Stan Fischler writes about the 2000 Stanley Cup Final between the New Jersey Devils and the Dallas Stars
/ Special to NewJerseyDevils.com
The Song Is Ended But The Melody Lingers On -- Irving Berlin
It is now nearly twenty years since the Devils won their second Stanley Cup.
We are almost two decades from the cheers that welcomed New Jersey's champions, returning from their Dallas conquest. The huge silver trophy originally donated by Lord Stanley of Preston in their grasp.
But now, beyond the cheering, there remains the melody of memories as the Devils hail yesterday's conquering heroes overflowing with gripping tales produced by their determined defeat of Dallas.
Having covered the team that season -- and playoffs -- for Madison Square Garden Networks, I have my own stories galore. Some will produce smiles; others a frown or two; butll in the heart-throbbing spirit of victory.
The tales extend from opening night of the 2000 Final Round in Texas right through to the Cup clincher at Reunion Arena where Matt Loughlin, myself and the MSG Networks crew celebrated with Larry Robinson's winners.
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To understand the immense challenge of the Final Round, it's important to recall that the Devils were up against the defending champions. Face it, the Stars wanted to sip that Cup champagne as much as the Garden Staters.
Those of us who were in Dallas for the opener of the Final Round on May 30, 2000 could have been forgiven for believing that the Devils would be breezin' along with the breeze after a 7-3 triumph over the Champs.
But the joy was short-lived as Stars goalie Ed Belfour regained form and bested Marty Brodeur in Game Two, 2-1.
"From that point on we knew that we'd have our hands full to beat them," said Robinson. "And I'm sure that they felt the same way on the other side."
That they did, after the Gang From East Rutherford returned the 2-1 favor to take another series lead in Dallas. The Devils had moved to the brink of Cup-manship, with a 3-1 victory on June 5th.
Cup-thirsty fans jammed Continenal Airlines Arena for what could have been the clincher on June 8th. Once again rooters were treated to a goalie battle extraordinaire with neither Brodeur nor Belfour allowing a biscuit behind them.
But that was in regulation; and now Game Five went into sudden-death overtime with the Devils just one goal away from Champagne-drinking time.
No question about it, even time-hardened media types were as excited as the 19,004 fans who filled the big ban.
"If this was a baseball game," one reporter remarked, "it would be called an all-time pitcher's battle."
And so it was with Brodeur and Belfour battling into the third overtime period without even a dent in their respective coats of armor.
Meanwhile, almost a dozen MSG Networks personnel jammed our little arena studio where we watched the war game on ice flashing across an all too-small tv monitor screen.
Our "OOHs," and "AHs," reflected the ebb and flow of play. "OOHs" when Dallas almost scored and "AHs" for New Jersey's near-things.
The long battle finally ended with collective depression when Mike Modano beat Martin Brodeur in the third overtime period.
Granted, it was not the result we wanted but all agreed that we'd witnessed one heckuva hockey game. Furthermore, it meant that we were in for more thrills in Texas where a possible Stanley Cup-winner could be crowned.
Arriving in Dallas, we media types were greeted by an assortment of predictions now that the Stars had moved within a game of tying the series. Or, as one Devil so cautiously put it: "We shall see what we shall see."
What we saw was a bitter start for the Devils. A devastating, first period leaping elbow delivered by hulking Dallas defenseman Derian Hatcher toppled New Jersey's Petr Sykora at the Stars' blue line.
Sykora thudded to the ice and lay unconscious until stretcher-bearers carried him to the infirmary. Not long after play continued, the Czech ace was whisked by ambulance to Baylor Medical Center.
As for the sweet part, New Jersey jumped into a 1-0 lead early in the second period when penalty-killing defenseman Scott Niedermayer paced a three-on-one Devils rush. Scotty beat Belfour at 5:18 for his fifth playoff goal.
The 1-0 lead was all too brief. Just over a minute later the Stars Mike Keane beat Brodeur after the puck deflected off defenseman Colin White.
With the game knotted at one-piece, the full house was treated to yet another premier goaltending exhibition. Neither Balfour nor Brodeur would give another inch until the buzzer signaled the end of regulation time.
"You could cut the tension with a chainsaw," coach Robinson later reflected.
The widespread anxiety continued into the sudden-death overtime period and the tension-slicing merely mounted by the minute; especially with a mere 1:17 remaining in the first overtime.
It was then that Jason Arnott laid a fender-bender on the Stars Blake Sloan. To Jason's dismay, the whistle blew and New Jersey's ace was given a two-minute ticket for cross-checking.
Arnott protested that it was an "iffy" call, unfit for such a delicately-balanced contest. But his protest was dismissed out of hand and so was the Stars power play -- both through the end of the first and 43 seconds of the second OT.
A nervous wreck after serving his sentence, Arnott leaped out of the box re-forming two-thirds of the famed A-Line along with Patrik Elias. "The guys pulled me through," said Anott, "and I felt I had to go out and do something."
The tall center was doubly motivated. On the one hand he wanted to redeem himself for the questionable penalty he had taken. And on the other, he couldn't help thinking about his hospitalized buddy, Sykora.
Arnott: "Every time I came back to the bench I thought about Sykie. It was tough to play through overtime without him."
With the raucous home crowd bellowing for a Dallas goal, Brodeur refused their wishes as the second overtime passed the eight minute mark.
"Marty was unbelievable," added Robinson, "and he had to be the way the Stars were coming on in the sudden death."
Brodeur was a good 180 feet away when a critical face-off evolved deep in the Dallas zone. Out of a scramble the puck made its way to the left point where Scott Stevens had all to do preventing the rubber from going over the blue line.
With a split-second reflex move, the captain fired the rubber into the right corner. In a foot race, Elias got there first and -- like Stevens -- relied on his reflexes; or "hockey sense," if you will.
Patrik blindly backhanded the biscuit in a Hail Mary move toward the left face-off circle. While he was at it, he hoped for the best. It was a worthwhile hope.
Instinctively, Arnott raced toward the delectable rubber, knowing that Balfour was anticipating a shot. "The way Belfour was playing," Arnott explained, "he figured to 'stack' this pads so I knew I had to roof it."
That he did. At exactly 8:20 of the second sudden death period, the puck dented the twine. The game was over and the Devils ecstatically won their second Stanley Cup.
Over the boards jumped coach Robinson who was handed Sykora's jersey -- he then donned the sweater -- solid evidence that the Devils had not forgotten their injured pal.
Arnott: "After the first period, Patty and I said, 'We have to win this Cup for our boy, Pete.' And we did!"
After the teams exchanged the traditional handshakes. Commissioner Gary Bettman presented the playoffs MVP Conn Smythe Trophy to captain Scott Stevens and there were no dissenters in the ranks.
"From start to finish there never was a more intense competitor," lauded Robinson. "We had a ton of great performances but Scotty topped them all. Nobody was more deserving of the Smythe."
And no personalty was more pridefully busting his vest than 82-year-old Devils founder and owner Dr. John McMullen who already had savored one Cup championship in 1995.
"I couldn't be happier," The Boss exclaimed. "I wanted one more Cup and the boys got it for me."
So true, and the Champions got it for the State of New Jersey as well.
Simply put, the 2000 Cup adventure could legitimately be called a job well done and one that never will be forgotten.
And, yes, as the song and upcoming celebration goes, the so-so-sweet melody lingers on!