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.
A) 5 points
B) NJ: +48, Fla: +38
C) NJ: 7-8, Fla: 8-5-1-1
D) 3 - 1 Devils (One Devils win came in OT)
The two times the Devils have swept a team in the 1st Round, it has been to a team that had not been in the playoffs in a long time. In Florida's case, they hadn't made the playoffs in the past 2 years. And this was the last time they would make it. The easy thing to say is that this Devils' team just got on a roll. But in every category - these teams were evenly matched. So why was it so easy? Well, Scott Niedermayer's goal in Game 2 - when the Devils were down 2 men might have been a big psychological backbreaker. But I will attribute it to the fact the Devils were due and the Panthers were kind of just happy to make it to the post season. I mean look how the Rangers cleaned up the Thrashers the 1st time they made it? The changing of coaches might have also been a factor. Larry Robinson was in the zone this year. This is something I will focus on in my analysis of all the 1st Round opponents at the end. BTW - This was Stanley Cup 2.
A) 23 points
B) NJ: +100, Car: -13
C) NJ: 13-2, Car: 8-6-1
D) 2-1-1 Devils (One win was in OT)
The Devils took a 3 - 0 lead here and let up a little before winning it in 6. I consider this to be the best Devils' team ever and if not for Ray Bourque's mystique would have repeated as Cup Champions. Scott Stevens imposed himself physically on 2 Carolina players, one of them Ron Francis. This was an easier matchup for the Devils and they would struggle with Toronto, but destroy Pittsburgh before falling to the Avs in 7. Like 1988, I feel this team would have destroyed any team in the Eastern Conference in the 1st Round. They were that good.
A) 4 points IN FAVOR OF THE DEVILS . . . I could say many times how I HATE the divisional winner sympathy seeding, but here is a good example of it.
B) Car: Even , NJ: +18
C) Car: 7-4-4, NJ: 11-3-0-1
This was a favorable matchup for the Devils, but they weren't given home ice, which was a complaint of mine. Both teams won their 1st 2 games on home ice and Game 5 was where the Devils could have pulled it back home and won it. But Carolina was given a PP and they scored to tie it up with a 1:30 left. This would be the 1st of three Devil last minute breakdowns against Carolina. The Canes would win it in OT and Kevin Weekes shutout the Devils in Game 6 1 - 0 and that was it. I feel if the Devils had home ice in this series, they would have won it. They also had injuries to Nieuwendyk, Gomez and Sykora. But was it a favorable matchup? Yes. The Devils might have suffered from a 2 year Cup Finals hangover here, even the media was propagating this. They were injured and tired. But the Devils were doing well toward the end of the year . . . I was shocked they went 11-3-0-1 looking back. It's probably what makes this year's loss one tough pill to swallow in an otherwise glorious period for the Devils. But the Canes went on a roll all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to Detroit.
A) 21 points
B) NJ: +50, Bos: -28
C) NJ: 7-3-4-1, Bos: 6-5-3-1
D) 2-1-1 Devils
This was a great matchup for the Devils, look at B. This was also the only year the Devils wouldn't face a divisional opponent on their way to the Stanley Cup. I believe Ottawa was their only tough series and though Anaheim took them to Game 7, I always felt the Devils would overcome the Ducks. Despite my gut writings here, the product is simple. This Devils team was much better than the lowly Bruins and they got REALLY lucky when Tampa dispatched Washington to face the Lightning in the 2nd Round. If that doesn't happen - the Devils would have played Philly and if they would have won, would have faced Ottawa in the CF . . . BATTERED. The Ottawa Senators were the most dynamic team in 2003. The only way I thought the Devils won against them was that the Flyers took their traditional physical toll on the Sens and that allowed the Devils to get up 3 - 1 and for Freisen's heroics. This was probably the 2nd sweetest moment in my Devils' life, the 1st being my attendance at Game 7 against Anaheim. Again, this was the easiest Cup path the Devils had. Their easy first two round opponents allowed them to beat the Sens, IMHO. Cup 3 was COMPLETED
2004 3 Philadelphia Flyers v. 6 NJ Devils - Flyers won 4 - 1 - These are the only highlights you would want to watch from this pathetic series
(Another complaint on how the Flyers sympathy seed was bad - the Devils should have played Toronto).
A) 1 point
B) Phila: +43, NJ: +49
C) Phila: 7-5-3, NJ 9-5-1
D) 3-2-1 Flyers
These teams were even in every respect, except the Flyers would win and roll to the CF before losing to Tampa in 7 Games in what was a classic series. Yes, "Beware the Divisional opponents in the First Round" applies here, but the Devils lost Scott Stevens for good in January after that concussion from Tampa in 2003 finally caught up to him. I consider myself lucky to see one of Stevens' last games, in Washington in January of 2004, a tie. The Devils weren't the same team without Stevens' imposing presence and when the meet the Flyers, they were dominated. I was at Game 3, the only one the Devils won and the Flyers' announcers summation was that Philly would win this, because the Devils threw everything they had at the Flyers in Game 3 and that it wouldn't be enough in Games 4 & 5. They were right.
2003 - Boston Bruins & 2001 Carolina Hurricanes - TIE
2004 - Philadelphia Flyers
The Golden Years of the Devils. I felt they got hosed in 2002, but in 2004, were beaten by the better team. After this period, they added 2 Stanley Cups and a 4th Prince of Wales Trophy. Then, the lockout happened. This would see parity in the NHL change and the Devils dynamic as well . . .