Everyone dreams of scoring the game winning goal to win their team the Stanley Cup. It's the last goal scored of the season and it sets off a lifetime of memories and highlights. While all goals have their own beauty, not all are created equal. Normally, if you score a goal in any game - especially a championship clinching one - then that's cause for celebration in it's own right. It is rare to score a gorgeous one to earn the right to lift Lord Stanley. One of the few who can say they did just that is Jason Arnott.
You probably already know the goal I'm talking about. Patrik Elias makes a blind backhand pass to Jason Arnott in the slot, who beats Ed Belfour with a one-timer. If that wasn't enough, consider the stakes. It was scored in double overtime, on the road, and in a series that was very much a goaltending duel between Dallas Stars' starting goaltender Ed Belfour and Martin Brodeur. There's no question it's one of the greatest goals scored in New Jersey Devils history. There's no reason why it doesn't deserve a closer look to see what happened that resulted in #25 being all alone in front. Let's break it down.
The Video of the Goal
I must admit the quality of the pictures and video in this breakdown aren't the best. It is footage from 2000 and it predates the commonplace use of high definition. I will be using the video uploaded by McKay4429061 that has the entire play including the post-game ceremonies from ESPN. The ESPN footage includes multiple angle replays of the goal itself, which made it easier to identify who is who. All pictures in this breakdown come from screenshots of this video plus my poorly drawn text, arrows, and circles from MS Paint.
I will also direct your attention to McKay4429061's other video of this goal, which has the CBC feed and begins with the event that led to the beginning of this play. Apparently, Sergei Brylin beat Sylvain Cote to a dumped-in puck and the ref lost sight of it. The CBC commentator states the faceoff should have come outside of the zone since it appeared the puck fell under Brylin. Oh well. The CBC feed had a close view of the faceoff which undercuts how this all went down a bit so I went with the ESPN feed.
It's double overtime, so it's sudden death. There's 11:57 left in the second overtime at the Reunion Arena. It's even strength hockey.
Devils On Ice: #26 Patrik Elias, #25 Jason Arnott, #89 Alexander Mogilny, #4 Scott Stevens, #28 Brian Rafalski, #30 Martin Brodeur
Thanks: I had some trouble identifying some of the players on the ice for both teams. Thanks to the following users on Twitter, I was able to fill in the gaps (Rafalski, Lehtinen, and Mogilny): DrivingPlay, levinakl, dsarch, ColdSportsTakes, shelwell, and jelebersfeld.
Note: The reason why Mogilny was on the ice with Elias and Arnott was because Petr Sykora got hurt during the game from a high hit from, who else, Hatcher. It was very serious, too. He had to be stretchered off the ice according to Chris Stevenson's game recap at CNNSI. He was taken to the hospital immediately for a MRI; something mentioned by Gary Thorne on the air in the embedded video. Stevenson's recap also notes that Arnott was also fortunate not to be thrown out of the game for a cross-check to the neck to Blake Sloan in the first overtime. Needless to say, the refs let a lot more go in the playoffs to the detriment of, well, common sense.
The play will begin with a faceoff to the left of Belfour in Dallas' zone. Notice where everyone is set up.
Dallas is taking a crowded approach in the slot. This can be common for defensive zone faceoffs, especially in close games. By stacking three in the slot, it'll make any resulting shot from distance that much harder to get on target. It also makes it more difficult to get the puck immediately there. Lastly, if Modano does win this faceoff, then, Hull and/or Lehtinen can immediately break out the zone. Putting a defender on the sideboards at least keeps New Jersey honest.
And the Devils did match one defender with another on the wing. Both Elias and Mogilny are set up to Arnott's left, ready to go forward as needed should he win the faceoff. Scott Stevens is the lone man back. This can be a bit of a risk, especially if Arnott's faceoff win back and away from him. But Stevens was rather swift back then and he has a buffer of space in case that happens.
Arnott wins the faceoff and it goes right back to Stevens. While Stevens wasn't a particularly productive player as he once was, he did lead the defensemen in shots on net in the regular season and had a good number of points in the postseason. He knows what he's doing here. He initially winds up for a slapshot and then pump-fakes the shot before firing one.
