Scott Niedermayer had done it all in his career. I think it would be a shorter list to name all the things he didn't do as a hockey player. He's one of the greatest ever to play for the New Jersey Devils and he was instrumental on defense for all three Stanley Cups. With all that he's done, it's arguable that the best highlight of his career happened in his third full NHL season at the young age of 21. Most of you know exactly what it is from the title. Game 2. In Detroit. 1995. Niedermayer going end to end to tie up the game in the third period. Simply a beautiful goal on it's own, and it's made more memorable in it's importance. In fact, the fans pointed to this playoff win as the 15th greatest moment in team history for their 25th anniversary.
Why break it down now? The same reason why it was worth breaking down Arnott's Cup winner in 2000. It's more than just a pleasant trip down memory lane. Such a famous goal deserves further attention to figure out how it happened. I know I learned plenty from the play beyond Niedermayer schooling Paul Coffey and Mike Vernon. For starters, Brick township will have plenty of reason to smile about the play too.
The Video of The Goal
Like the last few breakdowns from the Devils' past, YouTube user McKay4429061 has this one in it's original broadcast. Since this is what the viewers at home saw back then, I used it for this breakdown. The quality is what it is since it was recorded from a feed back in 1995.
Again, all screenshots come from the video. Any text and poorly drawn lines, arrows, and circles were added by me.
The Detroit Red Wings were up 2-1 in the third period. It's an even strength situation and both teams were, I think, in the midst of changing. I can't verify all three Devils forwards; but this is what I identified through the video. In this particular case, only one forward made a big difference on this play.
Detroit Players: #29 Mike Vernon, #5 Nicklas Lidstrom, #77 Paul Coffey, #22 Dino Ciccarelli, #37 Tim Taylor - later went off for #21 Bob Errey, #11 Shawn Burr
We begin with Martin Brodeur playing the puck behind the net. Detroit went for a dump-in and, well, this was the common result back then. He's going to play the puck along the corner he's facing.
Also, this was 1995 so at the :28 and :58 mark on the hour, ESPN would shrink the screen to bring up scores or note when Sportscenter would be on and whatnot. Understandable if you wanted to know what was going on. Not so, if you wanted to see the whole game take up your screen. We take the constant crawl at the bottom of the screen for granted these days. Anyway, enjoy it for the next few screens. If you want to take a break and have a KitKat during this post, well, I don't blame you.
Thanks to the shrunken screen, it's not apparent who on Detroit is collecting the puck. In a moment, it'll be clear it's #22 Dino Ciccarelli. He actually has it right now, his stick is out-stretched though so he doesn't have full control. That red blur is going to put a hit on him to force him to do something fast.
That red blur is Brick's own Jim Dowd. This will be the first block, in the literal sense, he has on this play. He throws the check on Ciccarelli. In anticipation of this hit, the Detroit forward pushed the puck back into the left corner. So he doesn't have the puck here at this moment. In the prior picture, there was a man in white in the area.
That man is Tim Taylor. The depth forward did turn in time for the puck to come but he wasn't alone. Defenseman Tommy Albelin was right there to cancel him out, so to speak. If Taylor got the puck, then all he did was just play it forward. The puck will continue behind the net.
There are three bodies to note away from the play. The first is the man at the top of the crease: that's Scott Niedermayer. The second is the man in white in the right (near-side) circle: that's Shawn Burr. The third is the man skating towards the play: that's Jim Dowd. All three will be involved very shortly.
Niedermayer leaves his spot to pick up Burr, who came around quickly enough to get inside position. Niedermayer looks askew here because his stick was knocked away. He didn't lose it entirely, but he doesn't have full control. This doesn't mean Burr has this loose puck behind the net because of Dowd. Dowd essentially blocks out Burr due to his post-hit hustle. Not only is he well positioned, but he will stop Burr from advancing the puck.
Burr and Dowd collide and the puck is knocked towards the right (near-side) corner. Niedermayer is not going after this because he's still collecting his stick. It's not really safely held by both of his hands. Dowd literally blocked Burr and knocked the puck away, his second such move on this play. As indicated by the thin lines, both men will break apart and head around the net. Keep that in mind for the next few screenshots.
Dowd wasn't the only one with his hustling skates on this shift. Ciccarelli made his way from the left side to the right side in a hurry. With the loose puck in the corner, he went right at it with no issues. However, he's not going to be open for long. Ciccarelli collects the puck as he's about to turn around. As that's happening, Dowd didn't just circle around the net, but he's making a beeline right for Ciccarelli. He's even past Burr, who's still behind the goal line.
