EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After a rocky journey through Hurricanes, Maple Leafs and superstar Penguins, the defending champion New Jersey Devils are right where they expected to be - in the Stanley Cup finals.
Jason Arnott scored twice and the Devils earned the right to compete for their third title since 1995 by defeating Mario Lemieux and his Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 Tuesday night to win the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final in five games.
Bobby Holik and John Madden also scored for the Devils, who will face the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of the finals Saturday in Denver.
"We've been playing much more consistent. Just have to keep playing the same way," Devils captain Scott Stevens said. "They are a great club, Colorado, with great goaltending."
While they had moments of inconsistency throughout the playoffs, the Devils played some of their best hockey in this series in bringing the curtain down on the Penguins storybook season in which Lemieux returned after a 3 1/2 -year retirement.
However, Super Mario and NHL-leading scorer Jaromir Jagr had very little to show in this series, starting with no goals. Jagr, who thinks he will be traded in the offseason because of his $10 million salary, was held scoreless. Lemieux has three assists, but showed his frustration in the final minute by taking a foolish penalty.
"It was a great ride, especially after coming back after 3 1/2 years," Lemieux said. "Obviously, we wanted to get to the finals. We got beat by a great team."
Pittsburgh's Aleksey Morozov and Martin Straka each scored their second goal of the series in Game 5.
The talented Penguins had just seven goals in the series against Martin Brodeur and not many more scoring chances against the Devils' tenacious neutral zone trap.
Pittsburgh actually played one of its better periods in the second period but still fell behind 3-2 as Arnott broke a 1-1 tie on a power play and Holik added another on an odd-man rush.
Arnott's second of the game and seventh of the playoffs came when he one-timed a pass from Petr Sykora past a screened Johan Hedberg at 7:41. Sykora had kept the play alive by stealing the puck from defenseman Andrew Ference, who failed to clear the puck out of his own zone.
Holik stretched the lead to two goals a little less than five minutes later, taking a drop pass from Jay Pandolfo and ripping a shot past Hedberg.
At that point it looked like the Penguins were done.
After Holik took a hooking penalty, Hedberg stopped Madden on a breakaway and Straka scored on a counterattack, putting his own rebound past Brodeur.
Straka was stopped on a rebound in close late in the second period and Lemieux whiffed on a bouncing puck early in the third as the Penguins came close to tying the game.
Madden ended their chances at 3:32 of the third period, breaking in alone on the left wing and scoring one-on-one with Hedberg, who was outstanding in making 19 saves.
After shutting out the Penguins in Games 3 and 4, the Devils looked like they were ready to bury them in the opening minutes of Game 5, when Arnott scored 57 seconds after the opening faceoff.
A crushing check by Patrik Elias on Darius Kasparaitis allowed Brian Rafalski to get the puck along the right sideboards. The leading scorer among defensemen in the playoffs found Arnott in the circle and he ripped a slapshot past Hedberg.
It took the Penguins almost 16 minutes to get their first shot, a bad-angle attempt by Jagr from the right corner.
About 40 seconds after that, they had a goal.
With Sykora being whistled for a delayed penalty, defenseman Ian Moran took a pass from Jan Hrdina, lifted a pass over Rafalski's stick to Morozov all alone down low. Morozov's goal snapped Brodeur's shutout streak at 151 minutes, 19 seconds.
Pittsburgh was 3-1 playing on two days' rest coming into Game 5. ... New Jersey had lost three straight Game 5s - all at home - dating to last year's finals. ... Rafalski added an assist, pushing his league-leading point total for defensemen to 15 (seven goals, eight assists). ... Kevin Stevens (knee, flu) and Robert Lang (muscle strain) were scratched from the Penguins' lineup.
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