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DEVILS OVER THE DECADES: Ch. 23 - Taking on the Bruins

by Stan Fischler StanFischler / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

For the New Jersey Devils, these were uncharted waters.

Against all odds, they now were swimming in the third round of the 1988 Stanley Cup playoffs. "What's going on here?" was the theme echoed from ocean to ocean.

While the mighty Boston Bruins awaited the Devils arrival in Beantown, the Jerseyites were igniting attention in places like Edmonton where Journal columnist John Short lucidly answered the "What going on?" question

"The Devils are in the Prince of Wales Final because they were the best team when it counted," Short explained. "No other reason need to be considered.

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"In the deciding game (against Washington), New Jersey proved to be better in goal, deeper on defense, better behind the bench, more emotional, stronger physically, generally faster and capable of winning all important face-offs."

Now, what they no longer had were the Capitals to push around. Stepping off their team bus at Boston Garden, Jim Schoenfeld's skaters were greeted by Hub fans delighted to remind them of the challenge ahead.

Conversely, back home local journalists waxed poetic over Schony's upset-minded skaters. At his New Jersey home, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning Dave Anderson wrote about what the Devils meant to his state.

Anderson: "Until now, Byrne Arena was just a structure. But because of the Devils, it's now a structure with soul. Because of the Devils, it now has some memories. And, as a result, some meaning. 

"Jersey fans will cherish Sean Burke's final-second save in the sixth game elimination of the Islanders. In the series with the Caps there is the memory of Patrik Sundstrom's record eight points and Mark Johnson's four goals."

Meanwhile, in Toronto, Sun columnist Jim Hunt offered this: "My vote goes to the Devils as Cinderella story of the year. The way they play, no team is safe. They are for real."

Sitting in his Boston Garden office, Bruins coach Terry O'Reilly read the stories and tried to lay out a blueprint for demolishing the Devils. O'Reilly's opposite, Schoenfeld, was scheming in the Visitors clubhouse.

It was New Jersey's bench boss who came up with the shocker. Schony decided to once again bench Burke and insert Bob Sauve between the pipes.

"I wanted to let everyone come down after the win over Washington," Gentleman Jim explained. "I feel I can win with Bob."

The Bruins didn't think so. They built a 3-0 lead and looked ready to double the count when the Challengers finally awakened. A pair of goals by defenseman Tom Kurvers and his blue line buddy, Jack O'Callahan tied the score, 3-3.

Then, Cinderella vanished while Norris Trophy-winner Ray Bourque beat Sauve at 5:56 of the third period and, finally, Boston's Ken Linseman cemented the 5-3 win late in the final frame. 

Defending his choice of Sauve, Schoenfeld pointed to other reasons for the defeat; namely his skaters simply needed to fix their clocks.

"The Bruins were ready to play hockey at the right time," Schony noted. "You can't spot them three goals and expect to win."

That said, there was no way Gentleman Jim could keep Burke in storage. Big Sean had to start Game Two at Boston Garden; and that he did. What's more, the mathematics supported the decision.

Since coming to New Jersey on March 1, 1988, Burke's record -- in regular season and playoffs -- was an encouraging 16-6. Now he was aiming for W Number Seventeen.

His aim was good for 55 minutes as his mates had helped the Visitors to a 2-1 lead. But late in the third period referee Kerry Fraser tagged Doug Sulliman with a questionable penalty. On the ensuing power play Boston tied the score.

Schoenfeld was fit to be tied and let Referee Fraser have a piece of Jim's mind. "I told him that with all the calls he let go, he shouldn't have called that one on Sully." 

But what was done was done and now the teams prepared for overtime. Clearly the Bruins began the sudden-death period with a big push. 

It started with a Cam Neely breakaway, adroitly foiled by Burke. Next it was sharpshooter Rick Middleton, then Craig Janney and Randy Burridge. Burke was not to be beaten.

As the first overtime moved toward a conclusion, the Devils got a break. Icing was called against O'Reilly's club forcing a face-off deep in the Beantown end.

Schony sent clever Claude Loiselle to take the draw from Craig Janney.

Loiselle did what he was assigned to do and got the rubber back to defenseman Randy Velischek at the left point. Instead of shooting, Mister V skated with the rubber into the left corner behind the net.

Peeking from his new position, Randy picked out his partner, Joe Cirella, from the corner of his eye and dished the biscuit to the right defenseman who had left his defense lane.

Realizing that his mates had vacated defensive positions, forward Doug Brown moved to Cirella's spot. From the Visitors bench, screams were heard directed at Cirella.

"The guys on the bench were my eyes," Joe later revealed. "I could hear them yelling to me to get the puck to Brownie. So, I took their advice and got Doug the puck."

Bruins goalie Reggie Lemelin had tracked the rubber until Brown let it fly but then a crowd of bodies converged in front of the crease screening Lemelin from the oncoming drive.

Never known for his supersonic shot, Brown did a double-take as he viewed the onlookers -- and the result.

Brown: "When I saw the puck go in and the red light go on, I felt overwhelming excitement. My body felt electrified. It was the biggest thrill of my life. But, the truth is, we couldn't have done it without Sean Burke!"

Disconsolate over the final result -- and suddenly fearful of the Devils -- in the Boston dressing room coach O'Reilly acknowledged what the sellout crowd already had confirmed. "Burke's goaltending was the difference."

Well, maybe. In the Winner's room several Devils pointed out that their goalie got a huge OT save out of forward David Maley. The latter's left skate stopped an almost sure goal from B's defenseman Gord Kluzak.

Amid all the good-natured hullabaloo on the Jersey side, everyone seemed to have forgotten the late third period angst over referee Kerry Fraser's penalty to Doug Sullivan. 

Which was just as well considering the turbulence over officiating which would develop at the conclusion of Game Three in East Rutherford. 

A fight promoter would have billed the upcoming main event as Jim Schoenfeld vs. Don Koharski. 

The NHL had other words for it. But nobody disagrees with what to this day remains one of the most explosive events in the 38-year history of the Devils. 

The Coach takes on The Referee.

Stay tuned.

LISTS: FOUR REASONS WHY THE DEVILS STAYED EVEN WITH BOSTON:

1. DISADVANTIGING HOME ICE: Schoenfeld's skaters were not intimidated by Boston Garden, a rink that notoriously gave visiting teams the Heebie-Jeebies.

2. DEPTH: Bottom-liners such as Doug Brown, Claude Loiselle and David Maley were playing as well as first-liners for the Visitors. Brownie got the game-winner in Game Two and Maley came up with a game-saving defensive move.

3. GOALTENDING: While Bob Sauve may have "lost" Game One, Sean Burke bounced right back with one of the best efforts of his rookie season, out-goaling the veteran Reg Lemelin in Game Two.

4. BELIEVING IN CINDERELLA: Having upset Washington, the Devils had begun to think they were the team of destiny. After Game Two in Boston, that special feeling returned.

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