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DEVILS OVER THE DECADES: Born in the Lockout, 1995 Devils Cup Champs

Stan Fischler recaps the 1995 Stanley Cup Champions and the Devils team that was born in the lockout

by Stan Fischler StanFischler / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

Those were the words of ex-Devil-turned-broadcaster Peter McNab to his play-by-play colleague Mike (Doc) Emrick after New Jersey took a two-to-nothing lead over Detroit in the 1995 Stanley Cup Final.

Emrick thought that McNab either was kidding or hallucinating.

"You can't be serious," Doc shot back. "Yes, I am being serious." McNab insisted.

Two weeks later the Devils owned their first Stanley Cup.

Before that monumental event happened, guess what? Something very much like the current NHL "Pause" took place.

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That's right there was a significant "Pause" in the 1994-95 season and I remember it only too well. So do such Devils luminaries as Ken Daneyko, Scott Stevens, Bobby Holik and Marty Brodeur.

"That 'Pause' had a great effect on the outcome of the ;94-'95 season -- shortened as it was," remembered Holik. "Our last game (June 23, 1995) was the latest ever in NHL history."

Matter of fact there almost was no campaign at all. When league owners and the players' association battled over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement there was no big league hockey from October 1994 through January 11, 2020.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. To obtain a complete perspective on how Lord Stanley's $45 mug got to East Rutherford in 1995 we first must flash back to one of the darkest moments in New Jersey hockey annals.

The date, June 14, 1994, forever lives in Garden State hockey, infamy. An enemy from across the Hudson River had defeated the Devils in seven games and is marching directly to the 1994 Stanley Cup.

With a mixture of horror and sorrow, New Jersey sports fans couldn't help but watch the evening news and the Rangers Cup victory parade up the Canyon of Champions early that Summer of '94.

"It was painful," said lifelong Devils fan and tax accountant Noam Kogen. "You couldn't help watching it because the darn parade was on all the news stations."

While the parade's conclusion offered some solace, it wasn't quite enough.

"I couldn't bear the thought of them showing off the Cup at the start of the next season," added Kogen a twelve-month-a-year Jersey fan living in Manhattan.

There was, however, some solace enjoyed in Devils Country; and that was the Rangers pain that followed the big parade.

Throughout the homestretch the feud between Blueshirts coach Mike Keenan and his boss, Neil Smith, had gone viral. Not even the Stanley Cup triumph could produce an armistice in their intra-team war.

Finally, Keenan bolted the team and moved to St.Louis where he became Blues head coach and general manager. Meanwhile Colin Campbell replaced Mad Mike behind the New York bench.

Meanwhile, all of Rangerville eagerly awaited another Cup unveiling on an October 1994bopening night at The Garden. To the fans it would be like winning the championship twice in the same year.

But, to the eternal joy of New Jersey's hockey community, there was no such opening night Cup-hailing. Nor in November nor December.

A bitter work stoppage -- alias lockout -- inspired by deadlocked Collective Bargaining Agreement talks between the NHL leaders and the Players' Association melted the ice.

For a time it appeared that the union-league war could eliminate the entire 1994-95 season. And that just about had everyone forgetting that The Garden's beloved Rangers had won a title the previous spring.

Meanwhile, Devils boss Lou Lamoriello looked ahead to labor-ownership peace and a resumption of play some time early in January 1995. Writing in his book, "Battle On The Hudson," Associated Press reporter Tim Sullivan noted:

"There were a couple of directions the Devils could have travelled. Could they pick themselves up and be on the attack from the get-go? Or would they sit around and feel sorry for themselves?"

Lamoriello had plenty more to worry about apart from his team's ability to rebound. His top priority was re-signing his captain and top defenseman Scott Stevens.

The Incredible Hulk had come off a fabulous regular season in which he posted 60 assists and 78 points. In the playoffs he managed two goals and 11 points. No question, Sir Scott -- a potential free agent -- was coveted around the NHL.

Having signed Mike Keenan away from the Rangers, St.Louis moguls next went after Stevens with an offer sheet. The Blues -- on July 4, 1994 -- offered the defenseman $17 million over four years.

Known for his frugality, Lamoriello was not expected to match the challenge. But five days later he did, It was big dough for the Devils and some media sources insisted that a few big name NJ players were a trifle jealous.

If any of them were unhappy they had time to brood. The work stoppage lasted through October and November and December. The delay had a negative effect on some teams but not New Jersey's.

