Top 10 New Jersey Devils Moments of the Decade: Part 3, Numbers 5-1

 

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It's been an eventful decade here in the Garden State when it comes to hockey.  Two Stanley Cups, three Prince of Wales trophies, five Atlantic Division titles, seven 100-point seasons.  Oh, and the Devils' goalie cemented his name in the conversations of "Greatest to ever play the game".  Over the next week, I will countdown the 10 best moments since 2000.  The countdown wraps up today, with numbers five through one.

(NOTE: Before reading this, check out SI.com's Top Franchises of the Decade list, which includes Jersey's Team.)

A moment to reflect before we go on.  This has been a difficult and all-encompassing task, writing these little essays on everyone here's favorite hockey team, yet, it has been equally enthralling and ultimately joyous experience.  A good cleaning out of the ol' memory banks is just what you need this time of year.  I'm sure Fischer will say it later to all of you, but I wish you a merry Christmas, happy New Year, and another decade of memories for us to overanalyze, discuss, and pass the time with.  It'll be another wonderful ride.  On with the countdown...

5. Grant Marshall Scores Double Overtime Winner in Game 5 as the Devils Defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (May 2, 2003)

Little was thought of the Devils acquisition of Grant Marshall at the trade deadline of the 2002-03 season.  A gritty, checking forward who'd never scored more than 15 goals in a season (He was 8-20-28 with the Blue Jackets when the trade occurred), Marshall was meant to give the Devils some added grit at the wings, and most of fill another role in the Devil lineup with Stanley Cup-winning experience (Marshall won with the Dallas Stars in 1998-99) 

Instead, they got much more.  Though he only tallied once in the remaining 10 games of the regular season, Marshall scored six times for Jersey in the ensuing postseason, tied for third on the team, and set up Jeff Friesen's game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to send the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final, but it wasn't a pass that has etched the name and image of Grant Marshall into the hearts and minds of Devil fans forever.

After manhandling the Boston Bruins in five games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, the Devils were set for an intriguing Tampa Bay Lightning team.  Mostly a young group, but captained by former Devil and the still in search of a championship Dave Andreychuk, the Lightning were considered somewhat of a surprise to even be there.  They won the still disrespected Southeast Division by one point over Washington with 93, and drew the Jaromir Jagr-led Caps in Round One.  After losing the first two games at home, Tampa rattled off four straight over D.C., including an epic triple-OT Game 6 that sent the Bolts off to New Jersey.

The Devils had little trouble with the Lightning in Game 1, as Jamie Langenbrunner, John Madden and Turner Stevenson cashed in, and Marty Brodeur only needed to stop 15 pucks to get his third shutout of the postseason, 3-0.  In Game 2, the Lightning attempted to assert themselves as a threat, leading for a while until a 3rd period goal by Brian Rafalski tied the game and sent it to OT.  Langenbrunner continued the insane playoff year he was having, winning the game at 2:09 of the fourth period, and the series shifted to Tampa, where an interesting Devils subplot would develop that would carry into the next season.

This series is more understatedly known for being something of the beginning of the end for legendary Devils defenseman Scott Stevens.  Game 3 saw Stevens get hit with a Pavel Kubina slapshot in the head, causing him to leave the game, which the Devils lost 4-3.  Stevens would come back and score in Game 4, on the road to a 3-1 Devils win, but post-concussion syndrome stemming back to that moment would cause Stevens to miss most of the 2003-04 season, and eventually cause him to retire.

Anyway, the Devils had a 3-1 lead in the series and were headed back to the Meadowlands for Game 5.  Tampa scored first on a goal by Nikita Alexeev mid-way through the first.  A mere couple of minutes later, however, New Jersey and Scott Niedermayer cashed in on the power play to tie the game.  And then we waited... and waited... and waited... and waited... and waited some more.  An Overtime, another Overtime, and then half of a third Overtime.  Something, to use a cliche, had to give.

