When one starts talking about the New Jersey Devils cup run in 2000, one can't help but start the conversation with 8 games remaining in the Devils 1999/2000 regular season schedule. A 5-10-1 slide in the final push of the season, punctuated by a 5-0 loss at home to Carolina was enough reason for the New Jersey Devils to show Robbie Ftorek the door. This move shocked the entire NHL fan base, not just the Devils fan base because the Devils were having a great season and were certainly a heavy favorite to compete for the cup before going into the 15 game skid. No team has succeeded in winning a championship by changing the head coach so late into the season. Nice guy Larry Robinson was now the man to deliver the second cup to NJ.
Things started off extremely well for NJ as they whooped Pavel Bure and the Florida Panthers in 4 straight games. The second round saw the Devils take on a pretty talented Toronto Maple Leafs team but outlasted the Leafs in 6 games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The one thing I will remember about the second matchup with the Leafs was Game 6 when the Devils held the Leafs to 6 shots total for the entire game, a dominating performance, perhaps the most dominating performance ever.
The Devils took on the Flyers in the ECF for the second time in their history and quickly fell into a 3-1 hole. I still remember the post-game news conference with Larry Robinson, who always seems so laid back but spoke in such a stern voice about his team, saying that they thought things should be done one way and until they learn to listen to the coaches, they will not succeed. I guess they listened because little by little the Devils worked their way back into the series and forced a Game 7 in Philadelphia. That game 7 would have so many memorable moments, starting with Lindros getting knocked out by Stevens and ending with Elias sending the Devils to the finals with a GWG with a little over 2 mins left in the game.
The Stars were a very talented team and looking to repeat. I thought going into the series that this was a team with something to prove. For the last year we had heard about Brett Hull being in the crease and that the Stars shouldn't have won the cup on that play. I remember being shocked when the Devils destroyed the Stars in game 1 by a score of 7-3 and can still vividly picutre Belfour sulking on the bench after getting the hook. Dallas tied the series at 1 but quickly got down in the series and NJ returned home with a chance to clinch it in game 5. Game 5 was one for the ages. With a 0-0 tie going into OT, no one could have imagined it would stay scoreless for so long. This was a game no Devils fan could turn off because 1 goal meant skating the cup at home and no amount of sleep was worthing missing that, but unfortunately that goal wouldn't come in Game 5. Instead, it was Mike Modano that beat Marty in the 3rd OT to give the Stars a 1-0 win and send the series back to Dallas. I think I remember going to bed around 1:00 am that morning.
By far my favorite line in the history of the Devils was the "A-Line". I don't think there has ever been a better line for our organization, either before or after 2000 (which you can understand why Dallas had to trade for Arnott 2 seasons later). That line delivered in the 2nd OT in Game 6 clinching the cup for NJ. Thanks to a dirty Darien Hatcher, Petr Sykora missed the on-ice celebration but linemate Patrik Elias wore Sykora's jersey on his back during the celebration.
To me, there was no better team than this one in 2000. This is by far, my favorite of the 3 cups that NJ has won. The rookies (Gomez, Madden, Rafalski and White) were the big story that season and Niedermayer, Stevens and Marty absolutely killed in the playoffs. For weeks the Devils had heard that the things they had done (changing coaches, getting in a 3-1 hole, etc.) were things that teams can't do and overcome when trying to win a championship, yet did it anyway. I was at that celebration in the parking lot of the Continental Airlines Arena and it remains one of the happiest Devils memories I have.
I asked Cole from The Other 6 Seconds to write a little something about his experience that summer and this is what he had to say:
Any time two teams meet each other in the Finals, the two franchises are linked forever in history. Every time the Stars play the Devils or the Sabres, there's always some mention of our back to back Finals trips at the turn of the century. When the captain of the opposing team was such a huge part of the glory years of our own franchise, it makes the links that much stronger.
As a Stars fan, it's impossible to think about the 2000 Finals or the New Jersey Devils without thinking about Joe Nieuwendyk, Jamie Langenbrunner, or Jason Arnott. Even though the trade wouldn't happen until 2002, it's forever linked in the mind of this Stars fan. At the time the trade went down, we were still stinging from Arnott's goal. Doug Armstrong was trying desperately to make his mark on the team while pushing us back into position to make a serious playoff push. In doing so, he jerked his proverbial knee, and gifted your lovely franchise with our #15 (a gift that continues to give). That's still the most controversial and upsetting trade in Dallas Stars history according to most fans. Nieuwy and Jamie won another Cup together in your team colors. Randy McKay, in turn, did everything he could to get out of Texas... and even though I like him, Jason Arnott was fairly pedestrian during his time in Dallas, and jumped ship for Nashville shortly after.
Not everything associated with that Finals was negative, though. I feel that Mike Modano was at the peak of his career during those playoffs, and was doing absolutely everything to will his team to it's second Cup. Hull was showing his veteran clutch ability, even though he was finally starting to show his age. The Stars made it into an
interesting series, but the stage was really set in Game 1 with Eddie Belfour's performance. I didn't even like seeing Manny Fernandez play when he was scheduled to do so. When he had to take the ice in game 1, I knew there was a serious chance that the Cup was about to head back North and East.
I was 15 years old when the Stars played the Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals, but it doesn't feel like 10 years in the past. I vividly remember seeing Arnott push the puck past Belfour at Reunion, and knowing that it was all over. I didn't cry. I didn't throw anything. I remember just sinking back in my chair, turning off the television, and going to bed. Reunion Arena has since been torn down... very slowly and awkwardly... For the longest time, the roof and pillars were up, and the walls were gone. Even though the old barn was a place filled with so many cherished memories for me, I couldn't help but see the Devils skating with the Cup every time I drove by the wreckage and looked down into what used to be the lower bowl.
I've got nothing but respect for the Devils, and the way that they carry themselves from management down to the fans. I'm not so much a fan of Brodeur, but that's a different story for a different day. That said, a lot of Stars fans are going to be watching this game with the intentions of exacting our own form of revenge... in whatever small way a regular season victory against a non-conference opponent can avenge a Championship won a decade ago. Such is the life of a Texas hockey fan.