The New Jersey Devils faced-off in epic Stanley Cup Playoff series’ vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 2000’s.
While the New Jersey Devils’ glory days and success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been absent in recent memory, Jersey’s team did have some memorable and notable success in the postseason against one team in particular during the early 2000’s.
En-route to back-to-back to Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2000 and 2001, the Devils were able to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs during both runs to the Final and in the Eastern Conference Semi-Conference Finals.
It’s a sour subject for Toronto fans, especially since the Leafs had some legitimate Stanley Cup contending rosters during those campaigns mentioned above. Then, notable Leafs’ skaters were Mats Sundin, Steve Thomas, Tomas Kaberle, Sergei Berezin, Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi and goaltender Curtis “Cujo” Joseph.
Toronto must reflect back on those years and wonder “what if” its beloved Maple Leafs were able to just get past the Devils during one of those playoff seasons.
However, putting Toronto’s feelings aside, ESNY relives the Devils Stanley Cup Playoff success against the Maple Leafs in 2000 and 2001.
2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals: New Jersey Devils win series 4-2
After sweeping Pavel Bure and the Florida Panthers in convincing fashion during the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference, New Jersey lost its first game of the 2000 playoffs to the likes of the Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the second round.
Captain Scott Stevens and the Devils entered the series without home-ice advantage after New Jersey finished the regular season in fourth place for the Eastern Conference. On the other end of the ice, Toronto had won its respective division (North East) and placed in third for the East.
In a low-scoring affair, the Maple Leafs stunned the Devils with a 2-1 victory on home ice at the rowdy Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto.
Dmitry Yushkevich and Petr Sykora traded goals in the second period, which led to a dramatic and nail-biting third period. The Maple Leafs’ agitator in Darcy Tucker would score the game-winning goal 1:18 into the game’s final frame and the great Wendel Clark received an assist which also seemed to give more life to an energetic Air Canada Centre.
Though, as the Devils proved all spring, New Jersey was resilient.
Jason Arnott and the Devils rebounded by winning Games 2 and 3. New Jersey shutout the Leafs in Game 2 in Toronto, 1-0, and the lone goal came from an unlikely source. Defenseman Colin White beat goaltender Curtis Joseph on a shot from the point during the early stages of the first period.
Scott Niedermayer and goaltender Martin Brodeur handled the rest of the action and any type of momentum the Leafs tried to gain. Brodeur earned his first shutout of the playoffs after turning away all 20 of Toronto’s shots.
New Jersey then headed back to the old Continental Airlines arena split the two-game set. The Devils appeared to have the series locked up when head coach Larry Robinson’s squad defeated Toronto by a score of 5-1 in Game 3. The five goals were the second most the Devils recorded that postseason (7-3 win over Dallas in Stanley Cup Final).
What was even more intriguing from Game 3 was the that five different Devils all found the back of the net in the winning effort (Jason Arnott, Scott Gomez, Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora and Alexander Mogilny).
Though, the Maple Leafs proved that they would not go down quietly and regained home-ice advantage in the series when Toronto defeated New Jersey, 3-2, in Game 4.
Darcy Tucker played the role of x-factor again as he finished the night with a goal and one assist, as his helper led to the game-winning goal that was scored by Tomas Kaberle with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
The Devils found themselves facing adversity early on in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially since they had to head back to Toronto to play Game 5 in a hostile environment at the Air Canada Centre.
Keep in mind that NHL teams must have role players produce in the playoffs in order for a team to make a legitimate run to the Stanley Cup Final, and New Jersey had just that from their depth players in Game 5.
Defenseman Vladimir Malakov, and forwards John Madden and Sergei Nemchinov all inked their names onto the scoresheet, along with Patrik Elias, to lead the Devils to squeak out a 4-3 victory. Between the pipes, Brodeur did his part while stopping 22 of the 25 shots he faced that night.
The Devils would close out their first ever playoffs series with the Maple Leafs on May 8, at the Meadowlands. Not only did New Jersey shutout the Leafs for the second time in the series (3-0), but the Devils also set a Stanley Cup Playoffs record for allowing just six shots on goal in the contest.
Yes, that’s right – six shots.
Sykora opened up the scoring for New Jersey just 18 seconds into the game, and the goal that was assisted by Elias and Arnott proved to be all that the Devils would night on that night.
What’s even more fascinating is that the Devils were able to shut down one of the game’s top skaters in Mats Sundin. The Maple Leafs’ captain, and leading goal-scorer that season (32 goals, 41 assists), didn’t score once in the series.
While Curtis Joseph probably didn’t receive enough credit in the losing effort to his fellow countryman in Brodeur, he was unable to have an answer and shut down the likes of skaters such as Scott Gomez, Sykora, Elias and Arnott.
The rest was history, as New Jersey advanced to the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals to take on one of it biggest rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers.
While that series is a story another time, the Devils would go on to hoist their second Stanley Cup in franchise history, after New Jersey defeated the Dallas Stars in six games during the Stanley Cup Final.
2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals: New Jersey wins series 4-3
Unlike the season prior, New Jersey recorded a dominant regular season after the team finished with its best statistical campaign (111 points) in franchise history. Though, round two of the Devils-Maple Leafs playoff saga played out much differently than 2000.
The Devils would again lose Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Leafs (2-0), but would win the next two games in dramatic fashion.
New Jersey won Game 2 at the Meadowlands, 6-5 after Randy McKay scored the game-winning goal 5:31 into overtime. Russian sniper, Mogilny, also recorded a five-point night (two goals, three assists).
Game 3 in Toronto also went to overtime, but it was a defenseman who played the role of hero that night. Brian Rafalski scored the game-winner 7:00 into overtime and the Devils took a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.
Still, the Leafs again had a Cup contending squad and unfortunately ran into the Devils during their glory years. Toronto would take the next two games from New Jersey and in the blink of an eye the Leafs led in the series 3-2 and would have a chance to clinch the series on home ice in Game 6.
Brodeur turned away 24 of the 26 shots he faced to lead the Devils to victory in Game 6 and tie the series at 3-3 for a Game 7 to take place back at the Meadowlands. Sykora, McKay, Rafalski and Arnott all found the back of the net en-route to the team’s 4-2 victory.
As you can see, the Devils didn’t have trouble scoring goals in 2001, which was always a rare characteristic and flaw no matter how successful the team was.
Game 7 gave Jersey and its fanbase a scare early on when the Devils trailed the Leafs 1-0 after the first period. Typically, the team that scores first in a Game 7 and has a lead for an extended period of time ends up losing, but that wasn’t the case.
New Jersey opened the floodgates and scored four goals in the second period (Nemchinov, Elias, & Stevens). Madden again would put the icing on the cake in the third period and score the series’ final goal. The Devils skated to a 5-1 victory in Game 7 at the Continental Airlines Arena against Toronto and almost exactly one year later.
The Devils broke the hearts of Toronto yet again, but this time the Devils were unable to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. New Jersey fell to the likes of the Colorado Avalanche in seven games in the 2001 Stanley Cup Final.
What’s interesting is that the two former playoff rivals haven’t met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since that time, but with new and promising era on the horizon for both clubs – it is possible that a new playoff rivalry could be formed between the two.
With the likes of Phenom Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and goaltender Frederik Andersen, Toronto is poised to a Cup favorite for the next decade.
Yet, the Devils are on the cusp of returning back to that status. Youngster Nico Hischier will stride to outdo Matthews and company and steal the spotlight from the Leafs.
Brace yourselves for a potential and ongoing Hischier vs. Matthews playoff showdown in the near future.
New Jersey may end up braking Toronto’s, again.