:01 remaining, scoring his fifth playoff goal and first of the series.

Peter Schaefer stole the puck behind the net from New Jersey's Sergei Brylin and backhanded it in front. Spezza worked it to Havlat, who moved out from the right goalpost and slid the puck into the crease. Goaltender Martin Brodeur tried to smother it, then swept it with his left pad. But the puck ended up caroming back into the net.

"I kind of slid over to make sure to keep them from tapping it in," Brodeur explained. "Havlat came from behind and tried to stuff it in. I know I stopped it, but I didn't know where it was. I tried not to move, but my leg was stuck back a little bit. I went to pull back and that's what gave it the momentum for it to cross the line.

"I wished for a quick whistle there."

Scoreless on their first 20 power-play opportunities in the series, the Senators got another chance when Brian Gionta was penalized for hooking with 7:36 left. Ottawa finally converted four seconds later as Spezza deflected defenseman Chris Phillips' pass from the left point between Brodeur's pads.

"Philly made an unbelievable play," Spezza said. "I was just finishing off his work for him. To spot me in the high slot like that, it was pretty easy work for me."

It capped a storybook night for Spezza, the second overall pick in the 2001 draft who was unable to win a regular lineup spot during the season.

"I think we know that he's a good player and he helped us win tonight," Ottawa coach Jacques Martin said. "I think you like the kid's enthusiasm and what he brings to the table. I think he's made great strides this year."

The game ended a lot better than it started for Ottawa, which went 18 minutes without a shot and had just two in the first period.

"I think that we played the way we usually played in the first," Devils coach Pat Burns said. "We wanted to keep it tight in the first, and we did that."

As it did in Game Two, however, New Jersey had trouble staying out of the penalty box in the second period. But it was a high-sticking infraction at 3:49 on Senators center Mike Fisher that led to the game's first goal.

Just 10 seconds into the Devils' second power play of the night, Magnus Arvedson took the puck from defenseman Brian Rafalski in the right corner and flung it into the slot. Todd White flicked a shot by Brodeur's stick side and inside the left goalpost for his fifth playoff goal and Ottawa's third postseason shorthanded tally.

New Jersey tied it just under 2 1/2 minutes later. Pascal Rheaume won a faceoff back to the left point, where defenseman Scott Stevens slapped a shot along the ice, through a maze of bodies in front and under goalie Patrick Lalime's glove.

"It was a nice goal to tie it up and give us some life," Stevens said. "I just wanted to get the puck through their guys who were coming up quick. I just got it by them and the goalie was screened, obviously."

But the Devils let the momentum ebb by squandering both power plays in the period and giving the Senators three chances with the extra man.

"I think that going home, we'll have to play with the same desperation that the other team played with tonight," New Jersey center Joe Nieuwendyk said. "You could tell they wanted it more than we did. That's unacceptable, but we're gonna get it in gear tomorrow and we're gonna make sure we play Game Six like it's a Game Seven."