Believe it or not, it's been at least 18 years since the New Jersey Devils won their first Stanley Cup. Anyone who was born in the wake of Scott Stevens raising the greatest trophy in sports for the first time is now old enough to vote. All the more reason to look back not only to refresh our memories, but to have those newer to the organization learn about great moments in Devils history. Be they fans who became Devils-aware in the 2000s or later, fans who forgot about parts of the series (I know I did, namely because I was 11 then), or even possibly new owners and management of the franchise who want to learn a little more.
What really stood the test of time from the 1995 Stanley Cup run was the result of the Finals: the New Jersey Devils didn't just beat the Detroit Red Wings. They swept them. It was considered to be a massive upset then and even looking back, we must come to the same conclusion. The Detroit Red Wings simply dominated the lockout-shortened regular season with a record of 33-11-4, a winning percentage over 70%. They had the league's best record, they led the Western Conference with 180 goals scored, and they finished just behind Chicago with 117 goals allowed. Detroit was loaded with talent. They very productive forwards like Steve Yzerman, Dino Ciccarelli, Keith Primeau, Ray Sheppard, and Sergei Fedorov. They had top defenders like Paul Coffey, Slava Fetisov, and a young Nicklas Lidstrom. They had a brilliant coach in Scotty Bowman. They even got good enough goaltending from Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood. Detroit rolled through the playoffs with a 4-1 series win over Dallas, a 4-0 series win over San Jose, and and a 4-1 series win over Chicago. The Red Wings weren't hyped up to be favorites for the Stanley Cup Finals for no good reason. They were the best team in hockey at the time. On paper, they very much out-matched the Devils.
Fortunately, games are played on the ice and not on paper. The Red Wings didn't have much of an answer for the Devils' neutral zone trap and their team had plenty of talented players thriving within said system. Claude Lemieux was a beast throughout the postseason. John MacLean and Stephane Richer were regular producers. Randy McKay scored quite a bit. The Crash Line picked on the opposition's fourth lines. Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer played often and played well. Martin Brodeur was great. And, of course, Neal Broten was very much a big part of the team's playoff success. The Devils picked up the center during the 1995 season and it was like he drank a gallon from the Fountain of Youth. The veteran put up 28 points in 30 regular season games and the production continued to blaze on through the postseason with 19 in 20 games. I wrote about him back in 2011; I will focus on his 19th playoff point in this post. It was his seventh goal and the eventual Stanley Cup winning goal in Game 4 on June 24, 1995. The Devils would win the game 5-2; this is the third of the game that broke a 2-2 tie.
The goal itself wasn't exactly a pretty one. The play had two Red Wings making an uncharacteristic error. While Broten getting the puck involved brilliance, he nearly botched the gift he was given. A fortunate rebound allowed him to get a second chance and he got it up enough to get it over Mike Vernon's glove and into the net. It wasn't a gorgeous, lifetime-highlight-reel-worthy goal like Jason Arnott's Cup winner in 2000, but it counted the same regardless and the play itself is worth examining.
The Video of the Goal
As with plenty of videos of the past, Youtube user McKay4429061 has the original broadcast feed of the play that led to the goal. Here it is in all of it's mid-90s glory.
Ah, the sweet sounds of Doc on play by play and John Davidson on color. I'm a little surprised there was no "Oh, baby!" from him but he did a good job here. Except when he said this was the first lead of the game for New Jersey since the Devils did score first in this game. Still, Broten breaks the deadlock and the Red Wings wouldn't be able to match it. Now, let's go in detail as far as what happened. All pictures are from this video; poorly added text and arrows from MS Paint are by me.
The Red Wings are on the attack and there's about 12:20 left in the second period. It's even strength hockey with a score of 2-2. Players did change during the play, so I'll note who was actually involved in the play that yielded the goal.
Devils On Ice: #12 Bill Guerin, #9 Neal Broten, #22 Claude Lemieux (he's replaced by #14 Brian Rolston before the goal happens), #4 Scott Stevens, #27 Scott Niedermayer, #30 Martin Brodeur
Red Wings On Ice: #21 Bob Errey (I don't think he's on at the beginning, but he's definitely on the ice), #19 Steve Yzerman, #22 Dino Ciccarelli, #16 Vladimir Konstantinov, #44 Viaschelav Fetisov, #29 Mike Vernon
Fun Fact: The Devils traded Fetisov on April 3, 1995 at the 1995 Draft according to Hockey Reference.