No disrespect intended to Mr. Ciccarelli but Dowd was full of vim, vigor, and velocity on this play. As a result, he's in a great position to get in Ciccarelli's way. That's important because look at who's in front of the net. It's Detroit's Shawn Burr. Burr only scored six goals in the 1995 season and none in the playoffs, but he's definitely in a dangerous position all the same. Leaving anyone open in the slot is a bad choice. Albelin came out too far after he cancelled out Taylor, who went to the bench. Niedermayer only now has control of his stick and is heading over the goal line. Ciccarelli must have seen his man in a fantastically lethal position, so he's going to attempt to give him a bullet to shoot. That's why it's so important that Dowd is not only in front of him but keeps his stick on the ice. That passing lane is as covered as it's going to get; only a well-placed, nearly-perfect saucer pass is going to get by Dowd.
Ciccarelli does not accomplish this. That's nothing to criticize. If you need a near-perfect execution to make a play happen, then you can't get too mad if it doesn't exactly happen. That's hockey. That's life. Dowd blocks the pass and the puck is going to dribble back into the circle. Guess who's in a perfect position to get it.
Yes, it's Scott Niedermayer. Look at all of the space in front of him! He should be flying, but he's not. In fact, he's trying to collect and control the puck here. He has it on his blade but he's going to push it out in front of him in the hopes of getting it on his forehand. The bounce off Dowd's stick really puts Detroit in a bad spot as no Red Wing is near Niedermayer. Only Burr and Ciccarelli are nearby as the rest of the Detroit skaters are in the neutral zone, and both have a lot of ground to cover.
Hey, the cutaway is gone!
Notice that the puck is a little bit ahead of the then-young defender. Niedermayer is going to keep skating ahead and speed up as he gets it back on his stick. This will allow him to really take off through the giant gap in front of him.
In this shot, Burr is making a valiant effort to catch Niedermayer. Ciccarelli could but he can't. He's literally blocked out by Dowd, who remains in front of him. This isn't like a pick in basketball as Dowd isn't just there to get in the away. He's not actively hitting Ciccarelli, which would technically be a penalty for interference. It's more like a block a wide receiver or a tight end would do in football, only Dowd's not using his hands. He's just in the way to keep the gap open for his teammate. If you want an example of how players who do the "little things" that lead to large successes, then look no further than this breakdown. Dowd skated hard and put his body out there for four blocks, two that blocked or denied Detroit from advancing the puck in their way. Jim Dowd gets an assist for this goal even though he didn't make a pass. Some would say that wouldn't be warranted but I don't see how this end-to-end rush happens without Dowd's hustle and aggression to get right up in Ciccarelli's and Burr's grills.
Burr did not catch Niedermayer pushing forward, but he made one last desperate reach for his stick. He's trying to hook him to slow him down. Presumably because Burr sees what Niedermayer sees: a Detroit team that's not at all ready for him rushing up. Burr may have got a piece of Niedermayer at most; I think he was just out of reach. Either way, Niedermayer's not slowing down.
For a moment, notice Stephane Richer at the bottom right corner. I think he's acting as a decoy, which would explain why the other three Detroit skaters are where they are as Niedermayer blazes through the neutral zone.
Bob Errey presumably came on the ice for Tim Taylor and went all the way down to the right (near-side) sideboards. The only reason why I think he would do that would be in position in case Niedermayer gave the puck to Richer. That's why I think Richer was a decoy on this play as it drew Errey all the way down. I didn't see who I believe to be Valeri Zelepukin on the left (far-side), but that may also explain why Nicklas Lidstrom is in the zone and several feet from the on-coming Niedermayer. As a result, Niedermayer isn't taking on three Red Wings, but just one: Paul Coffey. Lidstrom is already beat and Errey is about to be beaten. Both can only play catch-up and hope Coffey can slow Niedermayer down.
That was actually a reasonable hope. Coffey was one of Detroit's best players back then. He racked up a ton of points for Detroit in 1995 and Scotty Bowman played him quite a bit. I don't think it's an accident he was paired with a young Nicklas Lidstrom; I think the intent was that he would learn from playing with the veteran. Lidstrom would become an all-world defenseman. Coffey isn't chopped liver; he's in the Hockey Hall of Fame as well. The 33-year old Coffey has played and excelled in all kinds of situations. Handling a one-on-one must have been old-hat for him. Regardless of pedigree and experience, a defenseman who is beaten is likely to play pay the price. Let's see how that happened.
As Niedermayer gains the zone with speed, he's shifting the puck from his forehand and his backhand quite a bit while moving his body. He's such a good skater and stickhandler that he can do all this while maintaining control and speed. Coffey is trying to keep up but he's stumbling a bit while going backwards. Niedermayer may be showing indications to shoot - and he will - but a man in full control will have an advantage over a man who is not.
Over the right side, you can see a bit of Mike Vernon. He's considerably far from his crease, playing this like it was a breakaway. He's going to wish he didn't very soon.
Niedermayer did shoot the puck shortly after the above shot. Coffey did lean the right way and even got his stick down in anticipation for a block - either of a shot or to prevent Niedemayer from cutting inside. The thing is that Niedermayer beat Coffey to it. He'll fire the shot just before Coffey gets his stick fully down. It will go under him. Vernon is, again, way in front of his crease. It is a great way to cut off the angle and force Niedermayer to put the shot wide. This does happen.