"We were the only team that skated during the lockout," revealed Claude Lemieux. "We knew that if we just played together that whenever the season started we'd be okay.

"We were probably doing it illegally, but we were doing it nonetheless. We skated through the lockout at our practice rink. We worked together and got ready for the season. Ilegal? What are you gonna do?"

Owner-player peace was declared on January 11, 1995. The NHL announced a 48-game season after losing 468 league-wide games. The Devils would open with virtually the same lineup as the one that was barely beaten by New York.

Only clever center Bernie Nicholls was gone, signed by the Chicago Blackhawks. Otherwise, the club looked solid from the goal -- rookie of the year Marty Brodeur -- on through defense and offense.

They opened on January 22 1995 tying the Whalers in Hartford, 2-2. Compared to pre-season hopes the Devs looked as stale as a month old layer cake. Then it got worse; three straight losses and a lot of front office deep thinking.

"They should have kept me," said Nicholls, "because they needed my role." Wise-man Bernie was right because he was virtually irreplaceable.

Corey Millen, 30, was supposed to do the Nicholls work but the little speedster didn't have a scoring stick. Lou finally decided to become pro-active and on February 27, 1995 he made his much-debated move.

Millen was shipped to Dallas in exchange for Neal Broten who was five years older than Corey but who included a 1980 Olympic Gold Medal on his wall.
Still, to the press crowd it appeared that Lou traded a lemon for another lemon.

Broten, who was on the slope side of his career, had a paltry two goals in 17 games. But insightful hockey insiders -- Nicholls included -- sensed that Lamoriello saw something in Broten that the less-savvy didn't.

Nicholls: "When they got Neal they effectively had replaced me. Now they really had all the pieces to the puzzle. I knew that he would do well there."

It was coach Jacques Lemaire's challenge to fit that "final piece" -- not unlike Butch Goring with the 1980 Islanders -- into the proper opening. Jacques-Be-Nimble placed the newcomer between Stephane Richer and John MacLean.

Author Tim Sullivan: "Broten meshed well with MacLean and Richer. In 30 regular season games he had eight goals and 28 points. He also posted three game-winning goals in his 43 shots on net."

Similar to Islanders general manager Bill Torrey who added defenseman Ken Morrow to his lineup in the 1980 homestretch, Lou fetched an ideal veteran defenseman. Prying Shawn Chambers from Tampa Bay was sheer genius.

As competent as he was likeable, the Michigan native infused the power play with a laser shot and all-round defensive savvy. Chambers skated in 21 regular season games and did everything Lemaire asked of him.

The shaky start of the shortened season was long forgotten when they put a finis mark on the regular campaign. While somewhat short of dominant, their 22-18-8 (52 point) record had done the job; it got them into the post-season.

"All that mattered," said Bobby Holik, "was that we were in the playoffs; and it didn't hurt that we were underdogs. Nobody really figured us to win The Cup."

However, hovering like a dark cloud over New Jersey skies was a non-hockey issue that threatened to destroy morale. A Nashville group was offering to lure the franchise to Tennessee and NJ owner Dr. John McMullen was listening.

"I don't like the way we've been treated by the New Jersey Sports Authority," McMullen unhesitatingly asserted. "We want improvements from them."

What effect Doc Mac's threats to leave New Jersey had on his stickhandlers has been debated 'til the cows came home. All anyone can say with surety is that when the club arrived in Boston for playoff Game One, they were ready.

In his interview with Tim Sullivan for Battle On The Hudson, defenseman Bruce Driver offered a compelling observation that proved most compelling.

Driver: "Our last practice before the first game was short because it was hot out. But it was the most crisp practice we had all year. The shots, the passes, the flow of practice; everything was just perfect.

"There were no mistakes made in practice and from that session on it just snowballed and snowballed and snowballed. Just like that we were on top of our game."

As it would happen, the very top.

Although they were opening with a pair of road games and were underdogs to a Boston sextet that finished five points ahead of them, the Devils -- in the words of the New York Post's Larry Brooks -- had become "a juggernaut."

Gifted players such as Stephane Richer, Claude Lemieux, Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens took on Promethian stature. Second year goalie Martin Brodeur showed no signs of a sophomore slump. Quite the opposite.

"Marty was fabulous at Boston Garden," Holik remembered. "Couldn't have been better."

How do you beat two straight shutouts? You don't. New Jersey combined for eight goals over the two games while the host club got a big zero.

