For the month of August, The Puck Daddy over at Yahoo Sports is breaking down “The Essentials” for every NHL franchise and recently touched on the New Jersey Devils. The feature piece includes players, coaches, long-time arena traditions and stadium food. Here at Pucks & Pitchforks, we’ll break down each category and give our take, as well as taking a look at who barely missed the cut. Next up, the category of “Season”:
Our choice for essential Devils season is undoubtedly the 1994-95 campaign. I have to agree with the Puck Daddy article because, personally, it was the first season I could truly remember as a fan and it was the first Stanley Cup championship in the history of the franchise. The victory was even sweeter considering the heartbreak they suffered the year before against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Devils did not have home-ice advantage in any of the four series. They didn’t need it, going 10-1 away from Brendan Byrne Arena in the postseason. They went through the fourth-seeded Boston Bruins. They trampled the third-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. They navigated their way through the second-seeded Philadelphia Flyers. They saved their best for last, as they swept the President Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings to capture the Holy Grail.
Head coach Jacques Lemaire was hired in 1993-94 and implemented a system that brought the Devils from a playoff team to a true championship contender. The 1995 squad paved the way for the franchise to be among the best in the NHL for years to come.
The Devils claimed the Cup in such dominating fashion in 1995, despite being such heavy underdogs. In their quarterfinals series against the Bruins, they won all three games at old Boston Garden, including shutouts in Games 1 and 2 of the series. The tussle also included one of my favorite Devils goals of all-time.
After dropping Game 1 in Pittsburgh in the semifinals, they took care of business by winning four straight. After taking the first two at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Flyers stormed back to take Games 3 and 4 in Jersey. Tied late in Game 5, Claude Lemieux scored a clutch goal with just under a minute to go, steering the Devils to victory that day and then again in Game 6.
Then they won the Cup with the perfect formula: breaking tie games in the third period on the road to take the first two and then dominating in Games 3 and 4 in “The Swamp” to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The team-first attitude instilled by Lemaire has carried over to this day. That team got contributions from everyone. They were deep in every position. They made every right acquisition.
Shawn Chambers was a 28-year old defenseman who was on his third team when he was traded to Jersey from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the spring of 1995. He scored four goals in the team’s 20 playoff games, including a pair in the Cup clincher.
Neal Broten came over in February of that year for Corey Millen. Reinvigorated by his new team, the 35-year old center pumped in 28 points in the final 30 regular season games. He was just as good in the playoffs, netting seven goals and 19 points in 20 contests. Of those seven, he deposited the game-winning tallies in Game 4 of the semifinals, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, as well as Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
The 1994-1995 team had the perfect blend of player personnel. They had trade acquisitions in Broten and Chambers. Long-time Devils like Ken Daneyko, John MacLean and Bruce Driver. Young pups like Scott Niedermayer, Bobby Holik, Brian Rolston and Sergei Brylin. Role players in the form of Tom Chorske, Tommy Albelin, Valeri Zelepukin, Jim Dowd and Bobby Carpenter. Journeymen players like Randy McKay and Mike Peluso. There were clutch players like Lemieux, Stephane Richer, Scott Stevens and Bill Guerin. Of course, behind all of that, was the second-year rock in goaltender Martin Brodeur.
Of the 14 forwards and seven defensemen who played three games or more in that postseason, all of them recorded at least two points. That’s the ultimate symbolization of “Devils Hockey,” making them our most “essential” Devils team.
Best Of The Rest: There are other candidates just as qualified for this honor. The other Cup-winning years in 2000 and 2003 are certainly right up there. The 2005-2006 season will also be a fond memory for me. In the fall of that season, the team struggled adjusting to the post lockout rules so badly that teams were PURPOSELY playing their backup goalies against New Jersey. The 2000-2001 team very likely would have taken this category if they had come up with a victory in either Game 6 or 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Colorado Avalanche. Contrary to their reputation, that team led the league in goals and tied for fifth in goals allowed. You can even throw this past season in there. A year after missing the playoffs, a new coach and a fair amount of new faces; if they had beaten LA, they also would have had a shot to be at the top of this list. While all of these were excellent teams, the 1994-1995 was the essential team because they branded what “Devils Hockey” was all about.
Topics: Bill Guerin, Bobby Carpenter, Bobby Holik, Boston Bruins, Brian Rolston, Bruce Driver, Claude Lemieux, Corey Millen, Detroit Red Wings, Jacques Lemaire, Jim Dowd, John Maclean, Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur, Mike Peluso, Neal Broten, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Randy McKay, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Sergei Brylin, Shawn Chambers, Stanley Cup, Stephane Richer, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tom Chorske, Tommy Albelin, Valeri Zelepukin