While he's dong that, Lehtinen and Hull push up. Lehtinen is going to go after Stevens in order to force him to make a move. He sees Stevens' stick up so he knows he's got to act fast. Hull is going to move up in the slot a bit. Arnott is going to get around Modano and head to the net. Mogilny is initially in Lehtinen's way, but he's going to break off and go towards the right boards (near side). Elias is going to go towards the corner. Cote holds position while Hatcher and Rafalski separate.
Arnott did get in front of Belfour in time to set a screen, but Stevens' shot missed the net. It's going to into the right corner and curl around the boards. Mogilny turned tightly and has a first crack at getting this puck. He has a clear path to cut off the puck's direction and collect it.
Except Mogilny really wasn't all that open. Hull turned from the top of the zone as Stevens shot it and made a bee-line right for Mogilny. The Golden Brett wasn't a spring chicken but he had enough gas in the tank to engage Mogilny as he collected the puck. Modano is the Star closest to the dot and he's going to come closer to this action taking place. Arnott's heading in that direction too, but he's got to get by Cote - essentially a pick, for lack of a better term.
By the by, the white jersey and red jersey in the high slot is Lehtinen and Elias, respectively. I'm just noting them for now.
As Hull battles Mogilny, notice in the picture his positioning. He's pinning Mogilny to the boards while keeping his hand with the stick free. This allows him to jam at the puck and get it loose. And it's not a moment too soon as Modano's going to sweep by shortly. Arnott's still trying to get there for support but Cote's body is still in the way.
At this point, it appears the Stars have this situation under control. Modano's going to come in to help out close to the boards. Lehtinen is lurking in the circle in case the puck comes out hard and away from the boards. Arnott is blocked away for the moment so Mogilny is the only Devil by the puck that can do something. And he effectively can't since Hull has position on him. A mere six seconds after the faceoff and the Stars are in a good spot. Surely, a routine play. Of course, we wouldn't be doing this breakdown if things didn't go awry.
This shot is blurry because it's in motion. It's the best I got from my attempts at it. But I assure you, it's an important moment. Modano flies by Hull and Mogilny and knocks the puck ahead. Modano lifted his stick to get around the bodies and hoped to get his own loose puck with momentum. The problem is that Stevens hustled to the left point right after his shot five seconds ago. As luck would have it, Modano's play to himself sent the puck far enough for Stevens to get to it before Modano could. Just as Modano got his stick back on the ice, Stevens will chip the puck forward. This keeps the puck in the zone and away from Dallas' top scorer. (Aside: Well, in the regular season at least. Hull beat him out by a goal in the playoffs).
While this is happening, Arnott finally gets past Cote and will get to the boards. He's going to look for this chipped puck by Stevens but Hull is in a better position along the boards. Note that Lehtinen and Elias are watching this develop.
The chipped puck goes along (or by) the boards and Hull's going to get this puck. Thorne calls this a steal, which is technically true. As Hull is ready to get this puck, Modano keeps going forward in between Stevens and Elias. This has a potential for disaster for New Jersey if Hull got the puck and then played it forward for Modano. Of course, we know that didn't happen. It's a Devils goal breakdown for a Cup winning goal in double-overtime.
With Hull now in possession, it appears he's got some options. He could throw it back to Cote, who could outlet the puck along out of harm's way. Lehtinen is also away from the boards with space around him. And Modano is in the neutral zone. However, Hull doesn't have the luxury of choice here. He's got Mogilny and Arnott pressuring him from both sides. Given that just clearing the puck would at least force the Devils to reset, he's going to just throw it up back up the boards and hope it gets out.
That doesn't work as planned. Stevens keeps the puck in again and this time, he holds onto it for a little bit. Hull's decision wasn't a bad one. He was under pressure. However, it keeps the attack alive for New Jersey.
As Stevens holds onto it, he sees Lehtinen cutting towards him. Like Hull, Stevens doesn't have the time to look at his options. So even though we see Elias cutting across the center of the ice, Mogilny breaking away from the boards towards the slot, and Arnott about to ahead the same way, Stevens is just going to fire this puck forward. This is about where things start falling apart for Dallas.
The Devils do get a great break as Stevens' shot (or dump) doesn't get blocked or bounce off Mogilny or Cote in the center of the ice. Again, this picture is blurry and it's hard to capture it in a single screen. In motion, the puck gets through just before Mogilny and Cote - he's following Mogilny - get out of the left circle. Because of that, the puck will stay away from Belfour and head into the boards in the left corner.