The series lasted five games with the finale, ironically, coinciding with the last hockey game played at venerable Boston Garden. The date was May 14, 1995 and the 3-2 Garden State victory opened a few thousand eyes around the NHL.

"Suddenly, the Devils became a team that had to be feared," said Gus Vic, a decades-long hockey reporter who has covered the NHL for The Fischler Report. "Sure, it was only one series, but it was the way the Devs did it!"

Round Two featured the Pittsburgh Penguins as New Jersey's main event foe.
Led by future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, the Penguins tallied 181 goals over the shortened schedule, a big 45 more than their foes.

Opening at The Igloo in Pitt, the Penguins felt secure in the fact that they concluded the campaign with nine more points than New Jersey. Topping off their confidence was a 3-2 decision over Lemaire's Legion in Game One.

But that's all she wrote for Jags & Company. Well-oiled and thoroughly tuned, Lamoriello's machine rebounded for four consecutive victories. Pitt's scorers were stifled. Lou's guys outscored the Pens, 15-5, in the last four matches.

While all this good news was making headlines, the bad news was obtaining plenty of media attention as well. Juicy offers from Nashville intensified and Dr. McMullen listened while reporters diligently followed the story.

When the third round opened at Philadelphia's Spectrum, reporters invaded McMullen's private box with "Are you serious about Nashville?" questions.
Doc Mac played it straight and allowed he was listening to the offers. Period!

By this time the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority knew it, too, had a problem. The Devils had become a big, big Met Area sports story, especially since the defending champion Rangers had been eliminated by the Flyers.

"Merely by winning those two series in a row, the Devils had made it easier for McMullen to negotiate with the Sports Authority," said reporter Gus Vic. "The more his Devils won, the better was McMullen's bargaining position."

One-two, just like that, Lemaire manipulated his stickhandlers to a pair of opening series wins on Broad Street. "It was beginning to look too good to be true," said an exultant Holik about the 4-1 and 5-2 decisions.

Then came the Philly shock treatment. With their backs to the proverbial wall -- wherever that is -- Eric Lindros and his mates invaded New Jersey and exited with a tied series after a 3-2 OT win and then 4-2 over the stunned Devs.

"We weren't really that worried," argued Bill Guerin, a rising star in the Garden State firmament. "Jacques gave us a lot of confidence and we'd been through adversity before."

Back and forth in Game Five, the evenly-matched skaters battled through almost three full stanzas tied 2-2. The time clock revealed that only 40 seconds remained in the period when Claude Lemieux steamed along the right boards.

Philly's backcheckers gave the French-Canadian sniper a bit more ice room than he expected but, still, his shot from the blue line was distant enough for most goalies to easily have stopped. Ah, but Ron Hextall blew it! Huge.

His right skate flashed a second too late, followed by a flashing red light and stunned silence -- give or take a posse of Devils fans -- throughout the arena. With only 44.2 seconds left, New Jersey easily preserved the 3-2 win.

When someone asked Claude Lemieux -- unusually immodest for the moment -- to explain how the club had come so far, he gave credit to the general staff.

"The minute Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and (goalie coach) Jacques
Caron came to New Jersey to do the job there was an immediate positive response," Lemieux insisted. "We then took the cue from them."

Taking the ice on June 13, 1995, the Devils now had the pleasure of a 19,040 capacity crowd behind them in East Rutherford. Desperate to remain alive and force a seventh game, the Flyers managed to shoot a pair past Brodeur.

But as he had demonstrated 'way back in Beantown, Marty Brodeur was treating playoff pressure as if it was his pillow. He just loved it and his buddies put four past the beleaguered Hextall and the Devils got a ticket to the Final.

By now Doc Mac's team not only had become the sport darlings of New Jersey and the New York Metropolitan Area but the entire National Hockey League as well. Now the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority was on the spot.

So was New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Devils fan and close friend of the McMullen family. She knew she couldn't afford to let this big Garden State winner leave for Nashville. No way.

I trailed McMullen as Doc Mac entered the Devs dressing room moments after his outfit had beaten Philly. With, Bubba, his pet Labrador retriever in hand, The Owner stopped for a moment as I asked a question.

I had a cameraman with me and I wondered what this win meant for him and Lou Lamoriello. Right on the short hop -- and with the Nashville bid still up for grabs vs. the Sports Authority -- The big boss smiled.

"It means that Lou is one hell of a negotiator!"

And so it was -- truly incredibly -- on to the Stanley Cup Final, a first for the franchise. Not surprisingly, the opponents were not to be taken lightly.

