New Jersey Devils Most Bizarre And Forgotten Brawl

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - CIRCA 1988: Mike Gartner #11 of the Washington Capitals skates against the New Jersey Devils during an NHL Hockey game circa 1988 at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Gartner's playing career went from 1978-98. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - CIRCA 1988: Mike Gartner #11 of the Washington Capitals skates against the New Jersey Devils during an NHL Hockey game circa 1988 at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Gartner's playing career went from 1978-98. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /
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The New Jersey Devils have been involved in some pretty intense brawls over the years. Most fans nowadays are more likely inclined to recall scrums like the infamous faceoff brawl against the New York Rangers in 2012, or Eastern Conference Finals Game 4 tussle between the same two teams a few months later.

One particularly bizarre instance that seems to have been lost in the shuffle over time occurred in Game 4 of the 1988 Patrick Division Finals against the Washington Capitals (New Jersey’s first playoff appearance since relocating to the Garden State).

Down 3-1 midway through the second period, New Jersey rushed the puck into Washington’s zone. After forward Patrik Sundstrom thwarted a clear attempt from the Capitals defense, he got the puck to Mark Johnson, who in turn fed a pass to John Maclean while he was stationed above the hashmarks. Maclean fired a shot about 15 feet from the net, which struck Capitals’ goaltender Pete Peeters directly in the forehead (you can hear precisely when the puck hits Peeters’ mask), who was knocked unconscious.

When the whistle was blown, Mark Johnson took a shot (hitting the post) off the perceived rebound about 1-2 seconds after Peeters falls, which sparked a nasty scrum between both teams. The Capitals players immediately swarmed Johnson, while his teammates rushed to his defense. The brawl itself didn’t last particularly long and resulted in five roughing penalties—two for New Jersey (John Maclean, Tom Kurvers), three to Washington (Yvon Corriveau, Dale Hunter, Peter Sundstrom).

The description doesn’t do the scrum much justice as the video below does.

Peters was unconscious for roughly 12 minutes before being stretchered off the ice. He suffered a gash on his forehead, along with a “slight concussion.” Fortunately, Peeters recovered quickly from the injuries he sustained and was reportedly on his feet at the hospital by midnight.

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One detail worth noting is how Washington’s trainer was escorted onto the ice by the then-Capitals player, and future New Jersey Devils captain Scott Stevens, who was then escorted back to Washington’s bench by officials to prevent him getting involved in the ongoing melee.

The Capitals won the game 4-1 and tied the series. Not only did the incident involving Peeters happen after a fiery Game 3, during which the New Jersey Devils routed Washington 10-4 and both teams accumulated 62 penalty minutes (an NHL playoff record at the time), but a second Capitals player was also knocked unconscious by a shot later in the game. New Jersey Devils forward Aaron Broten struck Washington defenseman Garry Galley in the temple with a shot during the third period, who also had to be stretchered off the ice. Galley regained consciousness while being moved, but reportedly suffered what a New Jersey Devils trainer described as “retrograde amnesia.”

Fortunately, both players recovered enough to play in Games 6 and 7, after neither appeared in Game 5 (Galley even scored a goal in Game 7). Given today’s protocols and standards the NHL has adopted, it’s unlikely either player would have returned in the series. The New Jersey Devils would go on to defeat Washington and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were defeated by the Boston Bruins.

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To clarify, this piece isn’t meant to glamorize another player’s dangerous injury, but shed light on a bizarre moment in New Jersey Devils history that’s largely gone overlooked. This was merely one of countless on-ice brawls the Devils and Capitals engaged in, who clashed frequently and had somewhat of a tense rivalry between the late-80s and early/mid-90s.

Although the actual brawl itself was fairly brief, it’s the circumstances leading up to the scuffle that make this particular instance worth recalling. Solely due to its unique nature, this Devils/Capitals brawl undoubtedly deserves a prominent spot when ranking New Jersey’s most entertaining and feistiest scrums.