Devils take semis back to New Jersey


On the brink of elimination, the New Jersey Devils played like Stanley Cup champions. The Devils picked up their play in time to snap a two-game losing streak to the Toronto Maple Leafs and force a seventh game in the Eastern Conference semifinals. “We are the champions and we want to play like it,” said Jason Arnott, who had a goal and an assist in New Jersey’s 4-2 victory Monday night. “We knew we had poor outings before and we didn’t want to be put out that way. We wanted to go out strong. “Now we’re back in it.” Coach Larry Robinson put it in a different light when describing the passion his team showed. “It’s not because we’re the Stanley Cup champions. It’s because we’re the New Jersey Devils,” Robinson said. “We like to pride ourselves in having a lot of heart and never saying die and playing for each other, and that’s what we did tonight.” The Devils won by rediscovering a determined, gritty effort that appeared lacking over the past few weeks. Since opening their first-round series with three victories against Carolina, the Devils are 4-5. Monday night, New Jersey opened the scoring five minutes into the game and, despite a number of undisciplined penalties, never relinquished the lead. After Toronto’s Mats Sundin scored a power-play goal 207 into the third period to cut New Jersey’s lead to 3-2, Arnott sealed the win less than four minutes later. Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph made the initial stop, blocking Patrik Elias’ spin-around backhand shot from the slot, but the rebound rolled to Arnott who fired a low shot just inside the near post. Not surprisingly, the game did not end without incident. Toronto’s Darcy Tucker was penalized after he drove to the net with the puck and bowled over New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur with 107 remaining. The Devils tried to get even when, with 25.9 seconds remaining, New Jersey’s Randy McKay traded punches with Joseph. McKay said he retaliated after Joseph got in the first blows, including a slash across the back of his leg and shove to the back of the head. “The first (hit) I can accept. The second one, he really came at my head, so I just figured it was enough,” McKay said. Replied Joseph: “Usually, when you’re up 4-2 with 25 seconds left, the winning team doesn’t have that much frustration.” The frustration between these two teams has been building since last Thursday, when Toronto’s Tie Domi blindsided Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer with a vicious elbow to the face well behind the play. Toronto’s 3-2 victory on Saturday was decided when Tomas Kaberle scored with 29.4 seconds left after New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur was bowled over by Shayne Corson. On Monday, Petr Sykora added a goal and an assist, and McKay and Brian Rafalski also scored for the Devils, who won despite some anxious moments. Two undisciplined penalties led to both Toronto goals. Sundin scored with New Jersey’s Colin White off for roughing Tucker. Steve Thomas tied it 1-1 in the second period after Bobby Holik was off for tripping. The Leafs knew it wasn’t going to be easy to knock off the Devils, the team that beat them in last year’s second round. “They’re a great club, they’ve been there before, so you know it was going to be a battle,” Toronto’s Gary Roberts said. “This team has accomplished a lot this playoff run and I think we’ve got a long way to go.” The Devils drew upon last year’s Eastern Conference finals in which they fell behind 3-1 against Philadelphia before rallying back to win the final three games. “We gave ourselves an opportunity to decide the series at home,” Holik said. “I feel like we needed to be put against the wall, that we would come up with the type of effort we did tonight.” It was the first game back in Toronto since Domi was suspended for at least the rest of the playoffs for his hit on Niedermayer. The soldout Air Canada Centre rallied to the defense of Domi. Among the signs waved read: “Un-Tie Domi” and “Bring Back Tie.” The crowd also booed when it was announced before the game that Domi would not be in the lineup, and cheered Niedermayer’s absence.