The Detroit Red Wings had become la creme de la creme of the National Hockey League. With captain Steve Yzerman leading them, the Winged Wheelers finished with the circuit's best regular season record.

Detroit had 18 more points than New Jersey and were so heavily-favored by the media that one Canadian newspaper had the Red Wings winning in a sweep. Yet another wag said, "Nah. It'll be Wings in three!"

Demeaning the Devils was almost a conditioned reflex among some out-of-town journalists. A day before the Final Round opened, the NHL tossed a media luncheon in Detroit inviting players from both teams and their coaches.

The Red Wings aces -- Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Nik Lidstrom, et. al. and coach Scotty Bowman -- were first up at the dais while the other Detroit skaters sat many tables mixing with the scribes.

When the questions were over newsmen then huddled with the other Red Wings often questioning them as if the series was over and not just beginning.

Once the last questions were asked, it was the Devils turn to do dais and then table-hopping. Jacques Lemaire, Scott Stevens and Marty Brodeur got up before the crowd while teammates sat at the vacated tables.

Then a stunning thing happened; half the media got up and followed the Wings out of the room; leaving the Devils wondering if they had done something wrong. Being there covering the event, I felt a bit sorry for our guys.

""They're chasing the Wings," one of the New Jersey reporters observed, "because they think the series is over -- and Detroit won.

If it bothered Lemaire or his legion, nobody showed it. Amiable and relaxed, the Visitors talked about their past, the present and their hoped-for future.

"When I was with Montreal," Claude Lemieux remembered, "and we won The Cup, it was the twenty-third for the Canadiens. What I'm hoping here is that we can win the first one for New Jersey and then start a tradition."

Yet disdain for Lemieux and his Devils permeated through the capacity crowd prior to the opening face-off on June 17, 1995. As the P.A. announcer read off the New Jersey lineup, each name was greeted with "WHO CARES?"

But by the second period the Joe Louis Arena fans began to care. Stephane Richer thrust the Garden Staters into the lead with a power play goal and despite Dino Ciccarelli getting one for the home squad, the Devs stayed strong.

Bowman's offense was frustrated by Lemaire's clever defensive strategy and when Claude Lemieux beat Vernon with a slapshot early in the third frame, a temporary case of lockjaw enveloped Hockeytown USA.

New Jersey not only won the opener, 2-1, but limited the home club to a mere 17 shots on goal. Detroit's skein of eight straight home playoff wins was shattered into more pieces than Humpty-Dumpty's dinner jacket.

Doc Emrick: "Detroit was supposed to be the offensive juggernaut that was going to blow right through New Jersey. In Michigan they figured that Lemaire would hoist the white flag of surrender by the third game."

There was no sign of armistice-seeking by the Devils in Game Two although they fell behind twice, 1-0 (John MacLean ties it at 1-1) and then 2-1 early in the third period.

By this time the Motor City Six had become extremely wary of Scott Stevens after he had flattened Kozlov with an open ice hit that could be felt in the Arctic Circle. Kozlov would survive but his team felt a shortness of breath.

The Devils m;p.h. now was outpacing Detroit's and it was evidenced on the Visitors tying goal by Scott Niedermayer, Lemaire's answer to Kid Lightning.

Outskating fleet defenseman Paul Coffey at the enemy blue line, Nieder fired his Bren gun and the shot completely missed the net. But the velocity was such that it rebounded directly to the onrushing Devil.

"All I had to do then," Scott pointed out, "is push it past Vernon."

He did and the score was 2-2; anybody's hockey game. Then along came Mister Nobody -- Jim Dowd -- a fourth-liner who had been completely ignored by the media although he was the only New Jersey-bred player on the Devs.

Defenseman Shawn Chambers had rifled a shot from the blue line that produced a juicy rebound. Short, skinny Dowd was in Juicy Rebound Country and put it behind Vernon and it was 3-2 for the Garden State.

"A lifetime dream come true," said Dowd from Brick Township after Richer sealed the deal with an open-netter for the 4-2 prize. "I was happy that Jacques had enough faith in me to be out there."

Meanwhile, the Figure Filberts in various stats departments couldn't believe the numbers. "In a span of 72 hours," AP's Tim Sullivan counted, "Detroit had lost as many games in one series as they had in the previous three combined."

The Final Round moved to East Rutherford on June 22, 1995. Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history, constantly was being outfoxed by his former star Montreal center, Lemaire. But two wins does not win a Cup.