Please note the other skaters in this view. Hull is still at the sideboards and he just watches the puck go by. Cote's sticking with Mogilny, who's going to break off very soon. The momentum of Lehtinen's move carried him closer to it. More importantly, he's in the act of turning. One of the nuances of positioning is just in what direction the player is facing. Even if he knows what's going on to his side or behind him, it's going to take more time for him to get to the action because he has to turn his body first. So even if Lehtinen is a faster player than, say, Arnott; he's going to have more ground to make up. By the time Lehtinen turns, Arnott will be further away from him.
Hatcher's turning and while he probably knows where this puck will carom off the boards, it's going to take him some time to get there. Elias, on the other hand, he's already in motion and can see the same thing. Again, he's got the advantage on Hatcher unless Elias slows up for no reason or the puck takes an odd bounce.
Here, Mogilny is going to break away from Cote and head away from the slot. Cote was right by him and at this point, you can see that he sees Elias streaking towards the corner. So he's going to change his attention to Elias. Meanwhile, that red blur lower right corner is Jason Arnott. He's going to head towards the slot. Behind him is Lehtinen, who really isn't that close to Arnott. He's not going to get close to him either.
The puck went off the end boards and went around the left corner. As stated prior, Elias did have to change his angle of approach and picks up the puck with his backhand. It's not ideal. Sticks are curved such that it's preferable to have it on the forehand where the carrier has more control. But Elias got to it first, he has it, and that's the important thing.
He's surrounded by three Stars. There's Hatcher to the left, who saw the puck get to the corner and now sees his target. He's got some ground to make up but I figure he's already sizing up Elias for a check. There's Modano to his right. He figured out no one hit him with a long pass into the neutral zone so skated like crazy back into his own end. His presence applies some pressure - Elias did see him coming - but Modano never really went after him. You can see him turn away from Elias at this very moment. If I were to guess, it appears he's leaving this in the hands of his defensemen. The man in the middle is Cote, who saw Elias streaking in and has skated towards him. Cote does this instead of returning back to the slot given his partner's already in the process of engaging the attacker. Elias is under pressure but at this very snapshot, he's got a little time and space.
Meanwhile, Arnott's just gliding towards the slot with no one on him. Hull and Lehtinen are nowhere to be seen.
Elias collected the puck in motion so he's going to stop and release the puck. This is literally right before he does it. Based on this screenshot, he didn't necessarily have to do that. Modano broke off from his backcheck, Cote's nowhere near him, and Hatcher still has several feet to catch up. Of course, that's easy to point out in a still picture from the past. In motion and at game speed, it wouldn't be long before #26 met #2. So Elias is going to fling this puck off his backhand towards the slot.
As it turned out, this was a good time to do so. Hatcher and Cote were far apart enough to leave a sizeable passing lane. And with Arnott just about in the slot - who I don't think Elias sees at this point - it wouldn't be a wasted move provided the puck gets through. Belfour covering the left post so he's not in a position to deny the pass unless it came right by his crease. This is about when the glory happens.
Hatcher was focused on Elias such that if he noticed the puck being passed away, then he couldn't do anything about it. In fact, his stride with his right foot expanded the passing lane further. Also, this pass is out of the range of Cote, not because of distance but because of how he's holding the stick. Cote has it in his natural position, which means it will take more time for him to reach out to his left side. Cote may swing at it but it's going to be too late. Belfour's already turning in anticipation of the puck going across the slot. Unfortunately for him, Arnott's anticipating it as well.
See? Cote did reach for it but he was too slow. Again, the nuances of positioning matters.
Anyway, Arnott is about to become a hero in New Jersey. He set himself up perfectly for the pass coming across the slot. Notice how he's got his right leg low and at an acute angle. This allows the one-timer to be more accurate and powerful as he can shift his weight behind it. I didn't know that until I saw Jaromir Jagr's training video where he notes how good Sidney Crosby is at getting in that position for one-timers and how he had to learn it from age 34. With that in my mind, this stance makes sense to me. Arnott just has to put this up, on target, and fast. Being able to shift weight back will only help him then.
