In anticipation of the first round series between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils, we'll take a look back at the previous playoff matchups between the two rivals. Earlier today, we took a look back at the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals, which the Devils won, 4-2. Today, I’ll recap the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals, where a big hit changed the series and propelled the Devils to their second Stanley Cup championship.
When the regular season ended, Philadelphia sat atop the Atlantic Division, with 105 points. The Devils finished only two points behind the Flyers, meaning the fourth seed in the conference. Six games before the season ended, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello decided to fire coach Rob Ftorek, electing to go with Larry Robinson to coach the team in the postseason. Philadelphia defeated Buffalo and Pittsburgh to reach the finals, and the Devils swept Florida and defeated Toronto. The teams would face each other again for a chance to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
In the opening game, Martin Brodeur stopped 35 shots, turning in an outstanding performance. Bobby Holik and Petr Sykora scored within a minute of each other in the third period, extending the Devils lead to 4-1. The team would go on to win Game 1 in Philadelphia, mirroring their 1995 opening game performance.
In game two, the Devils jumped out to a 3-2 lead. The series began to look eerily similar to 1995, with the Flyers losing both home games to fall into a 2-0 hole. But Rich Tocchet and Daymond Langkow scored goals in the third period to put the Flyers ahead, 4-2. Brian Boucher looked strong in net, stopping 30 shots and sending the series to the Meadowlands tied, 1-1.
It seemed Tocchet and Langkow turned the series, because game three was all Philadelphia. The Flyers defeated the Devils, 4-2, to take a 2-1 series lead. Game four went the same way, with the Flyers taking advantage of their opportunities. Craig Berube, who hadn’t scored in 86 playoff games, tallied a goal as the Flyers went on to defeat the Devils, 3-1. With the win, they swept the Devils on New Jersey’s home ice and went home to Philadelphia with a decisive 3-1 edge.
Facing elimination, the Devils played well in Philadelphia. The Devils jumped out a lead in the first period on a Jason Arnott goal, and never looked back. Patrik Elias, Bobby Holik and Sykora all scored in a 4-1 defeat over Philadelphia. Down in the series, 3-2, the Devils once again had life. But the odds were still against them. At the time, no team in the expansion era had ever rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the conference finals. What was worse, Flyers star Eric Lindros, who had missed several games after two concussions, was cleared to return to action.
Game six began as a scoreless battle, with each team unable to light the lamp for the first 51 minutes of the game. The Devils drew first blood, with playoff hero Claude Lemieux providing the spark. Lemieux stripped Andy Delmore of the puck and worked the puck to Holik. Holik put a shot on net, and Lemieux put home the rebound for his 80th playoff goal. Even a Lindros goal couldn’t help the Flyers, as the Devils defeated their rivals, 3-1, and evened the series at three apiece and forcing a game seven.
The Devils got out to a quick lead, 1-0, in game seven. Then, Scott Stevens gave every Devils fan something to remember, leveling Lindros near the blue line. The Flyers scorer was down for the count, and while it's always seemed to be up for debate, the hit looked clean. It would have been easy for the Flyers to fold, especially after a crushing hit. But they continued to battle, and Tocchet tied the game at one with a goal in the second period. As had happened all postseason long, the Devils big players stepped up. In the third period, Alexander Mogilny took the puck and put a shot on net. Elias, who drove the net, beat Boucher on the rebound for the series-clinching goal, and the Devils would complete the comeback.
After completing the comeback, the Devils moved on and faced the Dallas Stars in the finals. The Devils prevailed in six games, winning their second Stanley Cup championships. Stevens, who many believe sparked the Devils championship run with his hit, was awarded the Conn Smythe award.