"We knew we had to keep our foot on the accelerator," said Holik. "Detroit didn't come into this series as favorites for nothing."

On June 22, crowds lined up early around the big barn off the New Jersey Turnpike. Most everyone expected the once-vaunted Red Wings to find their form and catapult back into the series. All they needed was two wins.

Meanwhile, beyond the cheering, talks of another kind were heating up. Realizing that -- win or lose -- the Devils had become rock stars,New Jersey Sports Authority officials began blueprinting a new Devils deal to keep them.

It practically was signed, sealed and delivered on the ice in Game Three. Successive goals by Bruce Driver, Claude Lemieux, Neal Broten, Randy McKay and Bobby Holik put the Home Boys ahead 5-0. It ended, 5-2.

"We wanted to play our game," said Bob Errey of the Wings, "and they didn't let us."

Hours before Game Four on June 24, 1995, a producer, director and the talent from SportsChannel sat in a diner near the Meadowlands Arena. I was one of them and the prevailing thinking was that the Red Wings still could come back.

And for a while, they did. Desperate and shaken, Detroit's skaters took a 2-1 lead and kept it until late in the first period. It was then that one of Lou Lamoriello's prize acquisitions turned the game around.

Shawn Chambers of Sterling Heights, Michigan was obtained -- in part -- for his sizzling shot. At 17:45 of the first period he drilled a bomb past Vernon to tie the game at 2-2. Detroit was never to take the lead again.

"The Devils not only had the impetus of the crowd," Emrick recalled, "but they also had the overwhelming ability to create turnovers and get goals."

They turned the game, and the series, over in the second period when another Lou steal, Neal Broten, took a pass from Niedermayer and chipped the puck over Vernon's glove from directly in front of the crease.

"Neal is one heck of a hockey player," Stevens opined after the contest. "I don't know if we could have won without him."

Broten's tally proved to be the game and Cup-winner although there still was plenty of hockey minutes left to play. After all it was only a 3-2 margin at the start of the third.

"We had a kid in Albany at the start of the season," said Guerin. "A Russian kid named Sergei Brylin. He looked too young and too small to ever make the River Rats."

Smarts and speed outweighed any size deficiencies. Brylin eventually was promoted to The Show and displayed his value by beating Vernon at 7:46 of the third period; 4-2, New Jersey.

" I remember wanting just one more," said a SportsChannel cameraman who was working from behind the glass behind Vernon. "One more, just to be sure."

With less than seven minutes remaining and the crowd needling the Wings with chants of OVER-RATED, OVER-RATED, Chambers wound up with all the might at his command and slapped the puck goalward.

The six-ounce hunk of vulcanized rubber travelled with such authority it was almost as if it had "Cup, Sealed And Delivered" written on it.

"At that point," said Emrick, "I wrote on my scorecard: 'CHAMPIONSHIP TO NEW JERSEY; THE DEVILS WIN THE STANLEY CUP.'"

Minutes before the final buzzer sounded, Lemaire motioned for his Crash Line -- Mike Peluso, Randy McKay and Bobby Holik -- to take the ice but Peluso begged off; he was weeping with joy, far too overwhelmed to move.

Emrick: "Even in the handshake line, you could still see Mike was sort of shaking his head back and forth. That massive, stringy long hair of his, shaking at the same time as he was trying to shake back the tears while shaking hands.

"Here was just the moment when the whole shock of the situation was getting to him. Everything brought a thunderous cheer. That was all part of a great memory."

The celebration reached its peak when Commissioner Gary Bettman walked to center ice and presented The Stanley Cup to captain Scott Stevens.

"The Devils' amazing playoff run has taken the word teamwork to a new level," said Bettman. "Congratulations to the Devils. Scott Stevens ... this is for you."

Pandemonium reigned in the crowd and on the ice as players did their victory skates with the oversized Cup. The dressing room scene was wall to wall, filled with bodies, cameras, microphones -- and champagne.

It was so crowded that even a hockey celebrity such as Mike Emrick couldn't squeeze in so he hung out in the packed hallway schmoozing with hockey folks and media types.

"An hour-and-a-half after the game," Emrick chuckled, "Scott Stevens came down the hallway with the Stanley Cup. And he walked over to me and let me touch it. And then he walked on and that was very nice of him."

Speaking of nice, a few weeks later the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority hammered out a new, sweeter deal for Dr. John McMullen.

The champion New Jersey Devils were there for the Garden State to keep!

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