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SUNDAYS WITH STAN: Bring on the Beantowners

Following a 7-game series win against Buffalo, the Devils faced a tough Boston foe

by Stan Fischler / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

"I'm exhausted, but happy."

Those were Jacques Lemaire's words as he lit up a celebratory cigar while perusing the Boston Bruins lineup.

The Devils insightful coach was right-on describing his blend of emotions.

His stickhandlers opening series win over Buffalo had both tickled and tired him to no end. Ditto for his skating warriors.

"Those seven games took a lot out of us," offered Bill Guerin, who rapidly was emerging as one of the club's finest young forwards. "And that four-overtime marathon (Game 6) topped them all."

But happiness is a thing called victory and The Big V in Game 7 brought The Garden Staters a ticket to the second round and a bout with the Big, Bad Bruins.

The Beantowners were an unexpected opponent. Most critics believed that Pittsburgh would take Boston in the opening round, but when Washington upset the Penguins, all original bets were off.

By virtue of the Caps victory, the Devils became the highest seed remaining behind the NY Rangers. That development altered the NHL marquee which now proclaimed BOSTON-NEW JERSEY.

Most observers agreed that the Bruins were a better team than Buffalo. And since the Sabres took Lemaire's sextet to seven games, what kind of resistance would be felt when the series opened in East Rutherford?

Boston had finished the regular season with 42 wins and 97 points. It wasn't good enough to afford the B's home ice advantage and the Garden Staters felt good about that.

The Lemaire conundrum had everything to do with goaltending and what to do about his series-starter.

Lemaire: "I respected what Chris (Terreri) had done for the club in the past. He had been around, had the experience and all that. But Marty (Brodeur) had a good season. His time had come.

"He proved in the Buffalo series that he could handle the pressure. He already showed that he had become our goalie of the present and our goalie of the future. That's why I decided to start Marty."

Brodeur was prescient enough to realize he'd have his hands full. One look at the Boston arsenal told him so.

"Right off the bat," Marty explained, "I knew I had to keep my eye on Adam Oates and Cam Neely up front. And by this time I was well aware that a defenseman like Ray Bourque also could be an offensive threat."

The opener was on May 1, 1994 at the Meadowlands Arena. Not surprisingly it was packed to the gills. But the Devils offense was not.

All the visitors needed was a pair of shots past Brodeur. The 2-1 Boston victory was a stunner, to say the least. Inspired by the opening round win over Buffalo the citizens of Devils Country had wanted more. Much more.

"It was only one game," allowed Mister Devil, Ken Daneyko, "but it sure was a downer, all previous things considered."

If Game 1 was a disappointment, the rematch on May 3, also in East Rutherford, provided misery-times-two.

Guerin: "This time we scored plenty, but didn't defend very well. All of a sudden it was looking like our season might end sooner than we expected, or wanted."

If there could be any solace in defeat it was the fact that Lemaire's Legion scored five and took the Bruins into overtime, tied 5-5.

The bad news was delivered by Boston's Don Sweeney who beat Brodeur at 9:08 of overtime. The despairing hush that enveloped Byrne Arena could be sliced by a machete.

Coach Brian Sutter and his winners jetted to Logan Airport secure in the knowledge that they were just two W's away from ousting the Devils and moving into the third playoff round.

"We weren't getting cocky," said Bourque, "just feeling good about coming back to our rink."

Meanwhile, the Lemaire-Larry Robinson general staff donned their respective thinking caps and came up with a reversal-of-the-playoffs-momentum plan. In a four simple words, it was a stunner.

They decided to bench Brodeur and start little Chris Terreri. Tim Sullivan, author of Battle On The Hudson remembered it as a strategic gamble of immense proportions.

Sullivan: "Maybe it was a stop-the-bleeding move, or maybe it was permanent. Either way, something needed to be done."

(Editor's Note: Nothing but transparency here. I quietly challenged Lemaire's move. After the morning practice, I visited our SportsChannel TV truck and found that at least some of my colleagues doubted it as well.)

"A lot will depend on how Terreri's nerves hold up," said tech guy Dave Katz. "Still I can remember some big games from Chris' past."

In fact, long after he retired and had become Devils' goalie coach, Chris admitted that "The greatest game I ever played," far preceded his super-clutch entrance into Game 3 of the Boston-New Jersey series.

Terreri: "At 5-9, I wasn't the biggest goalie but in March 1985 I came up big for my alma mater, Providence College. We were huge underdogs against Boston College in the NCAA Division-I tournament.

"The game was tied 3-3 and went into a third overtime before we got the winner. I finished with 62 saves, a Frozen Four record, and was named tourney MVP. But I don't take anything away from that big Game 3."

A cool cat under the most intense circumstances, Terreri enthusiastically took the nod from Lemaire that he was starting in typical stride.

"I told Jacques," Terreri concluded, "that I was ready and would do my best."

What Little Chris could not have known was that his NHL "Best" was yet to come.

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