May 8, 2000 was a momentous day in New Jersey Devils history. The New Jersey Devils hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs for Game 6 of their second round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Devils didn't just win that game, 3-0, they thoroughly dominated the Leafs. Two words are enough to describe the dominance: six shots. As in, six shots were allowed by the Devils. As in, the Leafs officially put six shots on Martin Brodeur. As in, in a regulation game of ice hockey that lasted sixty minutes in a win-or-go-home situation for the Leafs, the visitors put up a mere six shots on net - never mind that they didn't even score a single goal.
Now, I'll be honest with you, I'm skeptical of the count. The Devils have been notorious in under counting shots on net. According to this recap at the New York Times, Devils head coach Larry Robinson said he thought they had 16 shots on net which raises my suspicion further. I don't think it was as high as 16 - usually, the scorer undercounts by a few, not ten - but re-watching the whole game would be the only way to confirm that.
Regardless of whether the Leafs truly took only six shots on Brodeur, the game was fully controlled by the Devils. It was all New Jersey, all night long. Anyone with eyes who saw it knew it whether it was their first hockey game they ever saw or if they were lifelong fans. If the Leafs had the puck, a man in white would be there to apply pressure. If the Devils had the puck, they kept control by any way they can. Their off-the-puck movement was impeccable whereas the Leafs just looked lost for the most part. I almost forgot Mats Sundin was even in this game. Keep in mind that this Toronto weren't a bunch of scrubs who just snuck into the postseason. Toronto finished first in the Northeast Division with a record of 45-27-7-3. They finished fourth in goals scored with 246 and were just below the league median with 222 goals allowed. They put up a fight against the Devils, after all, forcing a tough Game 5 (Devils won 4-3) and this very game. That only makes the Devils' sheer dominance that much more impressive.
What almost gets lost with these great games of the past are some of the events and performances involved. For example, I knew that the Devils held the Leafs to six shots on net but I didn't know that Claude Lemieux had six shots on net all by himself. I also forgot how much of a stand-out performance Petr Sykora had. He only had one shot on net, but it went in. He also set up Jason Arnott for the game's second goal. Both points came almost immediately at the start of each period. Given that he was missing in the past two historical goal breakdowns from 2000, I think now is a good of time to look at the goal he scored in this revered game. It didn't take long for it to happen it was enough to seal a win and a series for the Devils.
The Video of the Goal
For the sake of this breakdown, YouTube user McKay4429061 has the original broadcast. This was back in 2000 so Fox Sports Net had the game (FSN-NY if I recall correctly), Doc & Chico were doing the broadcast, and high definition was available though it wasn't nearly as commonplace as it is today and so it'snot in this video. Hard to believe it was over 13 years ago. Such is time.
The game just started. This goal was scored 18 seconds into the game, after all.
The Devils On-Ice: #17 Petr Sykora, #25 Jason Arnott, #26 Patrik Elias, #27 Scott Niedermayer, #30 Martin Brodeur
The Maple Leafs On-Ice: #8 Dmitri Khristich, #18 Alyn McCauley, #16 Darcy Tucker, #15 Tomas Kaberle, #36 Dmitry Yushkevich, #31 Curtis Joseph
Robinson put out the A-Line, Pat Quinn put out Toronto's top defensive pairing, and away we went. You'll notice I listed five Devils being on ice. Oh, they had another defenseman, I just can't figure out who it is that started the game on defense with Scott Niedermayer. In past seasons, it was usually Scott Stevens but since Brian Rafalski joined up, Stevens was often paired with him. So it could be Stevens, or someone else (Daneyko? White? Malakhov?). I think it's got to be a single number but since I don't know, I'm not going to guess. If you do know, then please let me know and I'll make the appropriate change.
Possible Clarification: Per acasser in the comments, that other defenseman is likely Ken Daneyko.
See? Told you this game was available in HD. Anyway, Jason Arnott wins the opening faceoff against Alyn McCauley. It goes back to Niedermayer's defensive partner (who is possibly Daneyko). He will touch the puck for the first and only time on this play. All he does with it is pass it down to Scott Niedermayer, usually a good choice.
Most NHL defensement wouldn't try to play it out without looking. Niedermayer isn't most NHL defensemen. He previously saw Darcy Tucker coming at him and McCauley up on the forecheck prior to the pass. So he knew he didn't have much pressure. Down in the right corner is Petr Sykora, who's in a good position along the boards in case Niedermayer plays it down that way. Which he does. Jason Arnott is just over the blueline and is heading in Sykora's direction.
I wonder if that was a set play as Sykora laid the puck off for Arnott, who skates with it in the neutral zone. Arnott doesn't have a ton of room. Tomas Kaberle, who is skating backwards, is keeping tabs on Arnott as he now has the puck. Over on the other side of the ice, Patrik Elias is heading up ice with Dmitri Khristich skating with him to maintain inside position.
As Arnott gets to the red line, he looks up and I believe he sees Elias getting ahead of Khristich. This would be good opportunity for a lead pass. However, that won't happen. Either Arnott didn't fire the puck exactly in that direction or he intentionally dumped it in. So while he sees his teammate getting a step on his man - and note that Dmitry Yushkevich is still heading towards the middle of the ice - that opportunity won't get realized. No matter, it could yield the first zone entry for the Devils in this game all the same.
