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SUNDAYS WITH STAN: Marathon Fallout and the Grand Rebound

The Devils 4-OT loss in Game 6 to Buffalo provided adversity for a Game 7 victory

by Stan Fischler / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

Jacques Lemaire was worried - and for good reason.

His Devils had fired 70 shots - many labeled "Goal" - in Game 6 of the 1994 first-round series with Buffalo and still lost the game.

All New Jersey's head coach could do in the aftermath was shake his head in disbelief.

"Think about it," Lemaire muttered to his sidekick Larry Robinson, "seventy shots and not a single goal. Incroyable."

Incredible, but true because Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek was making the impossible seem like a Czech lullaby. The 29-year-old had come off a 30-win regular season and his first Vezina Trophy.

"We gotta find a way to beat him," assistant coach Robinson asserted to Lemaire.

That was the good news. The Devils had another chance; a Game 7 at the big barn in East Rutherford. Marathon fatigue gripped players on both rosters.

Lemaire: "My hope was that the guys would be able to rebound. Losing that way - over four overtime periods - took a lot out of the fellas. I'm just hoping that Marty (Brodeur) is recovered."

Brodeur was the key. Although he was the Game 6 loser and faced 50 shots, he considered the total seven-period marathon "the best game" he had played at that stage of his career.

"I was pretty proud of myself," Marty reflected. "The game went on and on and then we failed. But I recovered pretty quickly. I felt that we could beat them in Game 7 even though Hasek was at his best."

Others who covered Game 6 were more optimistic. A few media types could foresee how the Garden Staters could find the energy and skill for the series-clincher. 

One of them was then New York Daily News writer John Dellapina, now the NHL's Group Vice President of Communications.

"Lemaire had a team that still could score a lot of goals," Dellapina said. "They scored on counterattacks with a workable system. I thought the Devils could win the seventh game because of how they responded.

"Didn't matter if it was a devastating defeat. And I don't know whether they had the knack because of Lemaire or if it was Scott Stevens or Lou. They just pressed on. There was no 'woe is me' with that team."

The one player who would symbolize New Jersey's comeback-ability was the indefatigable center Bobby Holik Even in defeat, he was defiant.

Dellapina: "Holik was fresh as a daisy. He was like, 'This is my favorite thing of all-time. I wish it had lasted all night.' But we in the media kept asking them, 'How many times can you cheat death?'

"'How do you come back in Game 7? And they'd answer like they weren't too concerned. 'Well,' one of the guys said, 'they gonna drop the puck in two days and we're gonna just play.'"

Mister Devil, Ken Daneyko, said that his teammates learned from the marathon experience. They stared the Hasek Effect in the eyes and didn't blink.

"This was our first taste of adversity," Daneyko allowed, "but we knew that if we gave the same effort back home it probably would get us a win."

Yeah, but there also was the issue of Brodeur being able to overcome the seventh game pressure.

"Marty already had absorbed two incredible heart punches," Dellapina went on, "and this in his first NHL year. But he kept going and he had guys who were just as hard as nails who would keep going.

"Stephane Richer and Bernie Nicholls, to name a couple. It wasn't just guys like Daneyko and (Scott) Stevens; it was the whole bunch and, of course, Lemaire, who'd played for so many Cup-winners."

And now the time had finally come. April 29, 1994 at The Meadowlands. Prior to the opening face-off, Lemaire met the press and delivered fifteen deathless words:

"When it gets tough, I want to see who's going to get out and push!" 

The return on Lemaire's verbal investment was huge.

Although Buffalo grabbed a 1-0 lead, Lemaire's troops were dauntless. Line after line, they poured over the boards, firing punishing shots at Hasek. Eventually the 46-shot blitz punctured holes in his armor.

First, defenseman Bruce Driver lit the lamp behind the Sabres goal and then Claude Lemieux. It was 2-1 Devils, but the New Jersey advantage was deceptive. 

The final shots on goal total was 46-18 and the final score, 2-1, for the home team.

"Buffalo provided test after test," Daneyko concluded, "and we met each one; especially in the final game. We bottled up all these experiences for future use."

Speaking of the word "use," one might say that the Devils' borrowed from William Shakespeare who wrote: "Sweet are the uses of adversity."

Dellapina: "In the end, the Devils dominated Game 7. The only reason the score was close was because Hasek was crazy. What amazed me was how the Devils absorbed that marathon punch.

"Then, two nights later they came back to win. And the seventh game that they won was as convincing a 2-1 game as you can possibly win!"

Soon after the final buzzer sounded, Lou, Jacques and Larry were grinning the smile of winners. 

Then, furrows appeared on Lemaire's brow as he sounded a warning.

"Okay, guys, let's get ready for the Bruins!"

Yes, it was only a first-round victory, but it was as memorable as any in team history.

So, Round Two would be as well with yet another surprise hero for the Devils.

(P.S. A special note of thanks to a pair of authors whose works provided vital research assistance: 1. Tim Sullivan, author of "Battle On The Hudson - The Devils And The Rangers." 2. Matthew Blittner, author of "Unforgettable NJ Devils - Games & Moments From The Press Box, Ice & Front Office.")

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