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DECISIVE GAME FORCES DEVILS TO DIG DEEP

The New Jersey Devils will have to rely on all of their internal resources now.

Their experience. Their leadership. Their belief in themselves.

Almost all the external factors have turned against the Devils after they failed to convert their first two chances to finish the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference finals.

So, they'll have to go into a hostile Corel Centre tonight and win Game Seven to avoid the embarrassment of blowing a 3-1 series lead.

After winning the last two games and evening the series Wednesday with a 2-1 overtime victory in Game Six in Continental Airlines Arena, the Senators clearly have the momentum behind them in addition to their fans. The odds, which were once aligned overwhelmingly in the Devils' favor, have swayed to Ottawa's side.

In the 33 previous NHL playoff series in which a team came back to force a Game Seven after trailing, 3-1, it usually finished the job by winning the deciding game, too (19-14). The team that let their
advantage slip away is only 4-10 when playing Game Seven on the road.

"Why we got the Presidents' Cup is for (tonight)," Senators coach Jacques Martin said Thursday. "That's the key. You want to have that seventh game here. We have the luxury of having our fans, the noise, the support, the energy. I think that's a big, big thing."

Such statistics make it understandable that some already have counted out the Devils.

"I'm sure people are," Devils captain Scott Stevens said Thursday evening after the team arrived at its hotel in Aylmer, Quebec. "But the important thing is anything can happen in one game. We know that. So we'll see what happens tomorrow night."

The Devils didn't need long to put Wednesday's disappointing loss behind them. All it took was a good night's sleep.

"Everybody was upset (Wednesday)," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "We all showed up for the plane (to Ottawa) and guys had smiles back on their faces and, do you know what? We were right there yesterday. We understand how to move on. The coach is going to come up tomorrow and make sure that we are ready for the game and then after that it's a hockey game."

Although the Corel Centre will be filled with 18,500 raucous, towel-waving fans hoping to see their Senators advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since the team was reincarnated in 1992, the Devils believe that might work to their advantage.

"When you get on the road, you just block out all the outside things. You block everything out," Brodeur said. "You're with you and your family and you just go. It's you against the world. It's this team against the world and that makes it more fun to perform in a Game Seven."

The Devils have not always given their best performance in Game Sevens, where they are 4-6 all-time. The Senators are 0-2 in their history, including a 3-0 loss to Toronto in Game Seven of the second round last year.

The Devils' last Game Seven was a 3-1 loss to Colorado at the Pepsi Center in the 2001 Stanley Cup finals. The Devils blew a 3-2 lead in that series when they had their chances to win their second consecutive Cup.

"I don't think about that," Brodeur said. "That Game Seven, for me, I thought I played a pretty good game, but when you didn't win you've got to be honest with yourself, too. It's how you perform in that game that you have to remember. That game in Colorado I didn't feel I played that bad even though we didn't win."

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