The Ottawa Senators are finally delivering in the playoffs after a decade of disappointing failures.
Jason Spezza scored the go-ahead goal and set up another by Daniel Alfredsson in a three-goal second period on Saturday night as Ottawa beat to Devils 3-2 to win their Eastern Conference semifinal in five games.
“I thought our work ethic, our battle level was really outstanding,” Senators coach Bryan Murray said. “We were able to get a forecheck better than I thought we would . . . and we were able to score timely goals.”
Goaltender Ray Emery, who showed no effects from a minor automobile accident in Ottawa on Friday, made 27 saves to cap a series in which he clearly outplayed Brodeur, who set an NHL record with 48 wins this season.
“I felt bad for kind of distracting the boys and taking the focus off the team, so I’m glad I got a chance to play and I’m glad the boys came through for me and played well despite the distraction,” Emery said after the game.
Scott Gomez scored twice for New Jersey in what may have been the final Devils’ game at the Continental Airlines Arena. The three-time Stanley Cup champions are moving to a new arena in Newark next season, and they will leave the Meadowlands without advancing past the second round in the last three post-seasons.
The Senators will face either the Buffalo Sabres or New York Rangers in the conference final with the winner earning a trip to the Stanley Cup finals. While Ottawa has been to the playoffs the last 10 years, it has never made it to the finals. The only time they made the conference finals, the Devils beat them in seven games en route to winning the Cup.
Whoever faces the Senators will go up against a team that’s getting great goaltending, outstanding play from its top line of Spezza, Alfredsson and Dany Heatley (two assists in Game 5) and all the little things from the role players.
Antoine Vermette, the left-wing on the Senators’ checking line, made the biggest play of Game 5, keeping the puck in the Devils’ zone early in the second period and eventually tipping a shot by defenceman Tom Preissing past Brodeur to tie the score at 1-1.
The goal took the air out of the crowd and the Senators, who were outshot 11-3 in the first period, took over from there.
Spezza put the Senators ahead a little more than a minute after Jay Pandolfo was penalized for interfering with Emery at 10:58. The centre took a pass from Alfredsson along the left boards, skated into the circle and ripped a shot past a screened Brodeur, who made 21 saves.
Alfredsson, who has three goals in the last four games, scored with less than three minutes left in the second period. He took a pass from Spezza, skated into the Devils’ zone and beat Brodeur with a shot between the pads, the third soft goal New Jersey’s all-star surrendered in the past two games.
“You have to give (the Senators) credit, they’re a great hockey club, their depth is amazing,” Brodeur said. “But it came down to the big plays that they made and we didn’t make.”
New Jersey dominated the opening period and finally broke through when Gomez stuffed the rebound of Patrik Elias’ shot past Emery.
The Devils had their chances to add to the lead in the period but they either missed the net or couldn’t get the puck past Emery. Jamie Langenbrunner missed a wide open net after Zach Parise made a move in front and Emery made a diving glove stop on Elias after a great setup by Gomez.
The Devils didn’t beat Emery again until Gomez scored in the final minute with Brodeur on the bench.
“Ray’s phenomenal,” Spezza said. “No little thing bugs him no big thing bugs him. He’s the heart and soul of our team. He’s been great for us.”
NOTES: The crowd of 19,040 was only the second sellout for the Devils this season. Both came in this series. …Coach Lou Lamoriello didn’t make any lineup changes for Game 5, but he replaced right-wing Sergei Brylin on the checking line with Erik Rasmussen skating with John Madden and Jay Pandolfo. Brylin played on the fourth line with Jim Dowd and David Clarkson.