During the 1987-88 homestretch drive any Devils defeat hurt but when the rival Rangers happened to be the administrator of the loss, it pained even more.
What especially stung was a loss at Madison Square Garden when the Blueshirts ran rookie goalie Sean Burke out of the net and right to the shower.
Now, with the rematch in East Rutherford, Jim Schoenfeld's sextet was ready for revenge and it couldn't have happened at a more opportune time.
But first, backup puck-stopper Bob Sauve produced an overtime point -- a 29-save performance and 2-2 tie in Buffalo. This enabled Burke to be well-rested for a comeback against the Broadway visitors.
No question, on this day a playoff atmosphere could be felt across the Meadowlands and the capacity crowd knew that the rampaging Garden Staters still had a shot at a playoff berth.
Press box regulars already had it all figured out and the arithmetic was simple; a Devils win would lift them to within three points of the New Yorkers who held fourth place and the final post-season berth.
You didn't have to be a mathematician to realize that the New Jersey-New York rivalry had climbed to a new I.Q. (Intensity Quotient) level. What remained to be seen was whether the young Devils had the goods and, finally, a killer instinct.
It didn't take long for Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck to get the answer to those questions. Before the game was two minutes old Devils center Kirk Muller scored the first of his two goals to give New Jersey an early lead.
But there was more first-period damage to be inflicted on the Visitors. Pat Verbeek followed with his first of the game. Plus, Pat seemed more pumped to torpedo the Rangers than any of his mates.
Pat thrilled the fans with his encore effort -- a penalty shot. It was awarded to Schoenfeld's outfit after Rangers defenseman Mark Hardy -- in desperation mode -- hurled his stick at Verbeek who was in a delectable scoring position.
"Hardy's stick came from out of nowhere," Patty explained. "And when the ref gave me the penalty shot my legs were shaking; as if I was standing in front of a class, giving a speech."
Speechless is the best word to describe the hush that came over the arena as Verbeek skated to center ice for his chef d' oeuvre.
Slowly and purposefully -- reminiscent of a cobra vs. mongoose maneuver -- Verbeek fixed his eyes on his foe. Vanbiesbrouck, in turn, stared down his enemy.
Now, Patty had moved into his next gear, faking to his left. VBK went for the deke, but Verbeek quickly swung to his backhand and lifted the rubber over the red line. SCORE!
Standing on every shelf, the sellout crowd went bananas as the red light flashed and Verbeek hailed his heroic move which -- in the end -- would prove to be the game-winner.
But the Devils were far from finished with their offensive. The beachhead had been secured and now it was time to inflict more damage on the retreating Rangers.
Defensive forwards -- crack penalty-killers to boot -- Claude Loiselle and Doug Brown added goals for a TKO that sent Vanbiesbrouck to his clubhouse. Yet the assault continued; this time with Pat Conacher notching another goal.
The final tally read, 7-2, New Jersey; ably abetted by Brown-Loiselle, Inc. the penalty-killing firm which suffocated seven New York power plays.
"This was bigger than big for us," chortled Brown. "And if you look at the play over three periods, you'd have to say we deserved the win."
There was no arguing with Dougie now that his Devils were a mere three points behind the Blueshirts. Suddenly, a sense of destiny could be felt throughout the home team's dressing room.
"It's going to be a fight to the end," Verbeek asserted. "and we're loving it. From here on in, each game gets bigger."
Most encouraging was the fact that Burke rose to the goaltending occasion; out-played VBK and reinforced the confidence his coach had in him from the get-go.
"From Sean right along the bench, the boys came up with a relentless effort," said Schony. "My players are really committed."
Then again, so were the playoff-hungry Penguins and Blueshirts.
This much was certain; playoff fever had reached a white heat level in New Jersey and the Devils had ignited it!