Sunday, May 18, 2003

Devils take 3-1 lead

Home unbeaten streak is intact

The Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The next time the New Jersey Devils put their undefeated home mark on the line, they hope it'll be in the Stanley Cup finals.

The Devils took a major step closer to their third finals appearance in four years Saturday with a three-goal outburst in the third period of a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators.

Jeff Friesen, Patrik Elias and John Madden scored in the first 7:35 of the final period to break open a tie game and give the No. 2-seeded Devils a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference finals.

New Jersey is 8-0 at home in the postseason and can advance to the finals against the West champion Anaheim Mighty Ducks with a win Monday at Ottawa.

No one, except maybe Scott Niedermayer, is looking ahead to a matchup with the Ducks.

"They're the best team in the NHL," forward Scott Gomez said of Ottawa. "To think about Anaheim would be crazy, absolutely crazy."

But that's what these playoffs have been all along, especially out West. The seventh-seeded Mighty Ducks knocked out the top two seeds - Dallas and Detroit - before completing a sweep of equally surprising Minnesota on Friday in the conference finals.

Ottawa earned the top seed in the East after accruing an NHL-best 113 points. The Senators looked like that team in the first two periods, when they held a 23-13 shots advantage. New Jersey scored on its first shot 7:25 in, before Karel Rachunek and Vaclav Varada put Ottawa on top.

"This is a game we didn't dominate, but we found a way to win," Friesen said. "We got timely goals, and obviously Jay Pandolfo's (tying) goal was the biggest of the season."

Niedermayer, a two-time champion, is one New Jersey player who can't help have his thoughts wander. His brother Rob is an Anaheim forward, and the pair would become the first opposing brothers in the Stanley Cup finals since 1946. "Of course you think about it," Scott said. "But I don't think about it too much. We still have more work to do."

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