After a long scramble in front of Brodeur, the Devils rushed ahead in a 3-on-2.  The Patrik Elias shot that came from it went wide, and the puck sent to the point, where Colin White passed it across to Niedermayer.  Niedermayer flung a shot toward the net in hopes of a rebound.  He got one, or Grant Marshall got one more specifically.  Out of the scrum in front, Marshall found the puck and put it past Nikolai Khabibulin to win the game and the series, and put the Devils halfway there.  What did we send to the Blue Jackets in return for all this? A conditional draft pick, that turned out to be a fourth rounder, that Columbus traded to Calgary for a guy who never played.  Sometimes Lou just makes you marvel at what he can accomplish.
4. Martin Brodeur Breaks NHL All-Time Regular Season Wins Record, and Patrik Elias Breaks the Devils All-Time Scoring Record, on the Same Night Against the Chicago Blackhawks (March 17, 2008)

Incidentally, one of the only two moments on this list that I attended in person, (Though I sure hope one of you has all of them checked off, even that draft!) and boy is it weird that when I describe all the Stanley Cups, all the great goals and overtime winners and amazing players... this is the one I'll always say I felt most connected to.  Because it's so fresh, you all know the story (the injury, the return, the whole chase in general) of Marty Brodeur's run to the record, as well as Patty's chase of his own marks, so let me instead tell you my story of that fantastic day.

"We have to go to this game", I told my friend Jim on the Sunday morning after Marty had tied the record.  "We'll kill ourselves for not doing it".  The Devils were playing the Blackhawks that Tuesday, and we were off on Spring Break (just letting you in on a little insight into how riveting our social lives are, that spending the day waiting for hockey tickets was the highlight) so it was decided that this is something that needed to be done.

We planned out the trip pretty meticulously.  We would park in Harrsion by the PATH station at one of the secret spots uncovered by the meters, and then take the PATH into Newark, go through Gateway Center, and be waiting in line by around 11-11:30 AM.  Everything went pretty smoothly and according to plan, so we were about 10th in waiting for the tickets to be released at 5-5:30 PM.

Time passed.  Reporters came and went, asking for our opinions on Marty and the record and on Devils fandom in general.  We took shifts getting lunch, or maybe we'd had some ordered already.  We took turns taking a walk around the beautiful new building and to the Gateway Center, which has a great sporting apparel store inside that sells the only Johnny Oduya t-shirts known to man.  

Devils play-by-play man and all around good guy Mike "Doc" Emrick came at some point during the day with coffee from Dunkin Donuts and popcorn from inside the Gateway Center that many of us shared.  There was as big a line as I'd seen for the storied $10 ticket line, maybe even longer than for the first game and some of the Ranger games.  By the time 5:00 rolled around, they let us in and we got our seats in the top row.

The game is almost a blur to me now, but an amazing blur.  It's filled with chants of "Marty!  Marty!" and "Pat-rick Elias!" and for some reason, the ol' "Marty's Better" chant.  Better than who?  Patrick Roy?  Whoever was tending goal for the Hawks that night?  We'll never know.  I still maintain that it's the best memory the young Prudential Center has, and the loudest it's ever been.  It was a celebration of all things Devils, from Marty hilariously cutting down the nets, to Elias' appearance during the three stars, doffing a plastic green, St. Patrick's Day hat.  It was an atypical night for us.  The celebration of something individuals had accomplished, yet we all seemed no less united behind one team.

3. Devils Win Game Seven of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final Over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (June 9, 2003)

I'll gladly take the heat for this not being #2 or #1 with what moments occupy those spots.  It's only lower because, honestly, we never should've been here in the first place.

The New Jersey Devils were an overwhelming favorite headed into the 2003 Stanley Cup Final.  They were coming off a high of winning a well-fought series over the Ottawa Senators, and had an opponent with enough time off from their Western Conference Final to have their goaltender appear on The Tonight Show.  It was also a familiar role the Devils had played in their history of success: the spoiler to the great, media hyped story.  The 2001 East Final with Lemieux's comeback, the 2001 Stanley Cup Final with Bourque's attempt to win the Cup.  Denying Dave Andreychuk another shot in Round 2 vs. Tampa.  This time, it wasn't who hadn't won it yet (Though Steve Thomas and Adam Oates had waited) but merely who was standing in the way.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks took the hockey world by storm in the spring of 2003.  A seventh seed out of the Pacific Division, the Ducks started their playoffs by shocking the defending champion Detroit Red Wings, sweeping them out of the postseason in four games.  The formula seemed shockingly familiar:  a firey coach, good defense, tight checking, and an insanely hot goalie in Jean-Sebastian Giguere.  It revived Will Smith's residuals for "Getting Jiggy with It" for one fateful spring.

