The 1995 NHL season was a bizarre one; due to the first Bettman lockout, only 48 games were played by each team as opposed to the 84 of the previous two seasons and the 82 we're accustomed to today. With teams only playing within their conference, and Patrick Roy missing the playoffs for the first (and eventually only) time in his career, the Stanley Cup Finals would wind up featuring two teams that hadn't played each other all season.
The New Jersey Devils had been eliminated from the 1993-94 playoffs by Our Hated Rivals in a heartbreaking series; 1994-95 would see them plow through the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers en route to the Cup Finals. OHR meanwhile would be swept out of round two by the aforementioned Flyers. Jersey's opponent would be the equally dominant Detroit Red Wings; while the Red Wings were heavily favored to win, the Devils would take the first two games at Joe Louis Arena, and then Game 3 at home at Brendan Byrne Arena. Game 4 would be a back and forth affair until the Devils, holding a 3-2 lead, would add two more goals and increase their lead to 5-2.
Now possessing a three goal lead, and with just minutes to go in the game, reality was starting to set in for the 94-95 Devils. They were a few solid defensive minutes away from winning the first Stanley Cup in team history; players were bound to be emotional, and the cameras managed to catch a moment that would be etched not only into Devils history, but NHL history as well.
Mike Peluso was in his day considered a "goon" that teams kept around just for the purposes of fighting and protecting their star players. In 458 career games, Peluso would post 38 goals and 52 assists for a total of 90 points. While a goon in his day, by today's standards those numbers would make him a welcome fourth line player, as Ryan Carter's numbers are similarly paced while known NHL goon John Scott (if he somehow manages to play another 200 games) would project to finish his career with a whopping 12 points.
Back on topic however is the moment itself; while Peluso was seen as a goon, Doc Emrick would give a great description of Peluso in the above clip, stating:
"An emotional guy, and he's the first guy here everyday for practice, everyday for the games Mike Peluso; and he'll be one of the last guys to leave tonight. This will be his longest and probably his happiest day ever in hockey."
Known best for being 1/3 of the Devils' hard-hitting Crash Line, we get to witness a man, renowned in the league for his fighting prowess and his toughness on the ice, letting down his guard and soaking in the moment of being able to say that he is a champion and that all the hard work paid off. Color commentator John Davidson adds his part moments after Doc describes Peluso, stating:
"You're known as a scrapper and a fighter and you wonder if you'll ever have a chance to play in the National Hockey League...you have to try to enjoy the moment; my goodness."
Mike Peluso's career may have been rather pedestrian; but the emotion that he showed on the Devils bench with the Stanley Cup on the line was legendary. Within a twenty second span, Peluso showed what that trophy means not only Devils and Red Wings fans, but to the entire world. In that moment, a man who early in his career wasn't sure he would have said career, let down his guard to the world and let them see that the Stanley Cup meant everything to him.
The special thing about the Stanley Cup is that a player will not touch it until he earns it; in that sense, there have been hundreds of players who have passed through the NHL that never have and never will get to raise the Cup above their head. While sitting on the bench, the magnitude of the moment dawned on Mike; the trophy that so many fight for that is lifted by only a fraction of them would be in his hands. He didn't have to be a tough guy in the moment; he just had to be a human being fighting for the ultimate prize in his sport.
And the human aspect of it is what truly makes this a memorable moment. Peluso wasn't Mario Lemeiux; heck he wasn't even Claude Lemeiux, who admittedly had an awesome postseason that year but wasn't exactly the best player during the regular season. Mike Peluso was a human being who had achieved his dream of climbing to the top of the mountain; a man who had probably been told he wouldn't amount to anything multiple times in his career, yet against all odds, he made it. I think we've all had those moments in life where we've been told we couldn't do something only to succeed in the end. That's why this is (aside from the win itself) the most memorable moment from the Devils first cup run; because at some point or another, we're all Mike Peluso.
Some Additional Clips
To do the moment a bit more justice, and just to relive the first Cup win some more, I found a couple more clips showing more of the celebration, as well as taking another look at Mike's tears.
Thank you for reading; please leave your thoughts about this moment and game below!