Elias cleanly retrieves the puck off the boards below the right (far side) dot. Yushkevich hustled back to the slot to prevent any clear lane for him to skate or pass through. Elias is going to drop towards the goal line in the hopes of getting some space that way. Arnott will head to the slot in case Elias does that find that space for him. He will not be alone as McCauley (left) and Kaberle (right) will join him.
So far, the play has been of no consequence. However, I would say this is where the Leafs make some little decisions that turn into problems. Here, Khristich just stops pursuing Elias. This makes sense as Yushkevich has his full attention on the Devils forward. However, this is the last you will see of him on this play doing anything.
Yushkevich stumbled a bit in trying to deny Elias. He doesn't have a large window, but he does get a pass off in Arnott's direction. There is a lane but with Kaberle there and McCauley behind him, they're not going let Arnott off easy here.
Admittedly, I'm not sure if Arnott actually got a shot on Curtis Joseph. I think he might have given how the goalie reacted. Then again, Joseph could've just dropped down in anticipation of a shot as the puck went wide. Either way, it's heading towards the end boards. Kaberle bodied up on Arnott enough to throw any one-timer off. While Arnott has a path to where the puck is going, the defender will go with him. Meanwhile, Yushkevich and Elias are tied up and battling without a puck. Yushkevich initiates contact and he could be grabbing Elias right in this blurry non-HD shot. Since this is the playoffs, there's no penalty to be called. That's another decision that could hurt later on. Otherwise, there's no glaring issue from Toronto here.
As both Arnott and Kaberle go forward, the puck gets knocked over towards Elias. Specifically, his skates. It's hard to see but the puck is about where that black circle is in this shot. You can see that Elias' stick is nowhere to be seen. Yushkevich overplayed the puck after the contact so all he has his Elias' right arm and no puck. Again, this is the playoffs so there's no referee with his hand up. Or at least, one isn't on screen.
Either way, the Leafs look solid in terms of numbers. Both defenders are behind the goal line, but McCauley and Tucker are back in the slot. The problem is that both of them are looking at Elias since he has the puck. None of them know that Petr Sykora is lurking in the high slot. This lack of attention will cost them in a bit.
But first, some chaos! i'm using the behind-the-net angle from the first replay in the video to show what Elias is doing. Yushkevich has clutched his right arm, which has his stick. Elias took a step forward in the hopes of getting away but the defender isn't having any of it. So with the puck still in front of him, he's going to try and kick it.
Meanwhile, McCauley is in a good position but his focus is just off. He looked up to see Arnott curl around the boards. Kaberle is with him here but now that Kaberle sees Elias trying to knock the puck away, he's going to change his focus. Arnott's going to keep turning around the dot and take a wide turn into the slot. Sykora, meanwhile, is unchecked and will press up in the hopes of getting a pass.
Yet, Elias doesn't really get a good kick. He stumbles from Yushkevich's obstruction. The puck will end up on his right foot. He's still going to try and push it forward to get it up to Sykora. Still, the Leafs aren't in total danger. McCauley stretches his stick out in the hopes of getting the puck away, which is an understandable decision. And Kaberle actually recognizes Sykora on the ice. At this moment, it's a bit hard to believe that this will end with a Devils goal. Well, Yushkevich's grab plus McCauley's stretched out stick is going to come up badly.
Elias is taken down on the play and the puck will lie underneath McCauley. As this happens, you can see Sykora actually swing his stick as if he was expecting the puck to come his way. Instead, he got nothing but air. It may have helped as Kaberle, who saw Sykora about a second ago, glides by him. He sees the puck but he can't immediately stop and change directions. So he's just going to go across for a bit. Let's switch to the side-view from the second replay in this video for a better look at where this puck exactly is at this time of the game.
Here, Elias is being taken down. Yushkevich's hold was the main cause of this happening. Elias was stumbling as Yushkevich gripped his arm and stick. The stick came down, got tangled up in the defender's legs, and so the Devils winger lost his balance. McCauley's stretched out stick may have played a role but if anyone committed a penalty here, it was Yushkevich. As Elias tumbles, the puck gets away from him and now gets beneath McCauley. As indicated by the black circle, the puck is underneath McCauley and by his left skate. It's an unfortunate bounce but this will doom the Leafs. McCauley doesn't know where it is exactly. Yushkevich is just getting his stick in control. Kaberle may see it but when he does, his momentum will carry him just away from the play. Joseph is content to see this play out instead of trying to get at it and potentially miss it. Elias is going down and he's facing the corner; he doesn't know where this puck is either.
Only one other man is nearby who can get at it: Petr Sykora.
As Sykora stepped in after his whiff, the puck ricocheted off McCauley's left skate, a bit off Elias' leg, and then just off McCauley's right skate. Given McCauley's position, he really has no idea of where it is. More importantly, he can't do anything about it. So Sykora had a perfect opportunity to just swoop in and take it away. He just did so here and he's about to fire it on net. Yushkevich fell over in recovery and Kaberle only now just stopped and can push forward. Sykora has to fire it on net.
