Our road to the 2000 Cup continues in part 2 of my article. For those of you who didn't catch part 1, it can be accessed right here and for those of you who read the last page of a book first (as some do), continue on.
Part 1 left us on the New Jersey Turnpike headed for Philly and the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Philly series was a true faceoff between the two top teams in the Eastern Conference. Philly finished #1 and the Devils #2. This series was the most trying seven games of hockey I have ever experienced (along with the vast majority of Devils fans). There are no words that can express or do justice to this legendary series and the amount of nervous tension that accompanied it. It is said that this is one of, if not the greatest comeback in Conference Final history.
Increasing the intensity was the overwhelmingly hostile rivalry that had escalated over the years between the players and fans. As if this wasn't bad enough, my favorite antagonistic commentator (Barry Melrose) was all over the Devils throughout the entire series. When the Flyers won, they were playing "great hockey." When the Devils won, it was because Philly had a soft game and NOT because the Devils played well. So much for objective reporting.
We took game 1 convincingly 4-1 and then the turbulent tides turned (drastically). We lost the next three games, giving the Flyers a 3-1 lead in the series, the Devils on their heels and facing elimination. This prompted Larry Robinson's fabled and infamous locker room tirade when he kicked the garbage can, probably saving our season and ultimately earned us the Cup.
Time to buckle up and strap yourself in for the biggest rollercoaster ride of your life. Every game from this point on was a game 7.
Going into game 5, I was despondent but both hopeful and wishful. As the game started, I was tied up in knots, but we came out charging and after we scored the first three goals of the game, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest. We lived to play another day.
In game 6, there was an added element that provoked anxiety. Eric Lindros was making his return after being injured and out for two months. The fear for all Devils fans was that this would be the catalyst to send us home for the summer. The first two periods were nerve-wrecking and hair raising. Every shot, save and giveaway was heart stopping. We knew that any break in the armor could potentially end the season. You could feel it all around you: people sitting on the edge of their seats, bouncing up and down and wringing their hands. We went into the third period scoreless. Talk about tension!
About halfway though the third period, Claude Lemieux scored and the place went wild. Mogliny followed that up a few minutes later and we were up 2-0. There were 19,040 people raucously cheering, but by hockey standards, there was still a lot of game to play. Way too much for my liking with what was at stake. The clock couldn't possibly move fast enough! Again, in the final minute, the sold-out crowd was on their feet shrieking and when the buzzer sounded we exploded with exuberation. Now it would come down to a true "game 7," but now we believed. We believed we could do the unthinkable.
Game 7. I couldn't think about anything else the entire day. It was all consuming. I raced home early, changed into my good-luck garb, surrounded myself with my paraphernalia as my heart palpitated until the puck dropped. Game on. We scored one goal in the first, Philly scored one goal in the second and we went into the third tied 1-1.
With the culmination of facing elimination for the third time and the finals on the line, this third period very well may have been the most punishing period of hockey I have ever watched. I watched alone, didn't know what to do with myself, paced the floor, laid on the floor, sat on the floor and in every seat in my living room. I was beside myself. With 2:32 left in regulation, Patrick Elias scored the winning goal. I would have been swinging from the rafters if I had them and let out a scream so raw and loud that until this day, I am not sure how the police did not turn up at my door!
Here we go - Stanley Cup Finals!!
Leading up to the start of the series, my self-proclaimed nemesis Barry had plenty to say. We were facing the defending Stanley Cup Champions, he was heartfelt about the probability of them repeating and blah, blah, blah. He droned on incessantly about Ed Belfour (Dallas goalie), how it would be a struggle to get anything past him which could prove to be insurmountable and an uphill climb for the Devils. That being said, we took game 1 by a score of 7-3 and Belfour was chased from the net as our fans rejoiced.
Game 1 brought with it a plethora of memories starting with a grade "A" tailgate. Brodeur stood on his head that night, Daneyko scored the go-ahead goal in the second (may also have set a record for the high jump in celebration), we scored three goals in the third inside of five minutes and our beloved "A line" combining for four goals and seven assists. A night to behold…
Video: 2000 CUP REUNION | The A Line
After the conclusion of that game, I hung around in the stands (last person there with my mother tagging by my side) because I had a heartfelt and special message I wanted to deliver to my buddy, Barry. I found my way around the arena to where he was filming, got as close as I could and boisterously proclaimed: "Hey Barry - how do you feel about the Belfour bandwagon now?" Security politely asked me to exit the building and I complied, but with a great sense of satisfaction.
After dropping game 2, the series shifted to Dallas. Game 3 was on my birthday and I hosted a viewing party at my house for my section 106 family. The boys did not disappoint and once again, delivered me a priceless birthday gift: a win and 2-1 edge in the series.
