As you may know, the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup in the 2000 Playoffs. The final goal of the series with Dallas was a legendary goal, arguably one of the best ever in franchise history. As you may also know, the Devils nearly didn't even get to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Second Rate Rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, dug a deep hole for the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. They went up 3-1 in the series and it looked all but certain that they would move on. Obviously, the Devils climbed their way out of that hole and stunned the Flyers to tie up the series and win it all in Game 7.
The most famous moment from that game was Scott Stevens decimating Eric Lindros in the first period. I called it the greatest hit I've ever seen. It overshadowed the game to a point, at least in my mind. The Devils were up 1-0 when Stevens hammered Lindros. Yet, in that very post, I did note that it didn't sink the team. The Flyers tied it up in the second period and the game was at a deadlock until late in the third. So much for intimidation.
According to Flyers History, an online repository of past boxscores of Flyers games, the home team appeared to have the better run of play. They out-shot the Devils 27-18 despite only having an extra minute of ice time on the attack. (Aside: Yes, back then the NHL actually recorded zone time. No, I don't know why they stopped.) The second period was particularly notable as the Flyers out-shot the Devils 15-8. It seems to me they made much more efficient use out of their time in New Jersey's end of the rink. The third period was very tight with only four shots apiece. It just so happened that one shot by Patrik Elias would seal the 1999-2000 Flyers squad on lists of Epic Playoff Choke Jobs for years and years.
The thing about the goal itself is that it came off a bit of a broken play. There's only one Flyer who deserves criticism on what happened but even that wouldn't be valid if it wasn't for a fortunate bounce. Of course, the finish itself wasn't fortunate. Elias made a fantastic heads-up play to break the tie, which would go on to break the Flyer faithful's hearts. Among other things, it deserves a full breakdown.
The Video of the Goal
Youtube user McKay4429061 has the old video you want, which has the ESPN feed. It has a few replay angles I will be using in addition to the original broadcast angle. All screenshots come from the video; any added text and shapes are done by myself:
There's less than three minutes left in regulation, the Devils are carrying the puck into the Flyers' zone, and it's 1-1 in Philly. It's an even strength situation and the following players are on the ice:
Devils On Ice: #26 Patrik Elias; #25 Jason Arnott; #89 Alexander Mogilny; #4 Scott Stevens; #28 Brian Rafalski; #30 Martin Brodeur
Flyers On Ice: #20 Keith Jones; #25 Keith Primeau; #8 Mark Recchi; #3 Dan McGillis; #22 Luke Richardson; #33 Brian Boucher
Let's begin as Elias is carrying the puck into the Flyers' zone.
Only he's lost a little control of the puck. Elias will regain control but between that and Richardson right in front of him, he's effectively sealed off from going towards the center. Even if Elias tries it, McGillis is well positioned - and heading backwards - to Richardson's right. Additionally, Keith Jones has his sights on the play and can support. Mogilny is following Elias and Arnott is just past the red line here.
Elias took the puck towards the boards and passes it off behind him. It's a slick little play to try and dump it in without trying to slam it past Richardson. Because of Richardson, McGillis, and Jones, he really didn't have any real options. Mogilny did come over the blueline with speed, but he's not going to get to the puck Elias just laid off. It'll sail towards the endboards. Incidentally, Mogilny is going in so deep that he's not going to be able to switch out for Petr Sykora, the usual linemate for Arnott and Elias. Keep that in mind a little bit later.
The Flyers have this well covered. Jones jumped up on Mogilny so he's in a race for the puck. Richardson only turns away as Elias does. He sees The Man Called Jonesy On NBCSN so he's not going to pursue. McGillis dropped back towards the slot as a safety valve. With the play going on, he knows he can go back further. So far, there's nothing to worry about for the Flyers.
Jones gets inside position on Mogilny and will be able to seal off the Devils' winger. The puck is at the end boards. So not only does Jones have a chance at it, but so does McGillis. This will leave Arnott in the slot but since the puck is back there with no Devil in a position to do anything, McGillis can safely help out his teammate get to this puck. Arnott won't stay in the slot either; he sees what McGillis is doing.
It's a good thing McGillis dropped back to support Jones. Jones hit the boards and prevented Mogilny from doing anything, yet the puck got past him. So McGillis is able to get to the puck and immediately send it around the boards. Arnott pursed McGillis but the defender beat him do it. Again, the Flyers handled this really well so far.
Of course, the play's not over. Stevens pinched in a good distance to cut off McGillis' clearance around the boards. Just after the part in the video where this screenshot was taken, the camera zoomed out to show A) a Flyer was going to engage Stevens shortly and B) Stevens shot the puck.
