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 “Game”:
Our essential game is Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. While there are many choices for this category, this one hits close to home.
I was lucky enough to be at Game 7. It was my third chance to see them win the Cup live and in-person. I was at the amazing Game 5 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, when Martin Brodeur and Ed Belfour made brilliant save after brilliant save, but Jersey lost in 3OT when Mike Modano scored on a tip-in. Considering they won the championship the game after, that one didn’t sting as much as the next game I will mention. I was in the stands for Game 6 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals. Up 3-2 in the series with a chance to win back-to-back Cups, the Devils got steamrolled by the Colorado Avalanche in that game before falling again in Game 7. So Game 7 in 2003 was my third crack at watching them hoist the Cup.
A sophomore in high school, my Dad and I headed up the NJ Turnpike right after school ended. We parked in the parking lot right in front of Continental Airlines Arena. The reason we got such a great spot was because we had a temporary handicapped tag. I had sprained my ankle pretty badly a few days before Game 7 (thanks a lot @MazzESPN), so we got to park at the head of the class. I was beyond nervous for the game. All I could think about was them losing an elimination game…THE elimination game on home ice. I crutched myself up the old Meadowlands staircases and got to see history. It was amazing.
Beyond just the personal meaning, there are other reasons that Game 7 of ’03 is P&P’s essential Devils game. One, it is the most important game played in team history. It was a do-or-die game for everything. You can make cases for other do-or-die games like in ’01 against Colorado, ’94 against the New York Rangers or even a round earlier from the game we have nominated; Game 7 at Ottawa. If you lose in a Conference Finals win-or-go home game, you live with the results because who knows how they would have fared in the Cup Finals. And in ’01, Colorado was the best team in the league and the game was in Denver. It would have been devastating to lose a game of that magnitude on Meadowlands ice. Who knows what would have happened in the aftermath of that game?
One of the other important reasons this game is essential is that it put a stamp on the Devils legacy. Were they a dynasty? That is certainly up for debate. Clinching that third Cup in nine years ensured their legacy as the most dominant team in the league during that timeframe.
How did they stamp their dynasty? They did it with a classic Devils victory by a 3-0 score. They played stifling defense, Brodeur stopped everything and they got clutch goals…everything that signifies Devils Hockey.
Best Of The Rest: This is the one category I don’t think has a definitive answer in my mind. There are other games that are just as essential. Everyone will always remember completing the memorable comeback against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2003 was quite memorable as well. Needing the third opportunity to close it out after a bad overtime goal in Game 6 at the Meadowlands (another game I attended). Falling behind 1-0 in Game 7…coughing up a 2-1 lead on a Jeff Friesen turnover…and then to have Friesen net the winner to send them to the Finals was riveting. The game included in the Puck Daddy article is also right up there; 2000 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 6 vs. Toronto, another game I was lucky to be at. They held the Leafs to six shots in a playoff elimination game. Those are all essential games, but Game 7 of 2003 stamped them as an elite NHL franchise.
Topics: Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, Continental Airlines Arena, Eastern Conference, Ed Belfour, Jeff Friesen, Martin Brodeur, Mike Modano, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Stanley Cup Finals, Toronto Maple Leafs