EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) â€” For more than five periods, the New Jersey Devils were on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup. It was there for the taking.
Shot after shot they sent at Dallas Stars goaltender Ed Belfour. With each one the antipication grew, both on the bench and in the stands, that the next would be the one that won the NHL's most coveted trophy.
At 1:13 a.m. today, however, the defending champion Stars cancelled the party and put a little uncertainly back into the Cup picture, defeating the Devils 1-0 on a goal by Mike Modano at 6:21 of the third overtime.
``It is a once in a lifetime deal when you are playing this long in the playoffs and in an elimination game and you are able to see another day,'' Modano said after his first goal in this series and 10th of the playoffs. ``There is some major joy here.''
The win in the longest scoreless overtime game in a Cup finals cut the Devils' lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-2. Game 6 will be Saturday night at Reunion Arena in Dallas. If a deciding game is necessary, it will be played here Monday night.
As in the past few games, the Devils had the better of the chances. But they couldn't beat Belfour, who stopped 48 shots in recording his fourth shutout of these playoffs.
Bobby Holik had eight shots, and at least four of them could have been goals.
``We should be disappointed,'' Devils coach Larry Robinson said. ``You know, it could have been over, but there is nothing you can do about it. We now have to go back there and win a game.''
Whether the Devils can do that after such a tough loss remains to be seen. Losses like this can be very deflating.
After Philadelphia beat Pittsburgh in five overtimes earlier in the playoffs, the Penguins had nothing left and the Flyers won the next two games and the series.
``Both teams played the same amount of time,'' Holik said. ``It might be easier for them to recover â€” they won â€” but at the same time, this team has character. If we didn't have character, we wouldn't be here. We'll bounce back.''
The Stars also showed a lot of character bouncing back after falling behind 3-1 in the series with consecutive losses at home.
Belfour was spectacular in outdueling Brodeur in a classic goaltender matchup. Modano and Brett Hull came up with the biggest play to keep alive the Stars' chances of winning a second straight Cup.
``There's not much you can say,'' Stars veteran Guy Carbonneau said. ``We knew the situaton tonight. We had to play a good game tonight. For us this was Game 7. Now we are going back and it's still going to be Game 7. We have to play it the same way.''
The winner was somewhat of a broken play. Noticing that Modano was heading toward the net, Hull tried to pass the puck to him. It hit off defenseman Scott Stevens' skate and went right back to Hull. So he made the pass again from along the right wing boards and Modano tipped it home.
In a split second, Brodeur's head slumped, shoulders sagged on the Devils bench and the crowd at the Continental Airlines Arena grew silent, stunned as the Stars poured off the bench to celebrate.
``Eddie and Marty, to be honest, I don't think I've seen anything better since I've been in the league,'' Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. ``I thought we would have to take a timeout and probably finish next week. I didn't think anyone would score.''
The Devils had chances galore against Belfour, but ``Eddie The Eagle'' made close-in stops against Sergei Brylin and Holik, stopped break-ins by Alexander Mogilny and Patrik Elias and also got lucky when one of Holik's chances glanced off the goalpost.
``This is the best game I played since I made 75 saves as a kid,'' Belfour said.
The performance also had to bring back some memories for the Devils. Just a couple of weeks ago, they were the team that trailed Philadelphia 3-1 in the conference finals, a deficit no team had overcome that late in the playoffs.
However, New Jersey won Game 5 on the road and went on to win the series, with Brodeur giving up just one goal in each of the last three games.
``They're so high now, they've got hope and we've got to regroup,'' Brodeur said.
``We can't hold our heads down,'' Stevens added. ``Both teams, it was a 50-50 chance of winning and we didn't. We have to go with the next game.''