We will begin with a Red Wing (not sure who) that will try to lead Yzerman into the zone. Niedermayer is in the area, but the puck is going to go past him.
The idea here is to push it ahead to get into the zone so Yzerman can pick it up off the boards and go ahead on the attack. Stevens sees this development and he will give chase.
The pass had too much gusto applied to it so Yzerman's not going to get this until the right (far side) circle and by the boards at the earliest. While he'll get to it first, he's not going to be in a great position to make something happen. Stevens has his eye on Yzerman, but he's going to try and cut off the angle of the puck's projected path. This will keep him in position to try and contain Yzerman to the outside should he get the puck sooner. Down at the bottom, you see the upper torso of Ciccarelli. He's charging in to provide Yzerman an out should he get the puck.
By the time Yzerman does get to the puck, he immediately has to play it around the boards. He's in the corner and could only reach it with his backhand. That's not a good position to make any kind of quick play to the slot as he doesn't have as much control of the puck. He also saw Stevens. While he's not going to crush him, the defender has his stick on the ice in case Yzerman would attempt a pass. Yzerman didn't and he'll get it around the boards.
Note that Niedermayer is back by the slot here. Keep that in mind screens later.
The broadcast camera comes out of the close-up of the right corner and we can see that there were plenty of players in the zone. Fortunately, most of them were in white and the Devils' backcheck paid off. The puck went around corner and Claude Lemieux was in position to pick it up by the boards in motion. With Yzerman in deep and Ciccarelli now turned, New Jersey can counter attack.
Incidentally, the other players are Guerin up in the high slot, Broten with Errey (and possibly hooking him), and Niedermayer behind that latter duo. At the blueline is Konstantinov, who's going to go after the puck carrier, Lemieux.
Because this was 1995 and the playoffs, Konstantinov just grabbed Lemieux's right arm. Seriously. He didn't try to check him, he just went for the grab right away. You can see his left arm is free. He's holding his stick with his left hand to keep the puck away from Konstantinov as he tries - and succeeds - and warding him off. This slows down Lemieux, though. That may have been in the intent, come to think of it.
Meanwhile, Errey is breaking away from Broten to go back on defense. This is a smart move by the veteran winger. With Konstantinov in the neutral zone, someone needs to support his partner back on defense. Since he's the closest available teammate, he'll drop back. Guerin sees what's going on along the boards and begins to cut towards the boards.
While Lemieux warded off Konstantinov before the penalty boxes, Konstantinov doesn't give up and succeeds with a second physical move. He attempted to get around and in front of the winger. At best, he can win the puck. At worst, he can stop Lemieux. Unfortunately for him, Lemieux got the puck away as Konstantinov tried to muscle his way in front of him. Guerin fortunately moved laterally far enough before the blueline to make it a simple pass. Notice his position: he catches the puck cleanly and he was facing forward when he received the pass. He's in a good position to burst into the zone. Due to Fetisov's positioning, Guerin has to continue towards the boards. But getting it into the zone is important so his teammates can join him on the attack. Errey's dropping back in anticipation of Fetisov marking Guerin; Broten slowed up a bit so he can be on side when he gets into the zone.
Guerin presses down on the left side (nearside boards), gets to about the bottom of the circle, and turns. Fetisov has followed him on his right side the whole way to prevent him from either cutting inside or trying to make a pass. Some players would just dump it around the boards at this point, but Guerin is trying to buy some time to make a play towards the center of the zone. Errey is keeping an eye on this situation as he glides back through the slot in support of his defensemen; but a short pass towards the middle is definitely viable. So he does quick stop and turns his body away from Fetisov. This allows him to protect the puck while trying to get around the defender. As you can see here, Guerin's already turning while Fetisov's body is still facing forward. The defender will have to quickly turn with Guerin to hold his position.
