Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Rookie helps Senators beat Devils

AP , OTTAWA

Ottawa Senators goaltender Patrick Lalimemakes a save off a shot by New Jersey Devils' Patrik Elias during Game 5 of the Eastern finals on Monday in Ottawa.

PHOTO: AP

Jason Spezza used a stellar playoff debut to keep the Ottawa Senators' unprecedented run alive.

The 19-year-old rookie scored a goal and set up Martin Havlat's game-winner in Ottawa's 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference finals on Monday.

The victory not only cut the Devils' series lead to 3-2, it snapped Ottawa's three-game losing streak and forced Game 6 at New Jersey on Wednesday. It also marked the first time in seven tries the Senators won when facing elimination.

Spezza, who had just a few hours to prepare for his first postseason game, had difficulty realizing what he helped accomplish.

"I'm just happy to be here playing with this group of guys," he said.

Spezza's teammates were more than capable of providing perspective even though the Senators are in the conference finals for the first time in their 11-year history.

"I'm sure he was nervous, but he didn't look nervous. He looked very poised," forward Bryan Smolinski said. "I'm sure all of Canada's talking about him right now. And he deserves every bit of it."

Added captain Daniel Alfredsson: "It is a very tough situation to come in, and he handled it real well."

The Senators still have a lot of work left if they are going to reach to the Stanley Cup finals.

"We stepped up and got one," defenseman Chris Phillips said. "It was a huge win for us and a big momentum lift. But there's still two more to go."

The series winner will next face the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who are resting after completing a sweep of the Minnesota Wild in the West finals. The Devils, attempting to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the third time in four years, are certainly aware of the situation. They don't intend to let the Senators off the hook again.

"They still have to win two more to win the series," said captain Scott Stevens, who scored the Devils' goal. "So we have to regroup and play a better game than we did here. But the ball's in our court."

It helps that the Devils are 8-0 in these playoffs and have never lost a series when leading 3-1.

"We're not panicking here," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "I think it's a little setback. ... But now it's over and we've got to bear down and play better."

Spezza, selected second overall by Ottawa in the 2001 draft, provided the Senators' sluggish offense an immediate lift after it was limited in three previous games.

Four minutes after Havlat put the Senators up 2-1 by capping a scramble in front, Spezza sealed the victory by redirecting Phillips' hard pass into the slot with 7:32 remaining. It was Ottawa's first power-play goal of the series, following an 0-for-20 streak.

Havlat's goal was a strange one. Brodeur made the initial stop, preventing Havlat from jamming the puck in. Brodeur then blindly kicked the puck away, when it hit the skate of New Jersey defenseman Richard Smehlik and rolled back into the net. Todd White also scored for the Senators.

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