What none of them expected - even Niedermayer - is that the shot remained low and fast enough that it bounced right off the end boards and came back in the same direction. The boards supposed to be flat but unless the puck is placed perfectly, it's entirely possible the puck goes in all kinds of directions. Grooves and the like do form in the boards too, so it's not a perfectly flat surface either. To put it all together, Niedermayer fired a wrist shot beneath Coffey's stick, just missed the net, and bounced perfectly off the end boards to come right out to the front of the net. Keep in mind this is all happening within a few seconds, the shot was hard and the puck's coming out hot.
This event really puts Detroit in trouble. Because Coffey sold out to his right for the block, Niedermayer is able to around his left to get past him in pursuit of his puck. That's happening in this very screenshot. Because Vernon came out so far from his net, he's in real trouble if Niedermayer gets the puck very soon. All the goalie can do is make a desperate attempt behind him, which is a bad spot for any goalie to be in because it means nothing is behind him.
Niedermayer gets to the puck just across from the top of the crease before anyone else. All he can do is one-time it as Coffey has got back to his feet and Vernon dove back to his left. He angled his stick blade up so he can get some lift on it. This would ensure that would get up over a diving Vernon, should that be the case. This is the point of no return. Coffey was beaten, Vernon was beaten, and as seen right here, the Red Wings were about to lose their lead.
So let's celebrate. Fun fact: Coffey grabbed Niedermayer's arm right after the shot. A little late for obstruction, but no matter.
During the replay of this goal - used in the second, third, and fourth from last screenshots, color commentator Bill Clement noted something important about Niedermayer. He stated that head coach Jacques Lemaire instructed Niedermayer that he was allowed to push up on offense if the player felt he had an opportunity. It's instructive for two reasons. One, it explains why Niedermayer did what he did. Two, it states how talented Niedermayer really was. Keep in mind that Niedermayer wasn't a veteran then, he was a 21-year old who played in his third full NHL season. Yet this single play highlights all of his attributes: his speed, his acceleration, his control of the puck, and his awareness. Niedermayer saw a Detroit team on it's heels, took on what would have ordinarily been two or three players, ended up with a one-on-one, and took full advantage with a very beneficial bounce off the boards. That's why this goal is considered to be among one of his best highlights. It encapsulates all of what Niedermayer could do going forward.
What surprised me in doing this breakdown was that it all almost never happened. Niedermayer lost control of his stick behind the net and was behind the play. If it wasn't for Jim Dowd, we may be talking about how Shawn Burr scored to put Detroit up 3-1 in Game 2 or how Brodeur stunned Burr and the Joe Lewis Arena with a point-blank stop. Dowd's first two blocks kept Detroit from gaining control of the puck, but his blocked pass on Ciccarelli was absolutely crucial. It set Niedermayer up perfectly to at least skate it out of the zone. If the puck didn't bounce that way, it at least prevented Burr from getting the puck all alone in front of the net. As I said earlier in the breakdown,Jim Dowd didn't make a pass, but he most definitely assisted on this play from happening. Of course, he would top this moment later on in the third period when he put home the game winning goal. But let's not forget what he did here.
As far as Detroit players, there are two players I would point the finger of blame at: Coffey and Vernon. Ciccarelli tried to make something happen, but it didn't work out. That's fine. Burr did what he could, I don't think he should be criticized for not being able to catch Niedermayer in motion given how much space he took up. I wouldn't even fault Lidstrom or Errey because they had to pay attention to the other Devils forwards in case Niedermayer would pass it off to them. Coffey had a one-on-one situation where I'm sure if he could do it again, he'd go right at Niedermayer. Instead, he stumbled a bit in getting back, and while his decision to block was in the right direction, he needed to actually get the block. He didn't and so he got beaten on the other side. At least I get what he was trying to do. I'm still baffled at Vernon's decision to come away from the net. Had he stayed in the crease, he could've held the left post had Niedermayer still missed the net or at least be in a better position to get a stop. Vernon came out as if Niedermayer was on a breakaway when he wasn't. He took a risk in trying to severely cut off the angle and it made it possible for Niedermayer to posterize him as the puck came back past an empty crease. I don't know how Red Wings fans felt about it, but I would've been unhappy with the goalie on this play.
Again, this goal wasn't just a great end-to-end rush, but it tied up the game. The Devils would need one more bit of greatness from Brick's own Jim Dowd to win Game 2 in Detroit. Maybe I'll break that one down next? In the meantime, given that you read all of this, I want to know what you think. Did you remember how much Dowd did on this play? How amazing was it that Niedermayer had all this space and he took full advantage? What in the world was Vernon thinking? Would you agree this was one of Niedermayer's greatest moments in hockey? Please leave your answers and other thoughts from this breakdown of Niedermayer's end-to-end equalizer in Game 2of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals in the comments. Thanks for reading.