Spezza stars as Senators stay alive
Rookie Jason Spezza turned Victoria Day into victory day for the Ottawa Senators.
Spezza had one goal and one assist in his NHL playoff debut, as the Senators staved off elimination with a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.
- FROM MAY 19, 2003: Facing elimination, Sens remain upbeat
Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final was played before a capacity crowd of 18,500 at the Corel Centre on Monday.
"He's a good player," Senators head coach Jacques Martin said. "He helped us out tonight."
"He came in and played awesome," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson added. "It was a very tough situation to come into and he handled it really well. He made smart plays, and played with poise."
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Asked for his thoughts on Spezza, Devils head coach Pat Burns barked: "I'm not a scout, I'm a coach. I imagine he'll be a great young player.
"Good for him."
Spezza suited up in place of enforcer Chris Neil, and set up the game-winner before scoring Ottawa's first power-play goal in the series, ending an 0-20 drought.
The 19-year-old centre had seven goals and 21 points in 33 regular-season games.
"We saw him play a lot this year and we knew he'd bring some energy," Senators defenceman Curtis Leschyshyn said. "His offensive ability speaks for itself.
"He definitely helped us put some life into our power play."
"He was phenomenal," Senators centre Bryan Smolinski enthused. "For a young 19-year-old to come into a conference final and perform the way he did what a great individual.
"He's one of the best I've seen."
"I just tried to stay calm," Spezza explained. "Obviously, it's exciting to see the crowd going wild.
"But the series isn't over. We have to park it and start thinking about the next game."
Ottawa still trails 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Game 6 will be played Wednesday at Continental Airlines Arena (7 p.m. ET, CBC), where the Devils are 8-0 this post-season.
"Playing in Jersey will be a tough test," Alfredsson said. "If we have everyone going like we did in this game, we'll be alright."
"I thought we had them where we wanted them," Burns admitted. "I'm disappointed with the loss more than I am with the effort.
"At this time of year, I don't think effort is a question. I think it's two good teams, and momentum can change from period to period, goal to goal.
"These are two good teams. These things happen, and we have to go back and regroup, and they have to go back to the Devils' den, and we'll be waiting."
The winner of the series advances to the Stanley Cup finals, where it will face the Western Conference champions, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
"They're the best team in the NHL," Devils forward Scott Gomez said of the Senators, winners of the Presidents' Trophy.
"To think about Anaheim would be crazy, absolutely crazy."
Todd White and Martin Havlat also scored for the top-ranked Senators, now 1-5 in franchise history when facing elimination.
"We don't care what's happened in the past," Alfredsson said. "We're focussed on the task ahead.
"We needed a big game, we needed some bounces, and we got them."
Patrick Lalime rebounded from his poorest outing of these playoffs with 21 saves.
Lalime earlier limited the opposition to two goals or less in 11 straight starts, a playoff record, only to concede five goals in Game 4.
Scott Stevens had the lone goal for the second-seeded Devils, seeking a third trip in four years to the finals.
"We knew they were going to come out strong at us, we knew that," Burns said. "As the game got on, they seemed to get a little bit stronger.
"We gave them opportunities that we shouldn't have."
Martin Brodeur, who had given up more than two goals just once in his last six starts, managed just 15 saves.
"We're not panicking," he said. "It's a little setback.
"We put ourselves in a position to have a bad game."
Determined to set the tempo early, the Senators skated hard in a scoreless first period yet wound up outshot 7-2.
However, persistence paid off as Ottawa finally opened the scoring with a shorthanded marker 3:59 into the second.
When Brian Rafalski coughed up the puck in the corner, Magnus Arvedson retrieved it and fed White for a one-timer and a 1-0 lead.
It was White's fifth goal this post-season.
Stevens tied it from a faceoff 2:20 later, slapping a shot off a skate in front and behind Lalime. For Stevens, it was his third, matching his career-high set in 1986 and equalled in 2000.I
t remained 1-1 until Havlat netted his fifth at 7:59 of the third.
After Brodeur denied Peter Schaefer and Spezza, Havlat banked in a shot from behind the net for a 2-1 advantage.
The puck actually bounced off Brodeur, who inadvertently kicked it in off the skate of Richard Smehlik defending in front.
"I had it under me, but I wasn't sure where it was," Brodeur said. "I think the movement of my legs kicked it in."
Vaclav Varada nearly upped it to 3-1, but his rising shot rang off the crossbar moments before Brian Gionta drew a hooking penalty at the 12:24 mark.
Four seconds into the ensuing power play, Spezza smartly redirected Chris Phillips's pass under Brodeur for his first-ever playoff goal.
"I won the faceoff clean and Philly made a great play to spot me in the high slot," Spezza said. "It was a pretty easy goal for me.
"I just tried to go out there and play with confidence. I think, the first period, I got the cob webs out and relaxed a the bit in the second and third.
"And things just kind of worked for me."