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SUNDAYS WITH STAN: Terreri to the Rescue

The Devils turned to goaltender Chris Terreri down 2-0 to the Boston Bruins

by Stan Fischler / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

Doom mixed with gloom.

That was the potion swallowed by the citizens of Devils country one day in the spring of 1994.

New Jersey's National Hockey League team had lost both home games in the second-round best-of-seven series with the Boston Bruins.

What's worse was that Fortress Martin Brodeur had been significantly breached. Or, as one reporter covering the series, candidly noted: "I wonder if Marty finally hit the rookie wall."

Or, as another journalistic observer added: "Suddenly, the Devils and their breakout season of power, promise and potential were on life support. Again."

As everyone in the high command - from Boss Lou Lamoriello to coach Jacques Lemaire - knew, a quick demise was not supposed to happen; especially when it came to the team's supposed forte, goaltending.

Bill Guerin: "We went into the playoffs knowing full well that we had two known commodities in net. We felt pretty good about either one of them taking the ice in a big game."

But two big games were gone with nothing to show for it. Now the series moved to enemy ice. Reversing what had become a dangerous spiral became the urgent priority.

Lemaire and assistant coach Larry Robinson mulled their options and took what many believed was a dangerous gamble. Jacques deleted Brodeur as his starter in Game 3; it would be Chris Terreri for better or worse.

Not that the Devils were giving up. Their energetic regular-season record still fortified them with confidence. Reporters such as John Dellapina of the Daily News found reasons for hope.

"Lemaire had one thing the Bruins didn't have," Dellapina pointed out, "and that was his 'Crash Line.' Bobby Holik, Mike Peluso and Randy McKay; that had become a force in the NHL.

"They could beat the tar out of you behind your own net. They were springing traps and going 100 miles per hour in the opposite direction. They were entertaining and resilient."

May 5, 1994, a Thursday, would be the night of decision for Terreri.

(I covered that game for Devils TV on SportsChannel and marveled to myself how small Chris looked in front of the 4x6 feet goal cage.)

"I can't believe Chris is going to be able to stop them," I whispered to my studio accomplice, George Falkowski. "What do you think?"

Ever ebullient, George returned my question with a big grin and then added: "Wait and see."

What we saw at first did not inspire optimism. Terreri was beaten early in the first period, but Jersey Jim Dowd answered that for the Devils at 12:27. Stephane Richer and Tom Chorske got the assists.

The score was 1-1 heading into the second period. You didn't need a seer to tell you that the next goal would be the turning point. So was the Lemaire strategy.

Dellapina: "The formation was 1-2-2. The Devils steered them in a certain direction coming out of their zone. Then the two forwards on that side would squeeze you and pinch you like a basketball trap.

"And everybody else was in their supporting position. So, they rarely gave up odd-man breaks. They were just ridiculously structured. In their own zone Larry taught stick on puck. It was based on a counter attack."

Defenseman Tommy Albelin thrust New Jersey ahead, 2-1, in the middle frame with an assist to Bernie Nicholls. But it still was only a one-goal game going into the third period.

"What's so remarkable," Pal Falkowski noted to me, "is that none of the big guns have scored for us."

George was right on. With less than four minutes gone, third-line forward Chorske came through again with Bobby Carpenter and Richer assisting.

But it wasn't over. The Fat Lady didn't sing after Al Iafrate beat Tererri. It was a 3-2 game until that man again, Chorske, sealed the deal at 19:08 and the Devils were a revived team to the tune of 4-2.

Defenseman Bruce Driver, the Devils philosopher king, offered an insightful appraisal now that his club had clawed its way to within one game of tying the series.

"The playoffs can be a long road," Cousin Brucie observed. "A lot of things happen." 

What happened was that Lemaire had discovered his fountain of hope in Providence College's pride and joy, Terreri. Now Chris got the nod to tie the series in Game 4.

 

He did; but it was a lot more pressure-packed than before.

If anything, the Game 3 win had infused the Devils with confidence. As Driver told Tim Sullivan, author of "Battle On The Hudson," the Devils were not intimidated by bandbox Boston Garden and its raucous crowd.

"In many ways," said Driver, "we always considered ourselves a road team. We liked getting away, bonding together, and silencing crowds a little bit."

The Garden crowd was silent when Valeri Zelepukin gave New Jersey the lead at 8:47. But Glen Murray tied it for the home club. What followed was see-saw scoring into the third period when Murray put Boston ahead, 4-3.

A half-period remained and that was all Lemaire's skaters needed to get back in the game. Bernie Nicholls tied the count at 13:12 sending the match into overtime.

Despite allowing four goals, Terreri was as acrobatic and dauntless as he could be, especially in the pressure cooker of overtime. 

Finally, after Chris had stopped the 38th Bruins' drive, a face-off was held near center ice - Bobby Holik for New Jersey vs. Adam Oates. Before taking the draw, Holik took a peek at the New Jersey bench.

"I got a signal from Larry Robinson to move the puck forward," Holik recalled. "Richer also got the same signal so we were in sync."

The plot worked as the puck skimmed past the startled defenders with Richer galloping in pursuit. "It's the kind of clutch situation I loved," Richer later admitted. 

Steph feinted, luring Casey to lurch for the rubber. But Richer pulled back and then stuffed the biscuit into the open net. The time was 14:19 of overtime. The series was tied at 2-2 and returned to Jersey.

Orthodox thinking was that Lemaire would stick with his winner, Terreri, to start Game 5. Prevailing wisdom was that the winner of Game 5 often was the eventual series-winner.

"I'm going with Marty," Jacques explained to the media, "because he's rested and because I'm confident that he can do the job. Whatever happens, I'll come back with Chris in Game 6, at Boston."

The load was there for Brodeur to carry. He not only was ready but was about to declare to one and all that playoff nerves no longer bothered him.

"I was just happy when they told me to go out and play," he said. "I knew I'd be ready."

Not only was he ready; Marty was flawless. He only needed a pair of goals for support and he vacuumed all of Boston's shots. It was a 2-0 shutout. Now the Devils were just one game away from annexing the series.

Shutout or no Brodeur shutout, Lemaire stuck with his plan and started Terreri in Game 6 at The "Gahden."

Who could argue with the smiling, cigar-smoking mentor? His moves were magical. He had inserted utility forward Ben Hankinson into Game 4 and he scored a big goal. 

More magic was made in Game 5 when Jacques Be Nimble got another brainstorm. This time he dressed utility forward Corey Millen and Corey scored a key goal.

"Jacques is pushing all the right buttons," warned Bruins defenseman Gordie Roberts. "Dropping Brodeur after a shutout was pretty wild."

Wild, perhaps, but sagacious, yes. 

Backed by right wing John (Mister Clutch) MacLean's two goals, the Devils exited the ice, 5-3, winners and series-clinchers in six games.

"I'm very proud of them," said Lou Lamoriello in the packed visitors dressing room. "What it took was a team full of people that didn't want to let anyone down.

"It's a team not based on individual things. This was a team. It was not about the name on the back, it was about the logo."

The next opponent confronting the Devils was well known - The Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers; heavy favorites to win The Stanley Cup!

"We got our work cut out for us," Guerin concluded. Then, a pause and a grin: "But so do they!"

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