- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On Tuesday afternoon, Devils coach Pat Burns talked about how mistakes often decide tight, hard-fought playoff games.
"It's not PlayStation," Burns said. "You wish it was, but it's not. If nobody made a mistake, we'd be playing all night."
A day later, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final against the Senators, Burns watched an overtime mistake cost his team the game -- and maybe a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
"A miscommunication between two defensemen and the puck is in the net," Burns said. "That's what the game is about."
In fact, because both D-men play the left side, they are almost never on the ice at the same time. In this case, they were thrown together because of roughing penalties to White and Senators center Shaun Van Allen. That created a 4-on-4 situation for two minutes. When those penalties expired, White rejoined the play on the fly, settling in with Stevens, who was already on the ice.
Still, the winning goal -- poked in the net by Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips -- was more the result of a mistake by White than a miscommunication between the two men.
"It's my fault," said White, who showed his character by facing the tough questions after the game. "I shouldn't have gone to that side of the ice."
The Senators' season-saving play started with dangerous right wing Marian Hossa -- the best player on the ice during Game 6 -- speeding down the wing against Stevens. Hossa drove hard toward the net (to the left of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur). He got a step on Stevens, but still didn't have a play to the goal.
Stevens had successfully angled the speedy Hossa to the corner. At that point, White fired into the corner, looking to put a big hit on Hossa. In doing so, he took himself out of position.
"A second after I did it, I was saying to myself, 'Oh God, why did I do that?'" White said. "I would love to have that last shift over, but I can't."
With both defensemen behind the net, Hossa shoveled the puck to left wing Vaclav Varada, who was left unguarded right in front of Brodeur. Varada couldn't get the puck past Brodeur so a pinching Phillips outraced Devils right wing Turner Stevenson, poking the loose puck into the net and forcing a decisive Game 7 on Friday night in Ottawa.
"As the play unfolded, everything just opened up for me," Phillips said. "I saw the puck sitting there and I was able to get a whack at it. I didn't even know it went in until the guys started celebrating."
There was no celebrating for White. Just regret.
"In a split second, I made the wrong decision," White said. "The guy was driving wide, but Scotty had him. I'll take the blame."
Stevens, stung by the sudden defeat, kept his answers short after the game.
"I doesn't matter who you're on the ice with," Stevens said. "We all know how to play defense."
Now, after squandering a 3-1 series lead, the Devils get one more chance to advance to the final round. In the last two games, they've been a bit too generous to their talented opponent, who has decided to stand up and fight rather than roll over and die.
On Friday night in Game 7, a mistake likely will decide the series. After all, like Burns said, this isn't PlayStation. If it was, they still might be playing Game 6.
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance