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Devils Due After Victory

Friesen's goal with 2:14 to play gives New Jersey a 3-2 win over the Senators in Game 7 and a berth in the Stanley Cup finals against the Mighty Ducks.

May 24, 2003|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

OTTAWA — The long wait is over for the Mighty Ducks.

For Canada, it continues.

A former Duck, Jeff Friesen, scored with 2:14 to play Friday night, giving the New Jersey Devils a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators and a berth opposite the Ducks in the Stanley Cup finals starting Tuesday night at East Rutherford, N.J.

The Devils, who will play in the NHL's best-of-seven championship series for the third time in four seasons, ended the hopes of the Senators, who were trying to become the first Canadian team to play in the finals since 1994, when the Vancouver Canucks lost to the New York Rangers.

The Senators compiled the league's best record during the regular season and had electrified Canada's capital city by rallying from a 3-1 deficit in games to necessitate Friday's Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.

Local media called it the biggest event in the city's sporting history, or at least the biggest since Canadian Olympic figure skating gold medalist Barbara Ann Scott was feted upon her return from the 1948 Winter Games in Switzerland.

Local bar owners expected record crowds Friday night.

"Believe!" screamed a headline in Friday's Ottawa Sun.

And right up until the time Friesen streaked down the middle on a two-on-one rush, took a pass from Grant Marshall and lifted the puck past goaltender Patrick Lalime, a crowd of 18,500 in the Corel Centre believed with all its heart.

Earlier in the third period, Radek Bonk had cashed in on a Friesen turnover to score the tying goal, putting the Senators in position to become only the second team in 61 years to overcome a 3-1 deficit in games to win a conference final.

But Friesen's goal ended all that, finally providing a championship series opponent for the Ducks, who have been idle since May 16, when they wrapped up a four-game sweep of the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference finals.

"Obviously, it's the biggest goal I've ever scored," said Friesen, who was acquired by the Devils last July in a seven-player trade that brought Petr Sykora to the Ducks. "I've never had a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, and to have that goal go in....

"It's a goal I'll remember and definitely a game I'll remember."

The Senators scored first, Magnus Arvedson beating goaltender Martin Brodeur with a shot from the right circle only 3:33 into the first period.

A short time later, the Devils realized they would have to play the rest of the game without veteran center Joe Nieuwendyk, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 6, and realized he was finished for this night after only two shifts.

In the dressing room between periods, Coach Pat Burns said, he saw a tear run down Nieuwendyk's cheek. Nieuwendyk's teammates noticed too.

"Joe's been a big leader for us all year and watching him not be able to play and the effect it had on him, we were all a little moved," winger Jamie Langenbrunner said. "He's usually a tight-to-the-belt guy who doesn't show everything. It was something that maybe gave us a little bump in the second period."

Even more of a bump: Two goals by Langenbrunner in 1:54.

Bonk pulled the Senators even at 1:53 of the third period with a shot from the left point. But Brodeur -- "the most valuable player, in my books," Burns said -- shut them down the rest of the way, making half of his 24 saves in the third period.

That set the stage for Friesen.

And now come the Ducks, who will take on a team whose roster includes 15 players who have won the Stanley Cup. Behind Brodeur and defenseman Scott Stevens, their captain, the Devils won the Cup in 1995 and 2000.

"If people say, 'You are the favorite,' I am going to have to say, 'Excuse me,' " Burns said. "So was Detroit, so was Dallas. They were all favorites too. So I don't think anybody is a favorite."

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