"I've always said our most talented teams never won championships, but our best teams did. There's no question in my mind that until you win, nothing is established. Coming close doesn't mean anything. I think what winning the Cup in '95 did was give New Jersey recognition -- it gave them something you can't buy but you have to earn."
-- Lou Lamoriello
The 1995 Stanley Cup champion Devils, who swept the Red Wings in four games to earn their first Cup in franchise history, was, according to General Manager Lou Lamoriello, one of the most complete teams he's ever assembled.
"I think we had everything you needed to have success," Lamoriello said. "We had the emergence of a goalie in Martin Brodeur and a fourth line (Mike Peluso, Bobby Holik and Randy McKay) that was really special. The fourth line could be used against anybody -- their size and strength. Certainly the defense, with both Scotty's (Stevens and Niedermayer), Kenny (Daneyko) and how about what Shawn Chambers did when he came in. They each played a role."
New Jersey began every series of that '95 playoff run on the road and set a then-NHL record with 10 road victories in the postseason, including seven straight at one point. The Devils lost just one game on the road (3-2 at Pittsburgh in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals) en route to the Cup.
"The contribution made by Jimmy Dowd (who scored the game-winner at Joe Louis Arena in Game 2) in the biggest game of his career and then him having to sit the next game … you could just write a little story about everything," Lamoriello said.
Despite the disappointing result, Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom admitted his team learned plenty in defeat.
"I remember feeling great about ourselves going into the Final against Jersey," Lidstrom told NHL.com. "We played well in the conference finals and felt like we were ready and then we lost the first two home games to the Devils and couldn't recover. I thought they were a big and strong team but we learned a lot from losing. We discovered what it took to go all the way."
And as the Red Wings watched, the Prudential Center erupted with delight during the ceremony at ice level on Saturday when members of the '95 team, including Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver, Jim Dowd, Chris McAlpine, Mike Peluso and Valeri Zelepukin, were introduced.
Brian Rolston was a wide-eyed rookie in 1995 and will never forget the how happy he was for the veterans on the team.
"I wasn't a huge part of the playoffs but I was just happy to be a part of it," said Rolston, who would assist on the game-winning goal in Game 4 of the series. "I was most happy for all the veteran players who had been in this organization from the beginning when they weren't winning games but who finally got a chance to raise the Stanley Cup."
Peluso could hardly control his emotions as the countdown began during New Jersey's Cup-clinching 5-2 victory in Game 4 at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford on June 24, 1995.
"I know Mike has often talked about it and I also know the coaches, even though they would have liked to put him on the ice, were afraid to because they didn't know if he'd faint," Lamoriello said with a smile.
The win by the Devils marked the franchise's first Stanley Cup title after 21 seasons and relocations from Kansas City and Colorado. They eliminated the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins in five games and the Philadelphia Flyers in six en route to the Final. Devils forward Claude Lemieux, who scored a League-leading 13 goals in the playoffs, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP that year.
"I've always said our most talented teams never won championships, but our best teams did," Lamoriello said. "There's no question in my mind that until you win, nothing is established. Coming close doesn't mean anything. I think what winning the Cup in '95 did was give New Jersey recognition -- it gave them something you can't buy but you have to earn."
The eyes of Devils coach Jacques Lemaire began to swell when he started talking about how close-knit that '95 team became down the stretch.
"In a way it's like you're kids -- like they were all brothers of one big happy family," Lemaire told the media prior to Saturday's opening face-off. "You see the joy they have and maybe, at the start, they would never believe it. But through the playoffs, there was a time I knew they believed they could do it -- after that Philly series. They didn't say it, but I could feel it."
The lasting impression Lemaire has of his players are all those excited faces.
"It was the first one and there were so many different reactions," he said. "As a coach, you're looking at all this and it was just amazing. It's funny, every time I think about that, I think about the time I was behind the bench and the guys jumping on the ice. I was looking at the guys -- their reactions. That's what comes to my mind all the time."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org