Game 4 resembled game 1 in that we scored three goals in the third within about a four-minute span to include a short hander by John Madden. We were dominating, dictating play and it was thrilling in every sense of the word. We were coming home for game 5 and up 3-1 in the series. We were ready and convinced that the cup would be hoisted and we would end that night with our second championship.
Video: 2000 CUP REUNION | The Rookies
You best believe that "hoopla" for game 5 was escalated to the Nth degree. We arrived at 2:00 for an 8:00 game. I could safely say that every fan was confident and expectant of a win. There were thousands of makeshift Stanley Cups being carried through the parking lot, enraptured fans high fiving anyone that came their way and the feeling of euphoria throughout the lot.
At some point during the tailgate, there were a couple of Dallas fans walking aimlessly through the lot and one of my tailgating comrades gave them a misplaced invitation to join us. BIG MISTAKE! Critical faux pas. Not only did they infiltrate our tailgate, but they touched our cookie box which very well could have been the factor that changed fate that night.
On the march to the arena and once inside, the continuous chant of "We Want The Cup" reverberated everywhere. We were absolutely convinced that tonight was the night. We knew the cup was in the building and had every expectation that it would be ours by the end of the tilt. The energy in the building was off the charts. You could feel it running through you like an electric current.
As the game wore on and we went into the third period 0-0, every play took my breath away. I was waiting and optimistic that we would score another late period goal to give us the win, but with no avail.
The game went into three overtime periods - the longest scoreless game in Stanley Cup history - nothing short of torture. As the OT's progressed, both goalies were in the zone, collectively making 88 saves. Each and every one of them causing you to jump in your seat praying for a goal or save depending on who the shooter was. As every minute went by, it became increasingly wearing and emotionally draining. After 106 minutes of play and in the third OT, Dallas scored to win the game. We were shattered and I was exhausted (as if I had played the full 106 minutes myself).
Although we were heavy hearted and wanted nothing more than to win at home, we knew we had two more games to do it and no one wants the crapshoot of a game 7. We needed to finish it out in game 6 and bring the cup back to New Jersey.
I had a couple of people over to watch game 6 with me and I am sure that by the time we hit OT #2, they were regretful that they had accepted my invitation to come.
In the first period, the Devils suffered a devastating loss with Petr Sykora being knocked out and carried from the ice on a stretcher. You could tell that the team was shaken up as I know all of the fans were. Petr was a fan favorite, Patrik Elias's best friend and instrumental as part of our "A Line."
Going into the third period, we were tied 1-1 and it remained that way through the end of regulation. This brought us to yet another OT period. Talk about taxing! This was now the fourth OT period in two days. I was utterly distraught - I couldn't sit still, was (again) all over my living room, high strung and throwing people out of chairs so I could sit in them as my guests watched in guarded silence (good thing they knew me well).
The first OT came and went. While waiting for the next period, I was wearing a hole in my carpet and then it started - OT #2. How much can a person be expected to endure? For the second OT, I settled on the floor right in front of the TV with my good luck towel clenched in my hands and being held so closely to my mouth that it is surprising I didn't swallow it. Then it happened - at 8:20 of the second OT, Elias threw a signature behind the back-blind pass to Arnott and BAM - We Won - we were the 2000 Stanley Cup Champions! In one fluid and fell swoop move, I was off the floor jumping vigorously, whooping, hollering and of course, crying tears of joy which only intensified when I saw Larry Robinson and Patrick Elias wearing Sykora's jersey on the ice in honor of him as they celebrated.
Scott Stevens was very deservedly awarded the Conn Smythe and then it was time for the Cup presentation - WOO HOO!!
Every Cup win is different, but this was one for the ages. What and how we accomplished it was both amazing and astonishing. It was a hard-fought battle that was staggering at times, inspirational and 110% both, deserved and earned throughout every moment of play that spring.
Doctor McMullen was offered a ticker tape parade in Hoboken but opted to give the fans a family style party in a setting they know and love.
It was a party for true champions, perfect in every way. A 45,000-person tailgating blowout done our way.
There was a band and subsequently, a comprehensive video commemorating highlights of the full run. They brought out all of the hardware: Prince of Wales Trophy, the Conn Smythe and then the holy grail, OUR STANLEY CUP! This was preceded by a red and white firework display bigger and better than any 4th of July you have seen.
The players were announced one at a time and each spoke. Some of the words we heard:
- Randy McKay apologized for not winning at home but brought it back for us!
- Scott Stevens acknowledged that they had 10 road wins, saw the fans in the stands, thanked us for the support and said they were a great road team because they always saw us there.
- Ken Daneyko said, "We waited six long years to get back in this position and you guys waited with us through thick and thin. It's the most gratifying feeling in the world. This makes it all worthwhile."
In response, I have seven words for our 2000 Stanley Cup squad…
THANK YOU, THANK YOU AND THANK YOU!