John MacLean's goal in the 1988 regular season finale sent the Devils to their first postseason.

Devilsentials Part IV: Goal - John MacLean In The 1988 Season Finale

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 “Goal”:

Our essential goal is John MacLean’s rebound blast at Chicago Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime of the 1988 regular season finale to earn the Devils first trip to the postseason.

It took them seven years, but the Devils were right on the verge of the playoffs.  They needed a win on the season’s final day to clinch their first ever playoff berth.  They went into overtime against the Hawks but could not settle for a tie.  Joe Cirella let a slapper go from the right side that was kicked out by Chicago goaltender Darren Pang but right to the middle of the ice.  MacLean was waiting for the puck at the top of the slot and smoked it by Pang to win the game and send the Devils to the postseason.

While the goal was great, what was even better about it that Devils fans loved?  It knocked the hated New York Rangers out of the playoffs!  [Insert certain whistle and chant here]

It also was the start of shedding the moniker of being a “Mickey Mouse” organization.  These words were once spoken by Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers after a 13-4 beating of the Devils in November of 1983, claiming that they were “ruining hockey”.

On a lighter note, if not for that win, head coach Jim Schoenfeld never would have been able to tell referee Don Koharski to “have another doughnut” after Game 3 of the Wales Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins.

Unfortunately, the Devils went on to lose that series in seven games.  Had they won that series they would have played in the Stanley Cup Finals …where they would have faced…yup…Gretzky’s Oilers!

It also helped paved the way for their first playoff series win, taking down the New York Islanders in six games in Patrick Division semifinals.  In round two, they took down the Washington Capitals in seven games; including Patrik Sundstrom’s eight-point effort in Game 3 (3 goals, 5 assists) that set a new Stanley Cup playoff record.

Best Of The Rest: When “essential Devils goal” comes into question, most will think of Jason Arnott’s Cup-winner in Game 6 of the 2000 Finals.  If the Devils lose Game 6, who knows about Game 7?  They were already 1-2 against the Dallas Stars on home ice prior to the celebration after Arnott’s winner.  Claude Lemieux’s winner in Game 5 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers is up there as well.  It would have been crippling to lose three straight and come back home where the Flyers had just won a pair of games.   Patrik Elias in Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals and completing the comeback of the 3-1 deficit.  All these goals are symbolic of the Devils franchise but MacLean’s score set the Devils on their way for their last 15 years of success.

Thanks for reading.  All feedback is appreciated.

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Tags: Boston Bruins Chicago Blackhawks Claude Lemieux Dallas Stars Darren Pang Don Koharski Edmonton Oilers Jason Arnott Jim Schoenfeld Joe Cirella John Maclean New Jersey Devils New York Islanders New York Rangers Patrik Elias Patrik Sundstrom Philadelphia Flyers Wayne Gretzky

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