There has been a lot of recent talk of Devils' playoff draws and how luck figures into it. Looking at how the Devils drew the Flyers in the 1st Round and figuring what might have been if they had not still persists in many of our minds. So, I decided to take a look at the history of the Devils' playoff opponents in Round 1. The stats I will use to break this down are:
A) A points comparison
B) A comparison of GF/ GA differential
C) A look at what the 2 teams record was in their last 15 regular season games.
D) Season series
If there are any other stats you feel would shed important light, please feel free to comment. Some of this will also be anecdotal evidence from me as a fan, while not statistical, should hopefully add to the insight.
1988 - 1 Patrick - NY Islanders v. 4 Patrick NJ Devils- Devils won 4 - 2
A) 6 points - the Islanders weren't that much better than the Devils' standing-wise.
B) NYI: +41, NJ: - 1 - Now here is where I think Sean Burke made a BIG difference to that team. He got a shutout in Game 3 to see the Devils take a surprising 2 -1 series' lead. It the last game, when the Devils' went up 6-1, the Islanders came back to pull within 6-5 and outshot the team badly. Burke led the team through the onslaught, including a point-blank save in the last second of Game 6.
C) NYI: 8-6-1, NJ: 10-4-1 - This Devils' team, like the Flyers' today got in on the last game of the year. They were just hot as hell down the stretch and that Johnny MacLean OT goal in Chicago was similar to the 2010 Flyers' shootout win vs. the Rangers.
D) : Islanders 4 - 3
Verdict: Matchups didn't matter this year. This Devils team would have taken down ANY of their Patrick Division rivals this year, with the roll they were on.
1990 - 2 Patrick - NJ Devils v. 3 Patrick Washington Capitals - Caps won 4 - 2
A) 5 points - the Devils and Caps weren't that much different in the standings, though the Caps were more talented than their record indicated. They fired Bryan Murray and replaced him with brother Terry in the middle of the year.
B) NJ: +7, WSH: +9 - Washington was a little better here, but still insignificant.
C) NJ: 10-4-1, WSH: 7-6-2 - Now here is the surprise. But what older Devil fans might remember is that 30-goal scorer Sylvain Turgeon and 16 goal scorer, Mark Johnson (in his last year in the NHL) were suffering through injuries. Turgeon returned early to Game 6, but to no avail. That had a big impact on this series result. This was John Druce's year as he would come out of nowhere and score 14 goals in 15 games as the Caps made it to the CF. This was a double swing momentum at this time and the only thing that I can use to explain this, is what Turgeon meant to this team as a leader, depth-wise and psychologically. His injury didn't seem to affect them down the stretch, but I do remember a Ledger article all about Turgeon when he was returning for Game 6 entitled, "Devils turn to Turgeon." Sylvain would never be the same player again. He was dealt to Montreal for a steal (Mr. Claude Lemieux).
D) Capitals 4 - 3
Verdict: this team was pretty hot, but ran into a team that just got hotter. Every game of this series was decided by one goal, except for Game 4 which was a 3 - 1 Cap's victory and there were many posts and bad calls that really turned this series around. This Caps video from Round 2 may make you puke, but being that it was against the Rangers - the crappy music will do just fine.
1991- 1 Patrick - Pittsburgh Penguins v. 4 Patrick - NJ Devils - Pens won 4-3
A) 9 points - the biggest difference so far
B) Pitt: +37, NJ: +8 - This Penguins team was lethal - scoring the most goals in the NHL that season at 342
C) Pitt: 9-4-2, NJ: 5-6-4, the Penguins were rolling and the Devils were stumbling down the stretch. In their last 6, the Devils tied 3 games in a row, won once and lost twice to end the year.
D) Devils 4 - 2- 1 - This Devils team matched up well against the Penguins during the regular season and the playoffs.
