At least the Mighty Ducks know when they’ll play their first game in the Stanley Cup finals.
Who or where they’ll play, however, is still undecided after defenseman Chris Phillips chipped in a rebound at 15 minutes 51 seconds of overtime Wednesday night to give the suddenly surging Ottawa Senators a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Phillips’ goal in front of a sellout crowd of 19,040 in the Continental Airlines Center set up a decisive game in the best-of-seven series.
The winner of Game 7 on Friday night in Ottawa’s Corel Centre will host the Ducks in the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals starting Tuesday.
The Senators, faster and more skilled, compiled the NHL’s best record during the regular season and won the opener of this series, but the veteran, playoff-tested Devils had won three in a row, losing in Game 5 on Monday night at Ottawa.
Still, the Devils were 8-0 at home in the playoffs this spring before Phillips rushed to the net and lifted the puck past goaltender Martin Brodeur.
“We’re obviously very happy now with the situation we’re in,” said Phillips, whose goal was only his third in 50 playoff games. “We’ve been in two elimination games, being down 3-1, and we’re going home for Game 7.
“That’s exactly what we set out to do a few days ago.”
The Senators are trying to become only the second team since 1942 to win a conference final after trailing, three games to one.
The only team that did it: The Devils three years ago.
The Devils are trying to win their third conference title in four seasons but in Game 7 could be without Joe Nieuwendyk, who was their best player in Game 6 and scored their only goal, tying the score in the third period.
Nieuwendyk was slow coming off the ice after suffering what appeared to be a knee injury late in overtime. Nieuwendyk, who has a history of knee problems, wouldn’t discuss the nature of the injury but said he would play Friday.
The veteran center was on the bench, obviously in pain, when Marian Hossa started the game-winning play, blowing past defenseman Scott Stevens down the right wing and flipping the puck toward the net.
Brodeur stopped a scoring attempt by Vaclav Varada, but as they jostled momentarily in the crease, the puck sat tantalizingly out front.
“A miscommunication between the defensemen and the puck’s in the net,” Devil Coach Pat Burns said later, indicating that Stevens and Colin White had crossed signals as Hossa motored up the right side.
Said Phillips: “It kind of started out as a two on two. Hoss had some great speed going to the outside and everything kind of opened up for me.
“I wasn’t there right away, but the puck got thrown to the front of the net; it was sitting there for a while and I was able to just get in there and get a whack at it. I didn’t even realize it went in until the other guys started celebrating.”
The Senators, their season saved, savored their victory in a game in which Brodeur and Senator goaltender Patrick Lalime both played brilliantly as the teams combined for 65 shots on goal, 34 by the Senators.
“If you’re going to trade chances with Ottawa,” Burns said, indicating he was unhappy with the game’s pace, “you’re probably going to lose.”
The Senators scored first, Radek Bonk squeezing a shot between Brodeur’s legs for a power-play goal with 2:11 to play in the third period. Nieuwendyk’s equalizer, scored at 2:41 of the third period, also was a power-play goal.
Before Game 5, the Senators took inspiration from an emotional pregame speech by assistant coach Roger Neilson, who is fighting cancer.
Before Game 6, they found motivation from within.
“We mostly made the point, there’s no reason winning Game 5 and playing as well as we did if we couldn’t come up with another great effort here,” captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “We just wanted to make sure we went out there and gave it our best.”