This is where things start to go wrong for Detroit. Fetisov turned too sharply and fell down. This opens up a window of opportunity for Guerin to get the puck away from the boards. He could actually try skating with the puck towards the middle, in fact. Errey's now occupied by Broten and - this is key - their legs are tangled. Errey is right to be where he is, doing what he's doing. Still, look at all of the space in front of Guerin that opened up in part of Fetisov's fall. The big winger is going to use that space in short order.
I apologize for the blurriness, but it's important to note that a Devil jumped up on the play. That blur with the stick on the ice to the right of the dot is Scott Niedermayer. Yes, the same Niedermayer that seemingly looked casual in his own zone . The same Niedermayer who wasn't exactly pumping his legs like a mad man as Lemieux headed into the neutral zone. His strides looked effortless so it can surprise someone at how much ground he can cover in such little time. Lemieux went out for a change - remember, this is the second period so it was a long change - and with only two Detroit members back in the zone when Guerin headed in, there was space for the defender to come up. As he breaks in, Guerin makes an easy pass to Niedermayer, who will carry it on his left. That bit of positioning is important as Konstantinov is with him on his right. Niedermayer impressively broke into the zone, but he didn't come in alone.
As Niedermayer skated towards the goal line, a crucial event occurs that allows this play to be successful. Bob Errey is down. Broten didn't trip him or anything like that. Their legs crossed earlier but for whatever reason, the veteran Red Wing lost his balance while Broten remained up right. This will turn out to be lethal for Detroit as now Broten is open in front. Niedermayer is going to attempt a pass to Broten even though Konstantinov is almost literally riding him.
Broten didn't get a good shot on net when Niedermayer hit him with a pass. Fortunately for him, he'll get a second chance. By the time Errey's up and two others - Fetisov and Ciccarelli - are within five feet of the Devils center, he's going to fire the rebound up and past Vernon.
The replays from the broadcast do demand a closer look as they really show how brilliant Niedermayer's pass was to Broten and how Broten was fortunate to get a second chance at the net. The original broadcast angle really doesn't do either justice. Let's start with the pass from the end camera angle:
Konstantinov is really applying the "by any means necessary" motto to defense as he's clutching Niedermayer. At the goal line, Niedermayer releases the puck in spite of Konstantinov's defensive hug. Errey being down doesn't just leave Broten open, but it opens up a thin passing lane right to him. That's also made possible by Vernon. As Niedermayer was coming down, he rushed to the right post. While that's the right idea, he was pretty deep in his crease. That explains why his form looks sloppy. He came out a little here, but it's not enough to close the space. In retrospect, Vernon's going to wish he put out his stick or even dove for it. This pass is getting through. Here's the side angle, which really highlights this.
With Errey on his posterior, he can't do anything. Vernon is too slow to react to the pass. Niedermayer has given Broten, uncovered at the top of the crease, an absolute gift. The big highlight for Niedermayer in this playoff series was his end-to-end-off-the-boards-and-in equalizer in Game 2. That will probably get it's own breakdown. However, this pass was simply wonderful. Yes, Errey and Vernon created a passing lane but it's not a big one. There's not a lot of margin of error for Niedermayer and he had a lot of pressure right on top of him from Konstantinov. He threaded a needle for what turned out to be a killer pass. I would say that this would rank up there with among the best plays the defender ever made in his career. I would say that this would be up there with Elias' pass to Arnott in 2000 for the Cup winning goal in double overtime. I would say that alone would be worth an "Oh, baby!" by JD except he was too busy pointing out that Errey fell down and Broten finished the play.
Except that Broten flubbed the one-timer.
The in-goal camera shows it pretty clearly. Broten had his stick on the ice for a one-timer, he attempted one, but the puck just bounced off by the heel of his stick and up. Even though he was in position to hammer this one in, he didn't time it right. Instead of the puck being buried, it just popped up and moved slowly enough for Vernon to try and get in front of it. The goalie is in desperation, "please let me prevent this from going in" mode but he's got some help here.
What failed Vernon here was physics. He did get a stop on the shot. However, he stopped it with the top of his left pad as Vernon was going down. As a result, the puck just drops ahead of him. In this still, it looks like he could just bat it away with his stick. But the puck is in motion and a bit further away from what it looks like. The puck is actually going to bounce off Broten's right skate. With Errey (just getting up), Fetisov, and Ciccarelli coming over from his left, Broten may get a second crack at this.
