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On This Date in Sports May 23, 2003: Freisen to Believe

The New Jersey Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in four seasons, beating the Ottawa Senators in seven games. The Devils, who needed to win Game 7 in Ottawa after leading the series 3-1, won the game 3-2 on a goal by Jeff Friesen with 2:14 left. The Devils would go on to win their third Stanley Cup championship.

Since the start of the millennium, the New Jersey Devils have been the unquestioned rulers of the Eastern Conference, despite a revolving door of coaches. In 2000, they won the Stanley Cup for the second time as Larry Robinson took over for Robbie Ftorek late in the season. Under Robinson, they lost the Stanley Cup in seven games to the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. After a first-round exit in 2002 as Kevin Constantine replaced Larry Robinson midseason. The Devils entered the 2002/03 season with Pat Burns behind the bench. Under Burns, the Devils won the Atlantic and had the second-best record in the East at 46-20-10-3, while Martin Brodeur won his first Vezina Trophy.

Meanwhile, in their 11th season, the Ottawa Senators won the President’s Trophy with the best record in the NHL at 52-21-8-1 with coach Jacques Martin. The Senators cruised to the Eastern Conference Finals, beating the New York Islanders in five games. In the second round, they needed six games to eliminate the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils meanwhile cruised to the Conference Finals, beating the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning in six.

The Eastern Conference Finals began with an overtime battle at the Corel Centre. The Senators got goals from Chris Neil and Todd White in the first period. In the second period, the Devils answered with goals by Joe Nieuwendyk and Jay Pandolfo. In overtime, Ottawa would get the game-winner on a goal by Shaun Van Allen. Game 2 would be all New Jersey, as they evened the series with a 4-1 win, with goals by Tommy Albelin, Jeff Friesen, John Madden, and Pandolfo, while Radek Bonk scored the lone goal for the Senators.

As the series shifted to the Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands, the Devils used their formula to take control of the series. Sergei Brylin scored in the first period, while Martin Brodeur facing just 24 shots, earned the 1-0 shutout. The Devils got a first-period tally from Grant Marshall in Game 1 but trailed 2-1 in the second period on goals by Karel Rachunek and Vaclav Varada. The Devils would then light the ice on fire and score four unanswered goals to win 5-2 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The goal scorers were Jay Pandolfo, Friesen, Patrik Elias, and John Madden.

Looking to close out the series in Ottawa, the Devils came out flat in Game 5 as the Senators stayed alive with a 3-1 win, with goals by Todd White, Martin Havlat, and Jason Spezza, while Captain Scott Stevens scored for the Devils. Back at the Meadowlands, Game 6 would turn into a battle of the goalies as Patrick Lalime and Martin Brodeur was both at the top of their game, with the score tied 1-1 in overtime, with Bonk scoring for Ottawa and Nieuwendyk for New Jersey. In overtime, the Senators would win the game on a Chris Phillips to send the series back to Ottawa for the decisive seventh game.

Magnus Arvedson gave Ottawa an early 1-0 lead in Game 7, but the Devils took the lead with a pair of goals by Jamie Langenbrunner in the second period. Radek Bonk tied the game early in the third period. With overtime looming, the Devils got a perfect pass from Grant Marshall to Jeff Friesen, who beat Partick Lalime with 2:14 left to win the game and the series.

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The Devils would beat the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in another hard fourth seven-game series to win the Stanley Cup. On the way to winning the Stanley Cup, the Devils recorded a 12-1 record on their home ice at the Meadowlands, the best in NHL history.