DENVER -- This is when every penalty becomes more perilous, every goal more glorious and every minute more magnified. Two more victories earn the Stanley Cup.
"Hey, this is what it's all about. This adds years to you," New Jersey forward Scott Gomez said Sunday as the Devils and Colorado Avalanche prepared for Monday night's Game 5. "You talk about nerves and everything, you are going to get it all here."
Through four games, Colorado and New Jersey have delivered everything expected from the league's best teams. Neither has won two straight in a series even at two games apiece, and the Avs are hoping to extend the trend after an uninspired performance in Game 4.
Colorado was outshot 35-12, outhit 38-19 and needed another sterling effort from goalie Patrick Roy to avoid a blowout. By Sunday, the Avalanche were doing their best to induce amnesia.
"You've got to look ahead," defenseman Ray Bourque said. "For us, it's Game 5."
Bourque, whose 22-year Stanley Cup search is half-complete, has hockey sticks older than the 21-year-old Gomez but the two have played big roles in the series.
Gomez, benched briefly after Bourque scored the decisive goal in Game 3, scored the game-tying goal Saturday night when Roy misplayed the puck behind the net.
The Devils will need Gomez's youthful energy even more Monday night because of an injury to top-line center Jason Arnott, who is questionable after being hit in the left temple by a flying puck in the first period Saturday.
Test showed no major damage, but the Devils likely won't know if Arnott can play until the hours leading up to the opening faceoff.
"I don't want to go out there and drop the puck and then have one shift and pack it in," Arnott said. "That is going to leave us one man short. It is one of the biggest games of the year, and I definitely don't want to miss it. I also have to look ahead as well."
Without Arnott for most of the game, linemates Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora scored for the first time in the series to help the Devils avoid a 3-1 series deficit.
New Jersey's next challenge will be avoiding the dropoff that has crippled both teams after each victory.
"I think momentum kind of goes out the door when you are playing in the finals," Devils coach Larry Robinson said. "We are the only two teams and basically it's a no-tomorrow situation. Everybody starts back at square one again."
Robinson, who has won six Stanley Cup titles as a player and two as a coach, sharply criticized his team after losses on Games 1 and 3, but Colorado coach Bob Hartley has taken a different approach in his first finals appearance.
After nearly stealing a victory in Game 4, Hartley accentuated the positive as the series became a best-of-3 battle.
"If someone would have told me before Game 1 that after four games you guys would still have home-ice advantage and you are going to start a best-of-3, I think everyone would have taken this," he said.
If the Avalanche hope to dethrone the defending-champion Devils, they will have to put more pressure on New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, who could have played solitaire for much of Game 4.
Colorado scored its only two goals on breakaway chances and spent most of the game chasing the Devils around their own zone while Roy continued his marvelous playoff run.
"We left Patty alone in there and he stood on his head while we kind of sat on our heels," defenseman Adam Foote said. "I don't know if we were looking ahead or our mind wasn't totally focused on it, but we have to forget about it now."
The Avalanche received good news Sunday when forward Milan Hejduk returned to the ice after being leveled by Bobby Holik with four minutes left Saturday.
Hejduk, whose 22 points are tied with teammate Joe Sakic for the postseason scoring lead, needed stitches to close cuts above his left eye and chin but pronounced himself ready for Game 5.
The Devils may not be so lucky. Already without injured forward Randy McKay (broken hand), they face at least one game without Arnott. At this stage, New Jersey has no time to dwell on its misfortune.
"As you proceed in the series, you always have to be able to take it to another level," Robinson said. "Somebody that comes out of this game is only one win away from a Stanley Cup, so it is important we played our best game."
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