And he does. The puck goes off his skate and moves out a little bit in front of Broten. This will allow the Devil to slide a little bit and get most of his blade on the puck. His stick isn't in a great position but at this point, he's really got to act fast. He has to try and lift this puck over Vernon, who's right in front and would stop anything low. He has to do it fast before Errey gets his stick in the way.
Poor Vernon. He's in the area, but he didn't get his glove high enough. He does not grab this puck, it goes off the top of the glove. I don't know if I would call this soft given that he was essentially held out to dry because two of his skaters couldn't stay on their feet. Regardless, Vernon's leaning back as he does this, so he'll join the puck shortly in the net.
And this did not just break the deadlock, but it would be the Cup-clinching goal. I'm sure Red Wings fans felt like Vernon looked here.
A harmless looking play resulted in a counter that Detroit had a good handle on until guys fell down. Fetisov falling down is more forgivable in my opinion. He's trying to turn on a dime when he could only do so on a quarter, so to speak. Guerin's decision to turn then was wise and it gave him outlet. Errey falling down, well, I don't know what to tell you. At one point, Broten and Errey's legs intertwined, but only Errey fell. Broten didn't kick out his leg or do anything wrong. Errey just stumbled and fell right on his butt. Broten just got away and hung out in front of the crease. It may have been an accident, but it was costly. Vernon didn't really hold good positioning on the play, but Errey and Fetisov falling down did the most damage. Having only Konstantinov really come back on defense didn't help either.
Broten came close to not making this happen. He mistimed the one-timer, which may be wasn't necessary, and he was fortunate that the rebound came to him and really him alone in front. He did finish the play and so he should get credit for that even though Vernon raising his glove an inch higher possibly could have stopped the puck. I have plenty of praise for the other Devils. Stevens forced Yzerman to play the puck around, which led to the counter-attack. I was impressed to see Lemieux get the puck to Guerin even though he had a defender right on him. Guerin was real smart to come across to help out Lemieux and give him some space to get away from Fetisov. His pass to Niedermayer was soft and in place where his teammate could keep it away from a defender. That pass from Niedermayer from Broten was fantastic. It could have gone awry. It possibly should have gone awry since he had a man on his back and he's trying to pass it to someone behind and away from him. He made it happen somehow. A proper finish off the pass would've made it more memorable, but instead, all involved will just have to settle for this being a
Here's some additional findings I had while putting this together that I think you would appreciate. I don't think this goal wouldn't have been possible if Bob Errey stayed on his feet. However, but did you know that this wasn't the first time Errey ended up on the ice that contributed to a goal against Detroit in this game? The very first "shot on net" by the Devils was a goal and Detroit's #21 was involved. Broten apparently got a piece of the puck from Stephane Richer's backhand at the right post. Because Errey was down, he could've helped jar the puck past Vernon and into the net. Even if he didn't, he would've been able to do something at all on Broten had he stood.
Also, this wasn't even the only goal of the game where a Devil was wide open in front of the net for a goal. After Broten scored, the Devils held onto a 3-2 lead. Detroit came close to tying it up, but the game was put out of their reach with this insurance goal from Sergei Brylin. It's pretty funny that he goes from diving to the corner to win the puck back to his teammate and then stand all alone in front. I'm sure Bowman loved watching nobody picking him up.
As a final point, the same Youtube user, McKay4429061 found that the NHL Network had aired this series as a Classic Series a while back. This is a retrospective of the games themselves, which include highlights, pre-game, and post-game coverage. It's a fun look back if you have about 50 minutes to spare recalling the past or wanting to get a sense of what it was like back then. Come for the history, stay for moments like Claude Lemieux not giving any care about the haters (about 13:00 in) among others.
You've read the breakdown, you've re-lived Broten's second goal of the game and the one that would get the Devils that Stanley Cup clinching win, and you've re-learned the importance of not falling down on defense among other points. Now I want to know what you thought of the goal? Be honest, did you remember this Cup clincher? How great was Niedermayer's pass? Were you surprised as I was at how close this opportunity nearly went begging by Broten? How in the world did Errey fall down? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this goal in the comments. Thank you for reading.