The Captain kept the puck in play and took a shot that just sailed or deflected wide right of the net. The puck ends up in the corner. Notice where the red jerseys are. Richardson engaged Mogilny, who came off from the hit and went to the slot in anticipation of an attempt on net. Elias skated away after his sort-of-dump-in and ended up behind the net. Arnott came back for eventual support that Stevens didn't really take - and wasn't really there as he's being pushed here by Primeau. As for the home team, McGillis really hustled after his clearance to come out to the left (far side) dot. Among them all, Mogilny's the most important because he's in front of Richardson and he sees the puck heading to the corner first.
Richardson gave chase but he wasn't fast enough to get to Mogilny. The winger on his extended shift won the puck and he's heading along the side boards away from the goal line. From the video, Mogilny doesn't see that he's got a Devil behind him. From this vantage point, he could conceivably drop the puck back hard around the boards and Elias could get it behind the net to make a play. However, Mogilny can only know what he sees and heads forward. Richardson will continue to follow him.
Now, this is important. I noted McGillis in this picture for a reason. He is in front of the net. Elias is behind the net.
After Mogilny headed up the side for a few feet, he saw Arnott cutting to the right circle. Mogilny figured giving a man facing the net ready to shoot the puck is a good idea and so he did. It was a good idea in theory. The problem is that Arnott only got a little bit of the pass before he got cross-checked by Primeau. Given that it's a 1-1 score in a do-or-die game, you better believe this is a By Any Means Necessary situation for any defender. If you have to bend the rules - and the refs called nothing in the third period of this game - to stop an attacking player, then it's worth doing.
Alas, Primeau denied Arnott a chance at a one-timer but he did not get a stop. The puck, coming slightly off Arnott's stick a half-second before the hit, gets by the men and heads towards the net.
Now, look at the front of the net. McGillis went to the left post, presumably with some idea that Elias was coming around that way. However, Elias is still behind McGillis. I cannot stress this enough: Elias is behind McGillis left of the net.
That's how Elias was able to lift McGillis' stick, get past McGillis while staying in front of Boucher, and collect the puck. You can still see McGillis stick up, ready to come down on Elias' own stick. You see Boucher, already down, diving to his right for what could happen. It will be too late for both.
Goal. Elias just broke the game. He and Arnott are in ecstasy as Boucher crouches in agony. From a zone entry at about 2:47 to a goal at 2:33 remaining. Incidentally, this would be the only even strength goal of the game.
You know, the broadcast angle wasn't very good at showing what Elias did. Thankfully, ESPN - and McKay4429061 - had a replay from a camera behind the Flyers' net. Let's go back to when Mogilny passed the puck to Arnott.
Now, this picture is blurry and I apologize but the puck is currently above the faceoff dot. Arnott is already bringing his stick forward for a one-timer. It's a good spot to take a one-timer. In a period with less than five shots on net, there's no reason to complain about a one-timer from inside the circle. The problem is that Primeau is right there to greet Arnott with his stick.
Look at the eventual goalscorer, Elias. Elias is very much behind McGillis. I'm sure someone - Boucher, maybe? - told the defender that there was a Devil left of the net. McGillis clearly went over there. Yet, he never turned or even peeked back to see where exactly Elias was. Knowing where your man is on defense is just about vital to the role. Yes, in hockey coverage has to rotate and the notion of defense requires good decision making and positioning. You can see that Richardson had kept Mogilny in sight and therefore would be able to stop him should Mogilny try to turn and go forward. Primeau had Arnott in his sights and is in a great position to make a play. Recchi and Jones are out of the play entirely, they're too far away to do anything. McGillis is by Elias but he can not recognize where exactly he is; therefore, how can he do anything effective to him? He really can't short of good fortune.
The puck is sliding towards the crease after Primeau got Arnott pretty good with the lumber. Again, I'm not hating on Primeau; he had to do what he had to do. McGillis and Elias both see the puck heading their way. The positioning doesn't favor New Jersey here. McGillis is in front of Elias so he should be able to retrieve this puck.
That is, he would be able to if his stick was on the ice. In this frame, Elias has begun to raise McGillis' stick. This definitely makes him aware to the defender but it also gives Elias a small window of opportunity. As the stick is raised, Elias can get his down on the ice first and hope he's able to reach the puck before McGillis can get his stick down. During this time, Elias' inside position on McGillis effectively rules the defender out of the play.
It also helps Elias that Boucher is already down and within the confines of his crease. A more aggressive goalie like, say, Brodeur, would try to disrupt the attacker with his own stick or try to chip the puck away. Boucher won't get the chance to do the latter and he's not doing the former.
