It took the Ottawa Senators all of 10 games to advance to the Eastern Conference finals and finally deliver 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 as Ottawa beat the Devils 3-2 on Saturday night and won the series in five games.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Senators general manager John Muckler said. “We played awfully well this series and the Pittsburgh series. I don’t think we’re the same team as in the past. The chemistry in the locker room is much better. It’s just a group of guys who believe in themselves and are working.
“There is a process to this winning,” Muckler added. “You have to learn it. You just can’t turn it on.”
What the Senators did against the Devils and Penguins was play solidly in all phases. They got great goaltending from Ray Emery, outstanding play from their top line of Spezza, Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, solid defence (11 goals in five games) and timely plays from their role players.
It was all there on Saturday when Ottawa sent the Devils packing in what might’ve been their last game at the Continental Airlines Arena.
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.
Spezza and Alfredsson got the big goals. The defence limited New Jersey to two goals or less for the third straight game, and checking line left-wing Antoine Vermette ignited the big second period with a great play to set up his own goal.
“I think there were a lot of questions from a lot of people,” Alfredsson said about Ottawa’s reputation for post-season fades going into these playoffs. “But I felt the way we played in the regular season we could do some damage. I think after the Pittsburgh series we gained confidence and the same thing here. But we have to start over again the next round. We have to be humble, but we also know we are a good team.”
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.
Scott Gomez scored twice for the Devils, who have not gotten past the second round in the last three post-seasons.
“You pay the price when you don’t score goals also,” said Brodeur, who had 21 saves. “Everything was magnified. It’s fun that we’re in a position that people can complain about our game. A lot of teams don’t have that chance.”
The three-time Stanley Cup champions Devils will start a new era next season. The team is moving to a new arena in Newark and general manager Lou Lamoriello, who fired Claude Julien as coach in the final week of the regular season, will have to hire a new coach.
“We played well,” Devils centre John Madden said. “We did some good things. In the first period we dominated. Second period, they scored three goals. Plays that didn’t seem that dangerous turned into the back of the net.”
Vermette 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. 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.
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.
“I think the (first period) intermission woke us up,” Spezza said. “We knew we would not beat these guys if we played like we did in the first period and we had a great second and third period.”
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.
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 Pandolfo. Brylin played on the fourth line with Jim Dowd and David Clarkson.