The Mighty Ducks continued their Hollywood story with a six game defeat of the top seed in the conference, the Dallas Stars.  Anaheim took momentum from a five-overtime thriller in Game 1, and another OT in Game 2 to carry the momentum of the series.  The Ducks advanced to the Conference Final for the first time, where fellow final for neophytes the Minnesota Wild were ready and waiting to be swept.  Anaheim was in the Final for the first time, and had lost only twice to do it.

Aside from the Senators series to make it to Round 4, the Devils had relative ease in the first two rounds, and were here considered an overwhelming favorite to end the Ducks season quickly.  That theory seemed written in Walk of Fame-style cement after the Devils posted back-to-back 3-0 shutouts in Games 1 & 2 at the Meadowlands, sending the Ducks home with as many defeats in the last few nights as they'd had in the entire playoff run, and two more losses from extinction.  But the team based on a movie still had a few more Hollywood style twists up its' sleeves. 

The Ducks took a 1-0 lead in the second period of Game 3 on a Marc Chouinard goal, but a bad line change by Anaheim late in the frame left Patrik Elias wide open on a break-in to tie it up.  Then, I fell on my head and went unconscious or something (or our goalie dropped his stick) and the Mighty Ducks took a 2-1 lead less than a minute later. The Devils got it back and tied it again in the 3rd with Scott Gomez causing traffic off a Grant Marshall shot, and it'd be Overtime again.

Seven minutes into the extra session, the Ducks found the winner.  The faceoff was won right to defenseman Ruslan (One Horse Open) Salei, who ripped a wicked wrister by Martin Brodeur to win the game by a score of 3-2.  An even tighter Game 4 was won in OT by former Devil Steve Thomas, who had waited 19 years to get to the finals, and the series was a best-of-three, with two of them being held in The Swamp.

Game 5 would be the wildest finals game the Devils have played out of the 24 that have happened in their history.  The Ducks took the lead on a Petr Sykora goal at 41 seconds of the first.  Pascal Reahume tipped a Turner Stevenson shot to tie it three minutes later, and we were off and running.  Elias cashed in on a fantastic pass from Brian Rafalski to make it 2-1, Steve Rucchin broke through the Devil defense to tie it at 2, all before the first horn sounded to end the opening period.

With things back even, the Devils seemed poised to grab it by the horns.  Brian Gionta centered to John Madden who willed it by Giguere to give the Devils a 3-2 lead.  The Ducks weren't quite done yet, with Sammy Pahlsson tying it at 3-3 only three minutes later.  Then, a puck went off Jay Pandolfo's skate and in the net.  It was reviewed seemingly forever, but the goal counted, and New Jersey never looked back.  Jamie Langenbrunner hit paydirt twice in the third to give the Devs a 6-3 win, and a 3-2 series lead.

The Devils failed on the road again, however, in Game 6, with Anaheim dominating, and getting a huge lift from Paul Kariya coming back from a seemingly paralyzing hit from Scott Stevens in the same game.  He came back and beat Brodeur on one of the most thrilling plays in hockey history, but for the Devils, it meant another 3-2 series lead squandered, and a Game 7 for the second straight time in the finals for Jersey, but this time, it'd be on New Jersey ice.

Enter Mike Rupp, someone who hadn't face the awful defeat to the Colorado Avalanche two Junes ago.  In fact, he'd never even played a Stanley Cup Playoff game before earlier in the series.  Spending the 02-03 season between Albany and Jersey, he'd gotten into 26 games, with eight points.  But here he was, in the Stanley Cup Final, and scoring the first goal in Game 7 to give the Devils a 1-0 lead.  It'd be all they'd need, but lets not forget Jeff Friesen's two goals, to cap off an incredible playoff year.  His celebration after the third Devil goal is one of pure hockey joy.

