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2000-01 New Jersey Devils Team Photo - Click to View Full Size

2000-01: A Noble Defense

The goal was to make a return trip, to defend the title they had won the previous June after a grueling six-game series against the Dallas Stars.

The Devils did everything right in the spring of 2001 en route to their third appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. They just couldn’t complete the task, falling in seven games to the Colorado Avalanche after holding a three-games-to-two edge.

That disappointment lingers as one of Martin Brodeur’s two greatest regrets in his long and historic tenure wearing a Devils’ sweater.

“You have two games to win a Stanley Cup, and at the end of the day it’s all about winning,” Brodeur said. “It’s no fun when you go to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals and you have nothing to show for it. Nothing but disappointment. You might as well lose in the first round. It was awful.

“That and losing to the Rangers in 1994 are my two biggest disappointments,” he continued. “The Avalanche took away something that we worked so hard for.”

First, let’s look at the positives, such as how the Devils got to be 60 minutes away from winning their third Stanley Cup Championship.

Led by Patrik Elias’ franchise-record 96 points and Alexander Mogilny’s team-high 43 goals – the fourth most by a Devil in a single season – the Devils tied a franchise high with 48 wins (they also did it in 1997-98) and registered a franchise-best 111 points.

Randy McKay (left, during 2000-01 season) and John Madden scored four goals each in a 9-0 victory at Pittsburgh on Oct. 28, 2000. It marked the first time in franchise history that two Devils score four goals in one game.

They won 26 games in the second half of the season and earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Devils opened with a bang, winning three straight against Carolina
before taking the series with a 5-1 road victory in game six. Bobby Holik, who had 15 goals and 35 assists in the regular season, had eight points in that series.

The Devils were trailing, three-games-to-two, to Toronto in the semifinals, but they rebounded to win games six and seven by a combined 9-3, to take the series. Mogilny and Scott Gomez each had seven points in that series.

“I remember how we dominated game seven,” ex-defenseman Ken Daneyko said of the Devils’ 5-1 series-clinching victory. “We had a character team and we knew how to win. We had done it before, so we had experience. We had a group of guys that had been through a lot of ups and downs. We knew what it took not to panic being down three-to-two.”

With that scare out of the way, the Devils ripped through the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. They won their four games against Pittsburgh by a combined 15-3, and were led by Brian Rafalski’s eight points.

However, now the Devils were up against an Avalanche team that many considered the sentimental favorite with veteran defenseman Ray Bourque hoping and waiting to hoist his first Stanley Cup in his 21st NHL season.

“That irked me a lot,” Daneyko said. “They were kind of forgetting about the Devils.”

Colorado ripped off a 5-0 win in game one, and took a two-games-to-one lead with a 3-1 win at the Meadowlands in game three. However, the Devils won the next two games, including a 4-1 win in Denver, to take the series lead back to East Rutherford.

They were 60 minutes away from winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, but, with the building in an uproar, the Devils came out flat and lost, 4-0, despite owning a 24-18 advantage in shots on goal.

They out shot the Avalanche, 12-5, in the first period, but an unassisted goal by Adam Foote with 1:58 remaining before the first intermission set the Avalanche off and running. Ville Nieminen scored 2:26 into the second period, and Chris Drury made it 3-0 with 1:33 to play. Alex Tanguay scored in the third period.

John Madden is the recipient of the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward.

“We played very well in the first period, but we couldn’t score and that first goal would have been huge,” Daneyko said. “They got a late goal in the first period and that put us on our heels. That turned the momentum around, and we were unable to recover in the second and third. We picked the wrong time to stop scoring goals.”

The Devils went on to lose 3-1 in game seven.

“I don’t think deep down inside guys realized how important it was to win back-to-back,” Daneyko added. “I felt we let it slide in game six. Never mind game seven because that’s a coin toss, but game six was an opportunity of a lifetime and it was devastating. To me, it was the most devastating loss of my career.

“We were the best team. We should have won.”

“Just to get back two years in a row is tough enough, and to get all the way to seven games and lose, it’s just an emotional letdown,” forward Jay Pandolfo added. “The fact that we got back is impressive, but if you think about it, people don’t remember as much of us being back in the finals because we lost. People remember the winners.”

Brodeur said he was more upset for some of the new players on the team that season, such as John Vanbiesbrouck, Turner Stevenson, and Jim McKenzie.

“It was there for us to give them the opportunity to win, and that was tough,” Brodeur said. “It was tough for me because I had my kids there and was a little upset about them having to see me lose, but really it took a chance away from some guys.”

As Daneyko said, it’s tough to remember what a great season the Devils had in 2000-01 because those last two losses are so hard to erase from memory. Especially for a team that preaches Stanley Cup-or-bust every year.

“Teams like us, we’ve said it many times, we expect the Stanley Cup every year, and that was no different,” Daneyko said. “You give yourself some credit for a terrific season, but we set the bar that it’s always about the Stanley Cup. The regular-season was nice, but we didn’t get it done.”

Dan Rosen covers high school sports and the NHL for The Record (Hackensack, N.J.). He is a regular contributor to Center Ice Magazine.

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