No sympathy for the Devils

CHRIS STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- So here they are, back to the acres of hard asphalt at the Meadowlands Sports Complex by the New Jersey Turnpike.

You take exit 16W to get to the Meadowlands and the Continental Airlines Arena and for more than a decade now, the road to the Stanley Cup, more than any other, has taken that off ramp from Interstate 95.

Sixteen W.

Sixteen wins.

The Senators can get halfway there tonight with a win in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semi-final with the New Jersey Devils.

This could be the final time for the white arena hunched in a corner among the off-ramps, next to Giants Stadium and the Meadowlands racetrack. The Devils are due to move south down the Turnpike to the Prudential Center next fall in Newark.

There have been four long Stanley Cup runs in the last 12 years here, the Devils winning Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003 and losing in the final to Colorado in 2001.

Now the Senators get a chance to shut down the Devils and their building tonight.

"That'd be nice, wouldn't it?" said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, who scored the overtime winner in Game 6 of the 2003 Eastern Conference final here to force Game 7 back in Ottawa. "That's definitely our goal."

The Devils will have home-ice advantage tonight and it will be interesting now to see if New Jersey coach and GM Lou Lamoriello, who fired Claude Julien as coach with just a couple of games to go in the regular season, will change his philosophy regarding the matching of lines. Lamoriello obviously thought he could do a better job behind the bench.

DEVILS BOSS STUBBORN

But next to the inconsistent play of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, the storyline in this series has been the way the Senators line of Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson has dominated the checking unit of Sergei Brylin-John Madden-Jay Pandolfo.

The Spezza line has scored seven goals and 10 assists and is a combined plus-17.

The Madden line, which Lamoriello has stubbornly worked to keep on the ice against the Spezza unit both at home and away, has two goals and one assist and is a combined minus-8.

Spezza has played 22:05, 29:50 (double overtime in Game 2), 21:00 and 21:06 in the first four games of the series. That's up from his regular-season average of 19:17.

Senators coach Bryan Murray is taking advantage of Lamoriello's insistence on playing Madden against Spezza by putting Spezza out there more often.

If Madden is on the ice, that means the Devils' more dangerous offensive players aren't.

It speaks volumes of the progress Spezza and Heatley have made as players that Murray can now trust them to play more and more minutes, especially at crunch time.

Helping the Spezza line is the fact the Senators have also gotten goals from five other players in the first four games of this series, three of them defencemen (Wade Redden, Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing). Mike Fisher and Dean McAmmond have also scored.

When a team is losing in the playoffs, it's up to the coach to make changes if for no other reason than to give his players the hope the changes will help.

What can Lamoriello do? He could try the approach Murray used against the Penguins and Sidney Crosby. Murray decided to use the Spezza line, rather than a checking line, against Crosby with the thinking being the Spezza line would have the puck and Crosby wouldn't and would force the Crosby line to play some defence.

It doesn't look like Lamoriello has the confidence that his EGG Line (Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez) or the Killer Z's (Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner) can win a head-to-head matchup with the Spezza unit.

So, it will be interesting to see if Lamoriello decides to get away from the Madden-Spezza matchup tonight.

That matchup and the fact Brodeur has struggled at times in this series (it's interesting that he called out Senators goalie Ray Emery after Game 4. Emery now has the better numbers in the series: a 2.06 GAA and a .924 save percentage vs. Brodeur's 2.55 and .921) are the two reasons why the Senators are in a position to make tonight's the last NHL playoff game at Continental Airlines Arena.

Lamoriello can't do much about Brodeur's goaltending.

He can do something about taking advantage of the home-ice advantage.

Given the way the Spezza line has been playing, it probably doesn't matter who they're up against.


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