And boy, did he. He really ripped a quick wrister past Joseph's left. Since the goaltender went down early, there was a lot of net open for Sykora to put the puck in. He got it wide enough without missing the net and he did it so fast. It was a really powerful shot right off a steal, which speaks to how good his shot was back then. Chico made a good point of it to note his awareness to come down low. (Chico then confused McCauley with Domi, who wore #28). He was rewarded with a goal on his first - and only - shot of the game.
As the puck's in the net, look at the Leafs. Kaberle is just too far away to do anything. McCauley only throws a hit on Sykora after the shot's been taken. Yushkevich is on all fours after he fell forward. Khristich is way back at the right circle. Tucker is to the left. The goal really happened off an odd bounce but the Leafs were all out of sorts, Joseph was hung out to dry, and they were down 1-0 just as the game started. Normally, that's not a big deal. But then the Leafs managed to generate an official count of three shots on net for the remaining 19:42 of the first period, officially only get six shots on net all game, give up another early goal in the second period, and went out of the playoffs with their final major moment being a frustrated Jonas Hoglund throwing his stick at John Madden prior to a game-icing empty net goal. Oh, Toronto.
Again, the beginning of this play wasn't too bad for Toronto. And the goal doesn't happen if a loose puck didn't come right off Elias' skates and then get underneath McCauley by his skates. There was some bad luck on Toronto's end. However, Toronto really paid the price for their smaller errors. McCauley was right to backcheck to the slot as he was the center; but he paid more attention to the puck with. While understandable, that only works if the center actually gets the puck or disrupts the play. He did not, and so Sykora was free in the slot and the puck was available for #17. Consider the wing play by Toronto. Tucker came back, only saw what was going on behind the net when he got to the slot, and didn't try to look around to cover McCauley's flank. Tucker moved out of the slot, but if he saw Sykora, he could have adjusted and got in his way at least. The same applies to Khristich. While he didn't have to do anything, he basically saw his defender pick up Elias and then just went away. Imagine if he hung around more after Arnott's attempt went awry; he could have saw Sykora lurking and picked him up. Alas, both wingers were non-factors and McCauley just looked silly even though the puck ended up on the inside of his skates wasn't his fault.
At least the Toronto defenders made more understandable decisions. Yushkevich followed Elias and stuck with him. However, he went for the extra-legal play on Elias by grabbing his arm, which led to Elias going down to the ice. Yet, that didn't happen until he had the puck in front of him, the puck got away, and Yushkevich ended up on the ice himself shortly afterwards. I can respect fouling a player to prevent him from making a play, but Yushkevich went about it the wrong way. Kaberle followed Arnott and because he did see Sykora, he correctly broke away. He even cut across in time were the puck was kicked all the way up to Sykora. But because the puck didn't come out all the way, he just went by Sykora due to physics and just couldn't get back in time to get in front. Of all the skaters, I would say he's the least culpable. Plus, he helped deny an easy one-timer right in front initially. Alas, he couldn't do much to prevent what happened.
Nevertheless, for a win-or-go-home game, this was the wrong way to start it off. Even with best intentions, the execution wasn't there by Toronto. New Jersey did the best at what they could. Even though Arnott missed an opportunity to play Elias into the zone, he did dump it into an area where he'd be the first to get it. Even though Arnott didn't get a clean shot (or any shot) off, he followed the puck and helped get it over to Elias. Even though Elias was impeded after trying to set Arnott up, he did his best to get away from Yushkevich's arm-holding and try and get the puck up. Even though he whiffed on a puck that never came, Sykora didn't regret the play or think an additional second about it. He just looked ahead, saw a free puck, took it, and just blasted it to the right of Joseph. It was a great heads-up decision after a series of other good breaks and other heads-up moments. It wasn't a pretty play but any goal scored 18 seconds into a series-clinching game carries it's own beauty.
As it turned out, that goal would be enough to win it. Sykora wouldn't have any more shots on net, but it would be a successful night for him. In addition to his goal, he did set up Arnott for a lovely one-timer 25 seconds into the second period against the same unit from Toronto. Sykora was checked by McCauley, the Kaberle-Yushkevich pairing wasn't well position or really aware of Arnott cycling into the middle, and so it was a simple pass-shot-five-hole-goal. The game will always be remembered for how few shots the Devils let Toronto have as the Devils just owned them in a dominant physical (example) and positional performance. But Sykora ensured it would be a long night for Toronto - 18 seconds into the game.
Now that you've seen the video, you've read the breakdown, and you relived the good memory of Toronto getting pounded on the ice for 60 minutes, I want to know what you think. What stood out most to you on this play? Which Toronto Maple Leaf made the most costly error? Did you remember how good Sykora's shot was? Was I wrong on anything - maybe Yushkevich was going to get called for holding Elias? Who was that other Devils defenseman out there? Did you really think the Leafs only got six shots on net anyway? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this goal in the comments. Thank you for reading.
P.S. The voting for the Devils' Top 25 Devils Under 25 ends tomorrow morning. The post of results will be up later in the day.