This was the year; the one Devils fans were yearning for since Dr. John McMullen moved the Colorado Rockies to New Jersey.
It was the first playoff experience for the Garden Staters topped by a melodramatic final night postseason clinching in Chicago, courtesy of John MacLean's OT extravaganza.
Several new characters appeared in coach Jim Schoenfeld's passion play, and the following were my favorites.
PATRIK SUNDSTROM: The Sweet Swede was a tough nut to crack for many media types, me included. Shy to a fault, and soft-spoken when he did talk, he nevertheless was a winner. The Devils got him in a trade with Vancouver and he maintained his high-level offensive play. While Patty preferred to avoid center stage, he couldn't help it on April 22, 1988. On that night at The Meadowlands, Sunny set an NHL record with eight points in a game on three goals and five assists. The 10-4 playoff win over Washington remains one of the most memorable scoring feats of all-time at Byrne Arena. There was no way Patrik could avoid the press on this night, and he handled himself admirably.
TOM KURVERS. Discarded by Montreal and then Buffalo, the Minneapolis-born defenseman evolved into one of the most underrated, competent blueliners once he arrived in New Jersey. And a fan favorite as well. When coach Jim Schoenfeld's skaters most needed a boost in the '87-88 homestretch, Tommy delivered. His two-goal effort against the Flyers in Philly gave the Devils a gritty 6-5 win and helped propel them to the ultimate destination - the playoff berth. Tommy was articulate and fun; one of my favorite interviews of a memorable campaign.
JACK O'CALLAHAN: "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" could have been the Devils' theme song when this happy-go-lucky Charleston, Massachusetts native arrived in East Rutherford. New Jersey happily obtained the smiling Irishman from Chicago. A tough hombre on the blue line, Jack proved to be one of the most amiable of athletes off-ice. But since he was playing behind better known D-men such as Ken Daneyko, Joe Cirella and Craig Wolanin, O'C's exploits tended to be less-publicized by the critics, but not by me. I loved every minute he skated for the Devs.
BRENDAN SHANAHAN: Drafted second overall by the Devils in 1987, Shanny showed up for an interview with me a few days after the Draft. It was a hot June day, but we had a ball. Wearing a very Irish green jacket, Brendan was relaxed and ready for all questions and handled them as if he'd been around for a decade. Unfortunately, his freshman season of '87-88 proved to be a build-up to a letdown. He played that whole first NHL campaign with a badly sprained ankle. We enjoyed his company and competence until he was dealt to St. Louis in the controversial trade that brought Scott Stevens to New Jersey.
DOUG BROWN: There's something special about redheads and this New Englander from Scarborough, Massachusetts is Exhibit A. In the '87-88 playoff run, Dougie came into his own as an extraordinary penalty-killer, leading all NHL rookies that season in shorthanded goals. In the great, great turnaround game against Washington on March 20, 1988, Doug scored a biggie that helped catapult New Jersey to a fabulous Finish Line end to the regular season. In a playoff game against the Bruins at Boston Garden, Brownie scored a spectacular overtime goal. He called it "The biggest thrill of my life." Pleasant to a fault, Doug was a sweetheart to deal with; insightful, amiable and what a joy to watch on the PK.
JIM KORN: Under Lou Lamoriello's baton at Providence College, the pride of Hopkins, Minnesota graduated magna cum laude and by the '87-88 campaign was providing the kind of muscle previous Devils teams had lacked up front. "He became the team's most intimidating player," commented a SportsChannel TV announcer. Unfortunately, Jim injured his shoulder and required surgery in February 1988 and that left him inactive until April. One of the team's intellects, Korn was an interviewer's delight and there was nothing Korny about that.
SEAN BURKE: In my more than half-century of covering the NHL there's no question in my mind that Burke's ability to turn a non-playoff team into an overnight winner defied credulity. Heading into Game 80 of the season, Sean had compiled an extraordinary 9-1-0 record. He put his team in the playoffs on the final night of the season by beating Chicago. His mental toughness was remarkable considering he joined a club which literally could not afford to lose one game. Through it all, he remained cool, calm and collected. After the '88 playoffs, I did a radio-TV tour with Sean that was almost as exciting as his ice exploits.
BOB SAUVE: Lou Lamoriello knew that Burke would need a respite during the final week of the season and Sauve turned out to be the perfect backup in the away game in Buffalo. At the time, Lou called Sauve's kick save on Ken Priestlay's breakaway in the 2-2 tie with the Sabres on March 25, 1988 "the biggest save in franchise history." The little guy came through when a loss would have doomed playoff hopes. The tie gave New Jersey the big point it needed.
DAVID MALEY: There are players you just have to like simply because of who they are and how they comport themselves on and off the ice. Maley was one of those fellows who "got it." We became friends both professionally in terms of my TV work and away from the camera as well. His grit and will to win were above average in that first playoff season.