I was inspired by last Saturday's breakdown Jason Arnott's legendary Cup winning goal to do another historical goal breakdown. What can I say? I get nostalgic at this time of year and people seem to dig on nostalgia these days. On Saturday, I'm going to breakdown Patrik Elias' game winner that knocked Philadelphia out of the playoffs. It was an absolutely crucial goal and in a circumstance that would come straight out of a movie. Game 7. On the road. Hated rival. Opponent trying to not let a 3-1 series lead slip away. 1-1 game. You want to talk about big goals? Few come bigger than Elias' lamplighter late in that game.
Of course, that's not the most memorable moment from the time the Devils knocked out Philadelphia. At least, it wasn't the first thing that came to my mind. No, that would be when Scott Stevens knocked out Eric Lindros. That's just one of the many appropriate phrases that could be used to describe it. Here are some more: Destroyed. Lowered the boom. Dropped the hammer. Blew up. Jacked up. Smashed. Buried. Demolished. Crushed. Dispatched. Vanquished. Obliterated. Annihilated. It was just such a fantastically brutal hit. It almost goes beyond mere physicality. Stevens threw a check that could have damaged Lindros' soul.
Admittedly, that's all an exaggeration. Lindros would go on to play again. After sitting out all of the 2000-01 season in an extended conflict with Flyers management - yes, Stevens mauling Lindros was Lindros' final moment as an active player in a Winged P jersey - Lindros signed with the Rangers and returned to being a point-per-game player. Well, he was for that 2001-02 season. His production tailed off after then, but he still played a few more seasons. He was like a larger Brendan Shanahan in that he scored a lot and sat a lot in the penalty box, only Lindros was far more susceptible to concussions. Surely, racking up eight concussions over his career took their toll on Lindros. There will always be this feeling that he could have been something more than he was, which was rather impressive: 372 goals, 493 assists, and 1,398 PIM in 760 games. To be fair, a metric ton of hype about him back when he was drafted plus the Flyers throwing Quebec a mountain of assets to get him fuels that feeling in part. In any case, Stevens didn't destroy Lindros' mind, body, soul, or career with that hit in Game 7.
At the time, that was the initial thought. When it happened, the reaction was a sharp slope from disapproval to little more than hushed tones and murmurs from the crowd. The usually raucous Philly crowd was stunned. That's to be expected when any player is injured; but the hit just sucked the air out of atmosphere for a bit. For a fan like myself who was watching it on TV, all you could do is bellow some kind of exclamation. Something like, "BOOM" or "OHHHHHH" or POW." (I still do, even watching it on video more than 13 years later.) Like in football, it was the sort of hit you want to show somebody just to see their reaction. It was the sort of check that makes you want to call somebody up and let them know about it. It was sort of physical play that you want to see again and again. I always like a big hit in hockey, and Stevens unloaded a one on Lindros so devastating, it'll be hard to forget.
You know, before I gush any further, please view the following video from McKay9941023. The user has all kinds of vintage Devils moments uploaded from a tape. Not only did he have the hit, but also the build-up, the play afterwards, and - best of all - the commentary and replays by ESPN.
Say what you want about ESPN's hockey coverage, but they were masterful here. They did more than just say that Stevens has done this throughout his career. They provided video examples of Stevens throwing that kind of check, preying upon an unaware puck carrier. And they were examples from earlier in the postseason: two from the Toronto series and one very similar hit on John LeClair in Game 2 of this very series. Replays showed the hit from multiple angles and at various speeds. Even with a video from 2000, it's clear that Lindros put his head down when heading into the zone. He never really saw Scott Niedermayer track back to the blueline, much less see Stevens coming. His head kept down ensured his chest wouldn't be the principal point of contact. Moreover, you can see that Stevens made contact with his shoulder, which was allowed under the rules. As for the strength of Stevens, well, watch the slow motion replays again. You don't just see Lindros get dropped like a sack of bricks; the hit was so hard, the Devils behind him - Jay Pandolfo - fell down. There's only way we want players to play and that's hard; that's all Stevens did in the playoffs. The broadcasters were quick to state that it was an entirely legal hit and the video proves them correctly. There's no need to break this down. There's nothing I can show any better than what ESPN did right after it happened. Well done to all involved, especially Darren Pang.