Belfour knows a shot's coming so he's just throwing out his left leg and hoping for the best. Not a great position you want to be in as a goalie. It's small solace but it's not his fault his teammates let New Jersey's top center wide open in the slot in double overtime of a win-and-stay-alive-or-lose-the-Cup game.
Arnott does exactly what he needed to do. He got the puck up high, fast, and in the net. Arnott just immortalized himself in highlight videos and Devils lore for ages to come.
Arnott appropriately celebrates what was likely a childhood (and adulthood) dream: scoring the game winning goal for the Stanley Cup. Cote and Belfour are wondering what just happened. A second after this and they realize it's over.
The ESPN feed did provide a few replays of the goal from different angles in between the Devils' celebration on the ice. Here's the back angle of the goal, which shows the other players on the ice.
That is indeed Lehtinen right next to Mogilny. I included the question mark not because I wasn't sure who it was, but that I can't quite fathom it. Lehtinen was one of the finest defensive forwards of the last decade. After he turned, he decided to skate after Mogilny, who was curling around the top of the right circle well away from the play, instead of Arnott who went to the slot. Seriously, that was the decision he made. Over on the right, Hull hustled to battle Mogilny for the puck along the boards, actually won the battle, and then just hung out over there for the next four or five seconds. He had no one on this play. Rafalski is noted just for the sake of being there.
The Stars-Devils series was defensively sound one. Outside of a high-scoring Game 1, the only other game that wasn't decided by one goal was a 3-1 Devils win in Game 4. Yet, it's amazing that a breakdown in coverage led to the winning score in double overtime. I understand players get fatigued, and I definitely believe both teams were since they got to double overtime in Game 6 and played in a triple overtime in Game 5 days prior. Tired players make poor decisions at times but no one picking up Arnott was astonishing. In a five-on-five situation, the right time to leave a forward free to head into the slot is never. NEVER. Even if took a nearly-blind backhand pass for him to get the puck, that should not happen. I can't imagine Ken Hitchcock, Dallas' coach, and the players didn't think about that error all summer.
Who's to blame? Bill Clement notes Cote, presumably because he's the closest to the slot and to Arnott. He's not fully wrong in pointing a finger his way. When Mogilny broke off, Cote correctly didn't follow him but he incorrectly went towards Elias. He should've let Hatcher go after Elias and even if Cote just sees Arnott at the last second, he could be in a better position to make a play on the pass or even on Arnott. However, it's not all his fault. Lehtinen definitely deserves scrutiny for choosing to go after Mogilny instead of Arnott when he did finally turn. That was just the wrong choice. Lastly, I can't tell you why Hull just stayed where he was. It's not like he was so gassed after winning the puck and chipping it out towards the blueline. His decision to chip it along the boards wasn't the problem; his inaction afterwards really stood out. I could even assign a little blame to Modano for streaking past Stevens hoping he'd get through on goal but instead had to catch up but not commit on getting to Elias in the left corner. Yes, he made up a lot of ground but he didn't finish the defensive effort in that sense. Ultimately, it was a team effort as to how Dallas lost the game on this goal - Hatcher (he was in position) and Belfour (hung out) aside.
The Devils skaters did make the most of it. They really earned this one. Mogilny breaking away turned out to be a good decoy and he battled with Hull long enough for Stevens to get to the other blueline. While his shots missed, Stevens kept the play alive and the second miss had the ancillary benefit of putting the puck in a position where Elias can make a play. I would argue that would be worth a secondary assist even though it wasn't a direct pass. Elias really set things up with a brilliant pass, but the star of the play really was Arnott. He won the faceoff, he went towards the slot as the play went from the right point to the left corner, and his finish was perfect. I don't think he could have dreamed up a better situation for a forward to score a Cup winning goal.
Now that you've read the breakdown and relived Devils history, I want to know your take. Which Star do you think made the biggest mistake on the play? Did Belfour really have a chance to stop Arnott's shot? Would you agree that Arnott was the star of the play? What else did you notice in this trip down memory lane? Assuming you remember, how did you react to this goal when it was scored then? Is this the greatest goal in New Jersey Devils history? (And if not, what is?) Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this breakdown of Jason Arnott's Cup-winning goal in the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals in the comments. Thank you for reading.