This was the most difficult matchup for the Devils on paper so far, but I still feel like this team could have won the Stanley Cup. The Devils had C. Lemieux, Muller and Shanahan and for the latter two, this would be their last year in Devil uniforms. You know the story - the Devils won Game 1, and then Game 5 in Pittsburgh to go up 3 games to 2. They seemingly tied up Game 6, the infamous Boschman no-goal that I parodied on youtube. You can watch the highlights from that game here. I do think the Devils would have gotten by the Capitals. They maybe would have fallen to the Bruins, but with the underdog NorthStars in the final that year; I really think this team could have done something. But fate is important, and if they had gone far, perhaps Muller stays and Shanahan doesn't sign with St. Louis and the Devils don't get Scott Stevens as compensation.
Verdict: this was a bad matchup for the Devils, but they almost pulled it off.
1992 - 1 Patrick NY Rangers v. 4 Patrick - NJ Devils - Rangers won 4-3
A) 18 points - The Rangers were the Presidents' trophy winners and MUCH better than this Devils' team
B) NYR: +75, NJ: +30 - This was the year the Rangers got Messier. It was his team and the year the Rangers were supposed to win the Cup. They were stacked. They scored a lot and their goaltending was dynamic. Even Operaman man on SNL did a song, "Messier el chok-a; Stanley Cup-e arrevaderci." (Couldn't find the original, but this is the only Operaman clip I could find - so younger readers will know who the character is).
C) NYR: 9-5-1, NJ: 4-9-2: This Devils' team wasn't really the same with Johnny MacLean out for the season. He scored 45 goals the previous season and dare I say, was the Devils heart and soul at the time. This Devils team did play their cross-river rivals valiantly, but in games 5 & 7 - they had a total of 16 goals scored against them.
D) Rangers 4 - 3 - The Playoff series would go just like the Regular season matchup.
Verdict: Another bad matchup for the Devils, but they played well enough with a big missing piece. The brawl here shows you how badly these teams hated each other. I truly felt this was a Pyrrhic victory for the Rangers. They were supposed to win it all this year. And the Devils would wear the Rangers down for their 2nd Round series against the Pens.
1993 - 1 Patrick - Pittsburgh Penguins v. 4 Patrick - NJ Devils - Pens won 4-1 You can see an interesting recap of the series, including the Pen's streak to end the year here - Part I & Part II - the Devils matchup is split.
A) 32 points - For the 2nd straight year, the Devils would play the Presidents' trophy winners and this was the biggest point gap opponent, they would ever play in their playoff history.
B) Pitt: +99, NJ: +9 - The Devils would run into an offensive juggernaut for the 3rd time in 3 years.
C) Pitt: 14-0-1, NJ 7-7-1- this Penguins team won 17 in a row before the Devils (now a Red & Black team after shedding the Christmas-tree uniforms) tied them 6-6 on the last game of the year. This was supposed to provide some momentum into the first round (sarcasm alert). This was to be the Penguins cakewalk year to their 3rd Stanley Cup. Then, David Volek shocked the world, which in my mind, was of of the biggest upsets in hockey history (even the youtube video says so) ;0.
D) Penguins 6 - 2 - 1 - This is when the NHL thought it was a good idea for divisional rival to play 9 times. The Penguins owned the League and the Devils this year.
The Penguins were still on a roll in Round 1 and got complacent in Round 2, which is why they were upset by the Isles.
Verdict: Looking back, the Devils were even lucky to win a game in this series.
Herb Brooks was gone after this year and the Devils roating circus of coaches PART I would stop for a while as the Jacques Lemaire era was about to begin in New Jersey.
1) 1993 Penguins
Biggest Devils' choke
1) 1990 Washington Capitals
With the exception of the 1st two playoff appearances, the Devis drew badly in the 1st Round in 1991, 92 and 93. They drew well enough in 90, but injuries and bad luck got to them. The Devils did something in 1988 and could have done something in 1990. They almost defied the odds and advanced in 1991. But in the years 1992, and 1993 their draws were too tough. Next - a look at the Devils' years from 1995 - 1999.