In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
With a 5-2 win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Meadowlands, the New Jersey Devils complete an improbable sweep of the Detroit Red Wings to win their first Stanley Cup Championship. Claude Lemieux, who had 13 goals in the postseason, won the Conn Smythe as Playoff MVP, as Neal Broten scores twice in the clincher. Broten’s second goal in the second period ended up being the game-winner after the two teams scored a pair of goals in the first period. Leading 3-2 at the end of two periods, the Devils employed the neutral zone trap, limiting the high-scoring Red Wings to one shot on goal as the Devils added goals from Sergei Brylin and Shawn Chambers to ice the game. It was the first title for Martin Brodeur, who was poised to become the greatest goalie of all time in his second season.
A decade before Lord Stanley came to the Garden State, the Devils, the franchise was one of the worst in professional sports. For their first decade, the team that would become the New Jersey Devils in 1982 was consistently one of the worst teams in the NHL, making just one playoff appearance in 1978 which they were swept in 1982 as they played two seasons as the Kansas City Scouts and six years as the Colorado Rockies. Their first five seasons in New Jersey were not much better as Wayne Gretzky labeled the Devils a “Mickey Mouse Franchise.”
That all changed in 1988 when the Devils made the playoffs for the first time since moving to New Jersey and made a stunning run to the Wales Conference Finals, where they lost a hard-fought series to the Boston Bruins in seven games. Over the next five, the Devils were a consistent playoff team but did not succeed until 1994, when they again went to the Conference Finals. This time losing a seven-game series to the New York Rangers in what may have been one of the greatest postseason series in the history of the NHL, as the Rivalry of the Hudson was born. Three games, including the Game 7 finale, went to double overtime, as the Devils lost on Stephane Mateau’s wrap-around.
The loss in 1994 would serve as a motivator for the Devils, who did not have a great regular season, posting a record 22-18-8, in a season cut in half by a lockout as rumors of a possible move to Nashville began to swirl, with the Devils looking for upgrades to Brendan Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands. Once the playoffs began, the Devils caught fire, beating the Boston Bruins in five games to close out the Boston Garden. Among the memorable moments was Randy McKay’s overtime game-winner in Game 4, ending a scoreless battle between Brodeur and Blaine Lacher. The Devils also needed just five games to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning four straight after losing the opener. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Devils faced their toughest test in the Philadelphia Flyers. After winning the first two games on the road, the Devils lost two straight at home and found themselves in a tie game late in Game 5 at the Spectrum. This is where Claude Lemieux earned his MVP honors, scoring the game-winner with 45 seconds left in regulation. The Devils would close the series with a 4-2 win in Game 6, as the Devils Crash Line of Mike Peluso, Bobby Holik, and Randy McKay frustrated Eric Lindros and his Legion of Doom.
In the Stanley Cup Final, the Detroit Red Wings were an overwhelming favorite, as they won the President’s Trophy with the best record in the regular season at 33-11-4 and rolled through the Western Conference Playoffs, losing just two games total against the Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, and Chicago Blackhawks. However, it was clear they were unprepared for the Devils neutral zone trap, as New Jersey won the opener 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena, as the Wings could not get anything going after Lemieux’s third-period tally gave the Devils a lead. In Game 2, the Red Wings had a lead in the third period, but after Scott Stevens leveled Slava Kozlov, it was clear the Devils defenders were getting into Detroit’s head. The Devils closed the game with three unanswered goals, including Jim Dowd’s game-winner gave the Devils a record ten road wins in the playoffs. The Devils carried the momentum to the Meadowlands, crushing the Red Wings 6-2 in Game 3 to set up their clincher in Game 4.
The Stanley Cup Championship forced the state to give in to the Devils' demands, as losing the team to Nashville would have been unforgivable to the Garden State Government. The Devils got a new lease and much-needed improvements to their arena, which was renamed the Continental Airlines Arena to help pay for the cost of the renovations. Over the next two decades, the Devils would become a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference, playing in the Stanley Cup Finals four more times while winning the Cup in 2000 and 2003. Martin Brodeur would go on to set nearly every major record for goalies. The Devils win was also a win for Nashville, who used the Devils' interest to land an expansion team named the Predators in 1998.