EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The New Jersey Devils already had plenty of incentive to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. Missing Scott Niedermayer just gave them more.
Playing again without their injured defenseman, the defending Stanley Cup champions fought off an early deficit to beat the Maple Leafs 5-1 Wednesday night, completing another playoff comeback in the seventh game.
The Devils won the final two games of the series to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in seven years. Last year, New Jersey turned a 3-1 series deficit around to beat Philadelphia and move on to the Stanley Cup finals.
"We have a lot of pride playing for this organization," said Patrik Elias, who scored twice during New Jersey's four-goal second period. "We never give up. It looks like every time we have our backs to the wall we pick our game up and play our best games."
Niedermayer, knocked out of this series by Tie Domi's vicious elbow to his face at the end of Game 4, was scratched just before game time due to post-concussion headaches.
Although it's tough to replace Niedermayer, an All-Star, and injured forward Sergei Brylin, Devils coach Larry Robinson was confident in his team.
"I wasn't that concerned only because of that game in Toronto," coach Larry Robinson said of the Devils' 4-2 victory in Game 6. "Anytime you put a Niedermayer or Brylin in there you are always going to be better -- but I have a lot of confidence in all of my players."
Niedermayer's talented teammates rallied around him to eliminate the Maple Leafs for the second straight season.
"There is no better way to get back at a team that tried to stir it up," New Jersey forward Bobby Holik said. "This is the most fun you have as a hockey player, winning in the playoffs."
In the only other game, Colorado finally eliminated the pesky Los Angeles Kings 5-1 in Game 7 to advance to the Western Conference finals against the well-rested St. Louis Blues.
St. Louis, which will play in Colorado on Saturday, swept Dallas and has not played since May 3.
New Jersey captain Scott Stevens had a goal and an assist in the decisive second period, and Sergei Nemchinov and John Madden added goals to seal the win.
Steve Thomas scored a power-play goal in the first period to give the Maple Leafs the early lead.
"After the first period, I thought we had a great chance," said Maple Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph. "We played a great first period and I really thought we were going to do it. Unfortunately in the second, they snatched it away from us."
New Jersey managed to keep its composure and attack Toronto with its sticks instead of physically. Emotional, retaliatory penalties got the Devils in trouble in their Game 5 loss that put them in a 3-2 series hole.
"The only way to get back at them was to not go gunning after their heads," said Randy McKay, who assisted on Stevens' goal. "We took a couple of dumb penalties in Game 5. We let it affect us."
The Devils made sure that they would give Niedermayer another chance to play in these playoffs. He has gradually improved from last Thursday's hit, and hopes to be ready to return Saturday night when the conference finals open in New Jersey against either Pittsburgh or Buffalo.
"I am getting better, and I'm going to get a chance to play again real soon," said Niedermayer, who shook hands with Domi in a hallway after Wednesday's game. "I feel good when I'm skating. The trick is to make sure I'm recovered so a regular body check doesn't give you a concussion."
The opponent for the top-seeded Devils will be determined Thursday night when the Penguins play Game 7 in Buffalo.
The seventh-seeded Maple Leafs return home without a Stanley Cup for the 34th consecutive season.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.