It's faint, but McGillis' stick is straight up in the air. I don't care who you are. You're not going to be very effective with your stick up in the air instead of on the ice. I don't know how Elias got McGillis' stick that high up, to be honest. Maybe he surprised the defender and this is the result of his reaction. Maybe Elias really slammed it high. Maybe McGillis just went too hard with the force, so to speak. Whatever it was, you can see that he's beaten at this moment in time. The puck is in a great position for Elias to collect it and there's no one between him and the goalie. In most defenses, the basic idea is to keep your man from the net - not so here. Elias made his way to render McGillis' ineffective and then get past him in about a second. Well done, Elias. Poor job, McGillis.
A quick word about the goalie. Since Boucher was already on his knees, he's limited in terms of how quickly he can move laterally. He can't push off his left skate. He's trying to keep his body centered but since the puck is coming right, he's got to open his form and dive to his right very quickly. Boucher isn't definitively beaten but it doesn't look good for the then-young netminder.
Boucher goes for a hard lean and gets his right arm down at an angle. For a desperate situation, that's not a bad way to go. This would allow him to keep his blocker up and get his stick down. It's not enough, however. Elias immediately shot it after collecting the puck and got the puck past Boucher's right side as the arm was coming down. That's why Boucher's form is the way it is with the puck clearly behind him. McGillis finally got his stick down on Elias' but it was late and ineffective. Essentially, Elias owned McGillis in a matter of seconds.
To think, this all wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the fortunate bounce of Arnott's stick. Normally when a player goes for a one-timer, he's swinging that stick really fast. The Devils were really luck that the puck to only glance off the blade of the stick without sending the puck hard and out-of-control away from the player. Primeau's check ensured Arnott wouldn't get most of it, but it appeared he wasn't going to get all of it to begin with in motion. I still think Primeau intervened just in time to really disrupt the shot.
Alas, the puck just trickled past (under?) his left skate and headed towards the front of the net. Never let it go unsaid that hockey can be a game of inches too.
The broken part of the play was what I just described: how the puck went from Mogilny to Arnott to Elias. Mogilny's pass looked fine enough; but attempted shot going awry plus Primeau's check sent it down a fortunate path for the Devils. Elias was very good to recognize where he was, get McGillis out of the way with the sticklift, and waste no time collecting, turning, and putting it past Boucher. It was a fantastic heads-up play from a fantastic player that yielded a fantastic game-winning goal. Sneaky, shrewd, and sensational. When people talk about players doing the "little things," something like a well-timed stick lift and advantageous positioning certainly fits the bill. You can use this goal as justification of how a little move turned into a big event.
In doing this breakdown, the puck sailing to the spot and Elias beating McGillis were the only parts of the play that really went awry. A bad bounce and McGillis being made to look stupid was what led to this goal on Philly's side. The Flyers contained the Devils well on the zone entry. Jones and McGillis did their jobs well in retrieving the little dump-in. While Stevens did keep the puck in the zone; I'm sure the Flyers were glad the clearance only led to shot from the half-boards that missed the target. That's preferable to what else could have happened. Richardson stayed on Mogilny like he was supposed to and Primeau timed his hit on Arnott well. Recchi and Jones were away from the play at that point so they couldn't do anything. The only Flyer that looks really bad is McGillis for not really covering Elias despite what it may look like at first. OK, Boucher may have went down a bit too easily but had McGillis not throw his stick up totally in the air, maybe he gets some support and help with a stop. He didn't so there wasn't. I wouldn't fault Boucher nearly as much as I would for luck or McGillis.
I'd also like to credit Mogilny for staying out there. He could've went away after taking the hit from Jones but instead he stuck out the extra time. Going to the net didn't make Stevens' shot any better (aside: Stevens' pinch was a good idea given there were four Flyers in deep as McGillis cleared it out), but it allowed him to retrieve the puck ahead of Richardson and make an otherwise good play for Arnott. As for Arnott, again, he got hit really good by Primeau. He's credited with the primary assist as the last Devil to touch the puck. That's technically true, though he certainly didn't intend the move the puck towards the open space in front of the net. Since it resulted in an important goal and it was 13 years ago, I don't think it matters much. Of course, Elias was the star of the play and his second goal of the game makes that rather clear.
This goal would stand and the Flyers were knocked out of the playoffs, blowing a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Philadelphia would get some manner of revenge with a first round win in 2004 and again in 2010. Though I think some Flyer fans would trade those moments for seeing their team face Dallas in 2000. The Devils, as you all know, went on to win the Cup over Dallas. So, extra special thanks to McGillis for helping make that possible for Elias.
Now that you've seen the video and read the breakdown, I want to know your opinion about this play. How impressed are you with Elias on this play? Would you fault McGillis as much as I do? What more could the Flyers have done on this play to stop the Devils? If you remember it, how did you react when you initially saw it? And how does it compare to your feelings now about the goal? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this play breakdown in the comments. Thank you for reading.