Watching it today, more than 13 years after it happened, I'm still baffled at Lindros keeping his head down after retrieving the puck and then getting into the zone. Keeping your head up isn't some cop out to what happened. Players are taught early to do that to be aware of what's going on around them. This isn't just so they can make plays or know their opponents, but it allows them to actually act in the interests of their own safety. Keeping your head up is taught in nearly all sports, not just hockey. So it's bewildering to me that a professional hockey player with as much skill as Lindros would knowingly go into the other team's end with the puck - making them a legitimate target - and reduce his own awareness. Even if Stevens didn't cream him, on what basis did Lindros think he was going to make a play? There was Niedermayer and Stevens meeting him at the blueline and Jay Pandolfo following right behind him. Had he got his head up just a little bit, he could've realized he had no real play to make. He could have dumped it in (he did try to do this right before impact) or even held up at the blueline to reset the attack. I cannot stress this enough: He didn't have to get blinded by a check because of his own voluntary blindness. But what happened, happened. Lindros just barreled on through as if little was going to stop him. Then, #4 stopped him stone cold.
On top of that Stevens has done this to players in that very postseason and throughout his long career. He even did it to Lindros' teammate, LeClair in Game 2 of the series. And he's not going to relent. Why would he? There's no crime against being strong and players with the puck were (are?) Surely, the coaches must have said something about this to their players. This would be something that would be on tape; it would be scouted out as something the players to pay attention to. Maybe that's why Philadelphia head coach Craig Ramsay looks beside himself after Lindros is helped to the locker room? Even if the coaches didn't coach up their players, wouldn't the other Flyers have said, "Hey, watch out for #4, he'll catch you unaware?" Or "It's the playoffs, no one's letting up." Or something at all. It was familiar territory for Stevens and Lindros walked into it as if he didn't know any better. He paid the price like one wouldn't believe.
I can understand other Devils fans favoring other hits by Stevens, such as the time he wrecked Slava Kozlov in 1995. I understand how some can see the hit, today in 2013, as something that would not be allowed. (Aside: And if so, so what? That doesn't takeaway from Stevens' legacy. Do football fans disregard, say, Deacon Jones' greatness because he literally slapped linemen on the head to beat them, something the NFL did rule out? I think not!) I know this kind of hit is seen as his trademark, though it is only one of many hallmarks of a long and successful time in New Jersey. I don't like players getting injured or concussed, but that's just a result of the play. That happens in sports. There was no malicious intent beyond, "My opponent has the puck and so I shall relieve him of that possession." That's what Stevens did and it was done on the road, against a "star" player who didn't pay attention when he should've, and he did it as he always did. I suspect some would shame Stevens or fans who liked the hit now for it for one reason or another, none of which really deserve much of my time or attention. There's no shame in liking what you like. There's no value in trying to revise the past. It happened and, truth be told, I absolutely loved that hit as a fan back in 2000. I'd be lying if I didn't appreciate the hit now. The Punishing of Lindros was clean, heavy, effective (Lindros was separated from the puck), and with massive impact. Simply put, it was the greatest hit I ever saw in my life. Devil and quite possibly even non-Devil.
It would be a great tale to say that hit led to the Devils rolling over the Flyers, but, again, that didn't happen. The Flyers recovered, Rick Tocchet tied up the game in the second period on a power play, the crowd returned, and the game itself felt as tense as you would expect for a 1-1 rivalry game in a series finale for the right to go to play for Lord Stanley's Cup. Fortunately, Patrik Elias would earn a brace, teammates would give him an embrace, and the Flyers players, coaches, and fans all had a sad look on their collective face. As stated at the beginning of this post, I'll jump into that on Saturday.
In the meantime, let's talk about this famous body check. if you were following the Devils then, was this the greatest hit you ever saw? If not, then what would be your favorite hit by a Devil? How do you feel about this hit seeing it today - especially if it's for the first time? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Stevens smashing Lindros in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals in the comments. Thank you for reading.