Rupp wasn't the only lineup change for Game 7.  20-year Devil veteran Ken Daneyko was given his first chance to play in the series by head coach Pat Burns.  Before the 2003 playoffs, he'd never missed a Devils postseason game in franchise history.  Burns was looking for any sort of lift he could get, and figured Daneyko would get the crowd into it emotionally.  He would take the final shift of his NHL career as the last seconds ticked down on a third 3-0 victory for Brodeur and the Devils, to win their third Stanley Cup.  It is perhaps the sentimental favorite of the three Cups for this reason, but not the best moment of our decade.

2. Devils Comeback From 3-1 Down to Defeat Philadelphia Flyers in 2000 Eastern Conference Final (May 26, 2000)

The Devils road to the Eastern Conference Final in 2000 was far from difficult.  Though Toronto had been pesky and won Game 1 of their Semifinal series, the Devils would come to the point of almost chokeholding them by the time their Game 6 series clincher happened.  The Devils had also swept the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.  All this was pretty impressive for a team with a coach who had been installed with seven games left in the season in Larry Robinson.

The Flyers path had not been that difficult either, defeating the Buffalo Sabres in five games and the Pittsburgh Penguins in six, though one of them lasted five OT's.  Still, these were considered the cream of the crop in the East.  Two fierce rivals, half-by location, half-by intensity of play, set to duke it out for the right to play for the Stanley Cup for the second time, first since the Devils six-game win over Philly in '95.

It looked a little too good to be true for the Devils from the start.  Scott Niedermayer scored 55 seconds in, and Bobby Holik and Petr Sykora combined to score within 26 seconds of one another late in the same period, and the Devils went on to win 4-1 in Philly to boot.  The Devils had a 3-1 lead with five minutes to go in Game 2 as well.  They were 25 minutes away from a 2-0 series lead headed back to Jersey.  Then, well, things kind of went to hell.

The Flyers scored three unanswered goals to win Game 2, 4-3.  Everything's fine, right?  The Flyers controlled the Devils in Game 3 at home and won Game 3, 4-2.  We've still got one more at home, boys!  The Flyers were even better in Game 4 and beat New Jersey at it's own game, winning 3-1, and leading the series by the same score, with Game 5 in Philly.  Ruh-roh.

Larry Robinson sensed the same thing, and after Game 4, went on a tirade behind closed doors in the Devils locker room that remains legendary to this day.  The Devils, almost stunned as Robinson had been played off as a sort of "good cop" in comparison to former coach Robbie Ftorek, responded to the garbage can kicking outburst, thoroughly dominating Game 5 and winning 4-1.  The Flyers sensed a renewed Devils sense of purpose, and felt they needed an extra boost.  How's Eric Lindros returning from injury for a boost?

Though Lindros scored in Game 6, Alexander Mogilny got the winning goal in a classic, 2-1 Devils victory.  It would set the stage for one more epic battle between New Jersey and Philadelphia to decide who goes on to the Stanley Cup.  With Lindros at their disposal and the home crowd behind them, the Flyers figured to be the favorite.  Scott Stevens took care of both.  After Patrik Elias scored to make it 1-0, Lindros made a rush through the middle of the ice, head down.  You don't do that with #4 on the ice, or you'll end up part of it.  That's what happened.  Lindros went down, never returned, and was never the same player again.  The crowd was stunned.

They gained their mojo back for a while when the Flyers tied the game in the second.  The game was immensely tight from their, neither team wanting to make a mistake.  Stuck on the ice at the end of a shift, Patrik Elias was left all alone in front of the Philly net with two minutes left to rebound a Jason Arnott shot into the net to give the Devils a 2-1 lead with a couple minutes to go.  A lead they would not relinquish, the end to a thrilling comeback, and a series that set the Flyers back a few years.  Boy, was it sweet, it didn't seem like there was anything better than that.  Until...

1. Jason Arnott Wins the Devils 2nd Stanley Cup in Double-Overtime of Game 6, 2000 Stanley Cup Final (June 10, 2000)

Let the moment speak for itself, there are no words I can write that'll do it justice:


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