OTTAWA (Ticker) -- The New Jersey Devils bent but did not break.
One of only six Devils who have never reached the Stanley Cup Finals, Jeff Friesen scored with 2:14 remaining to give them a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in the decisive seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals.
Undermanned since early in the first period, New Jersey squandered a lead early in the third. But Friesen scored his third game-winning goal of the series to set up a Stanley Cup Finals matchup with his former team, the well-rested Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
New Jersey's John Madden cleared the puck from his own zone to Grant Marshall, who drew defensemen Karel Rachunek and Wade Redden as he moved into the Senators' zone. Near the left boards, Marshall threaded a pass through Redden's legs to Friesen, who collected it in the low slot on his backhand, shifted to his forehand and flipped a shot under the stick of lunging goaltender Patrick Lalime.
"Obviously, it's the biggest goal I have scored," said Friesen, a nine-year veteran. "I never had a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. And to have that goal go in, and now I get a chance to go, it is a goal I will remember and definitely a game I will remember."
"There was not time to think about it when he got the puck wide-open," Lalime said. "I made a move and he went right back against the grain and scored."
Early in the third period, Friesen failed to get the puck deep in the Ottawa zone. The Senators counterattacked and tied it on Radek Bonk's third goal of the series.
"I am a very emotional hockey player, and for something like that to happen, a lot goes through your head," Friesen admitted. "And it turns out Marshy gives me a great pass to redeem myself."
The Devils held on and will host Anaheim on Tuesday night in their third Stanley Cup Finals appearance in four years. They steadied themselves after squandering a three games to one lead and losing veteran center Joe Nieuwendyk, who played just three shifts before leaving with an injury suffered late in Game Six.
"I think this team has done that all year long. It is that kind of team," said New Jersey coach Pat Burns, who is headed to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since his rookie season in 1989. "I think the resiliency of this team showed all year long. We had to battle."
Magnus Arvedson also scored for top-seeded Ottawa, which survived a bankruptcy filing during the season but could not become the third team in this year's playoffs to win a series after trailing three games to one.
"We battled adversity all year," Senators center Todd White said. "We battled back in this series. We came back in the third period, even. We just couldn't get that next goal to put us over the top. We had some very good chances, but we lost on that bad break. It's very disappointing right now."
Home teams had won 11 of the previous 14 Game Sevens, and Ottawa thrilled the raucous Corel Centre crowd by scoring first for the fourth time in the series.
Arvedson ended a 21-game postseason scoring drought just 3:33 into the opening period. After getting a pass from Martin Havlat, he got a step ahead of the defense and raced down the right side. From the faceoff circle, Arvedson wristed a shot over the right shoulder of goalie Martin Brodeur.
By then, Nieuwendyk was back in the Devils' locker room. He tried to play after suffering an apparent knee injury in overtime on Wednesday but logged just 1 minute, 49 seconds.
Burns tried to use Nieuwendyk's injury as a rallying point.
"I went back in the room, told the players we have a rangy, old veteran on the other side who would love to help you out," Burns said. "I said, he has got a tear running down his eye right now. That seemed to pump up the team."
After outshooting Ottawa, 11-6, in the first period, New Jersey stormed back in the second as Jamie Langenbrunner scored on consecutive shots in a 1:54 span.
At 3:52, Sergei Brylin had his slap shot blocked by defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn. The puck came to Langenbrunner, who crept through the right circle and banked a shot off the skate of defenseman Anton Volchenkov and into the net.
"First goal, pretty lucky," Langenbrunner said. "Sergei took a good, hard shot, puck came right to me. I was kind of out of position by the time I got it corraled and tried to bank it off his skate. And fortunately, it went in."
Less than two minutes later, Langenbrunner stole the puck from Volchenkov along the left boards, got a screen from Redden and teammate John Madden and wristed a shot over Lalime's right shoulder.
It was the ninth playoff goal for Langenbrunner, tying him with Minnesota's Marian Gaborik for the league lead.
"I was able to get the puck out of the corner and just throw it at the net up high," he said. "Good screen."
Ottawa coach Jacques Martin used a timeout to settle down his team. They dominated the rest of the period, although New Jersey's Patrik Elias put a shot off the left goalpost on a breakaway with 7:44 remaining.
It was another near-miss for the Devils. Scott Gomez had a handful by himself, losing control of the puck in front of an open net late in the first period, putting a point-blank backhander into Lalime's pads midway through the third and getting foiled by Lalime again from close range two minutes later.
"When I had those other opportunities, I thought, 'Oh, man, please,'" said Gomez, who did not record a point in the series. "I thought it was going to be a long summer if we didn't win because of my misses."
Bonk nearly made Gomez prophetic. Just 24 seconds after Ottawa's second power play expired, Bonk got a pass from Marian Hossa and handcuffed Brodeur with a slap shot from the top of the left circle.
After killing back-to-back penalties, Ottawa had chances to take the lead. But Brodeur denied Hossa with 9:15 to play and again 3 1/2 minutes later, sliding to keep the All-Star goalless in the series.
"I just reacted," said Brodeur, who made 24 saves and improved to 4-3 in Game Sevens. "I saw the puck was kind of going away from our player and I saw Hossa coming in, so I kind of challenged him. I went down on my side and it hit me right on top of my arm and I was able to kept it in front of me."
"We had a pretty good effort. It wasn't because of a lack of that," Ottawa center Mike Fisher said. "It was just one of those things where it wasn't our night. They got a break and held us off at the end."