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SUNDAYS WITH STAN: The Great Comeback

The Maven writes about the Devils brilliant comeback on November 2, 1985

by Stan Fischler StanFischler / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

Devils fans wanted something to cheer about during the 1985-86 season and who could blame them?

"Those were tough times," said Emmy Award-winning Garden State broadcaster George Falkowski. "As rooters, we were looking for any little thing to cheer about. Anything."

It was a year of futility as a scary 49 losses in the 80-game season would attest. But a game played on November 2, 1985, momentarily changed the chagrin and inspired collective smiles from Boonton to Brick Township.

There were three good reasons for cartwheels of joy:

1. They beat the New York Rangers.

2. They came from behind in this singular triumph.

3. They melodramatically erased a 5-2 deficit with a mere eight minutes remaining.

"That was quite a parlay," recalled Mark Balk, one of the television crewmen. "A win against the Rangers always was a big deal. But to counterattack from such a deficit with so little time left. Wow!"

"Wow!" was right considering that coach Doug Carpenter's team had entered the season with considerable hope. Young blood was infused into the lineup and that Kiddie Korps was oozed with potential.

First-round Draft pick Kirk Muller was already a solid center. Meanwhile, defensemen Craig Wolanin, Ken Daneyko, and Joe Cirella had found their niche on a team that seemed, at last, to be sounding positive vibes.

The front office was enthused, especially Max McNab, who in 1983, had been imported to build a winning franchise.

"We had finally got to the point where the so-called experts were picking us to make the playoffs," McNab remembered. "We won our first three games and everybody was chirping."

But by the time the fateful encounter with the Blueshirts took place, the Devils mark had slipped to 4-5-1. Their enemies from across the Hudson were not much better, at 5-4-0 but favored just the same.

"New Jersey needed a win to get back to the .500 mark," said Matthew Blittner, author of Unforgettable Devils, "What better time to do it than against their most hated opponents.

"But once the game started there was no inkling that something special might happen for New Jersey, especially in the first period."

Mark Pavelich struck first for the Seventh Avenue skaters, and that was only the beginning of the opponent's onslaught. Mike Ridley and George McPhee followed up with red lights.

"It looked hopeless at that time," asserted Devils radio analyst Glenn Resch. "Their goals kept happening. The Devils' were not.

Sure enough, Pavelich potted another biscuit extending the Rangers lead to 4-0 with just over 41 minutes of play elapsed. Overcoming a four-goal deficit would have been a challenge for the best of teams.

Ah, but these dauntless Devils were up for the challenge. The counterattack was launched by Max McNab's sharpshooting son, Peter, who scored an even-strength goal and also one on the power play.

"All of a sudden our guys were awakened," said Max. "It was still early in the third and now we're only down by two."

But the Rangers were not asleep. Mark Osborne answered Peter McNab's volley and the Manhattanites now owned a three-goal lead as the clock ticked toward eight minutes left in the contest.

Working the Devils radio play-by-play the ever-excitable Larry Hirsch perceived that the Jersey volcano still had some eruptions left.

Hirsch: "Our fellas scored to make it 5-3 and then came back with another biggie and I'm saying, 'We can pull the goaltender.'"

Rangers coach Ted Sator was doing some heavy thinking on the other side. After a stoppage of play, Hirsch was stunned by Sator's next move.

"Ted pulled his goalie, Terry Kleisinger, and put in his second-stringer, John Vanbiesbrouck," Hirsch pointed out. "It was Sator's attempt to change the pace of the game. He wanted to slow it down.

"Meanwhile, I'm saying on the radio, 'Shoot the puck. Spit the puck out. Do anything. Just get the puck and throw it on goal. Beezer has been sitting for two-and-a-half hours.' With 32 seconds left, Tim Higgins ties it for us."

The Meadowlands Arena seemed to be shaking, rocking, and rolling with the roaring crowd. Celebrating the comeback, the spectators finally calmed down once regulation time elapsed. 

The fans could recover their much-needed breath for about fifteen minutes. Then, the curtain would rise on Act Four, Overtime.

Resch: "Suddenly it's become anybody's hockey game which meant that the Rangers still could bust the Devils balloon. What Carpenter needed was for this passion play to end with everyone smiling in the Devils' room."

For the franchise, a much-needed victory would give Dr. John McMullen's franchise a rare opportunity to capture the New Jersey-New York bragging rights which for so long had been tilted in favor of the Rangers.

Hirsch: "They dropped the puck for 'sudden-death' and Peter McNab got hold of it. He passed the rubber to Mel Bridgman from the right circle. BINGO! 6-5, game over!"

For one delicious night in November 19 and 85, bragging rights shifted westward over the Hudson to East Rutherford. 

Many New Jersey onlookers who were there at the time have said that they'll remember the comeback triumph for the rest of their lives. Hirsch, now living in Tampa Bay, remains one of them.

"I was at such a peak when I called the goal," Hirsch chuckled, "I literally climbed up on the seat on the table in the Meadowlands press box. My hands were spread out and I was pumping my fist.

"Fans were looking at me. It was a moment of insanity, but it was one of those moments in hockey where you just let it all out!."

Then, a pause and coda: "It was the best game I ever was a part of, beating the Rangers that night!"

(P.S. Thanks to Matthew Blittner for his research and his Unforgettable NJ Devils, Games & Moments From the Press Box, Ice & Front Office.)

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