PHILADELPHIA — The New Jersey Devils finished the greatest comeback in a conference final, and they may have finished off Eric Lindros as well.
Patrik Elias scored his second goal of the game with 2:32 to play Friday night and the Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Devils won the final three games of the series, but the clincher will forever be remembered for Scott Stevens' first-period hit on Lindros that knocked out the Flyers' former captain for the fourth time this season.
Lindros, who just returned from a concussion after being sidelined for 10 weeks, had to be helped off the ice at 7:50 of the first period. The team said he was taken to a hospital, but there was no official word on the extent of the injury.
"I know it was a clean hit," said Stevens, who caught an unsuspecting Lindros looking down at the ice. "I don't like to see anyone get hurt. That's the bottom line. It felt a little tough playing after that."
After the game, the NHL levied a $10,000 fine against the Flyers, apparently for not releasing information on Lindros' injury.
Stevens, who was booed after he hit Lindros and again after the game when he accepted the Prince of Wales Trophy, said he wouldn't be doing much celebrating.
Known more for their playoff failures the last three years, the Devils advanced to their first Stanley Cup finals since winning the title in 1995. They will play the winner of tonight's Game 7 between the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche in a final that will open Tuesday at East Rutherford, N.J.
"It's tough to believe, down 3-1," Devil veteran Ken Daneyko said. "I know after Game 4 I was pretty demoralized. But you seem to rally yourself and get your spirits up."
Devil Coach Larry Robinson, who replaced Robbie Ftorek with eight games left in the regular season, helped in that regard. The Hall of Famer issued a garbage-can kicking tirade after a 3-1 loss in Game 4 that seemed to get the Devils refocused on their defensive game.
Over the final three games, the Flyers scored only three goals against Martin Brodeur, losing the final two games by the same score.
Rick Tocchet had the Flyers' only goal in Game 7, tying the score, 1-1, in the second period.
However, Elias came through for the Devils, who are trying to win a second Stanley Cup for outgoing owner John McMullen. He has agreed to sell the team to YankeeNets in a deal that will be completed in July.
All season long, it had been the Flyers who found a way in the face of adversity.
Coach Roger Neilson was stricken with cancer in February, Lindros went through a series of concussions and the team struggled.
However, the Flyers rallied around interim Coach Craig Ramsay and caught the Devils in the final month of the season to earn top seeding in the Eastern Conference.
With the score 1-1 and the crowd of 20,037 cheering on every shift, the Devils' Alexander Mogilny wrapped the puck around the boards from behind the net to Jason Arnott, who was in the right circle. Arnott tossed a pass into the slot to Elias, who knocked it past Brian Boucher.
"Arnie kind of fanned on his shot and I snuck from behind the net and [Dan] McGillis didn't see me," Elias said. "I lifted his stick up. I wasn't able to look at it, I just put the puck in the net. I don't know what I was feeling, such excitement and pride."
Added Arnott: "It was one of them lucky bounce goals."
Before Friday's game, 15 teams had rallied from 3-1 deficits to win a playoff series. But the Devils are the first to do it in a conference final. The greatest comeback in NHL history came in 1942 when the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings.