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The 2000 Eastern Conference Finals: One of the New Jersey Devils’ Finest Moments Over the Second Rate Rivals

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A somewhat in depth look back at the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals and some of the highlights that came from it.

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May 20, 2000; the Philadelphia Flyers have just defeated the New Jersey Devils by a score of 3-1 to take a three games to one lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Sitting a mere loss away from elimination, and with only one of the potential remaining games at Continental Airlines Arena, things looked bleak for Jersey’s Team. How did they get here? What would happen in those three games? Well the title spoils it a bit, but let’s head on back to the year 2000, and relive some moments from those Eastern Conference Finals today.

How They Got There: The Regular Season and The First Two Rounds

The Devils and Flyers were actually the top two teams in the East in the 1999-2000 season, but due to division winners getting the top three seeds, the Devils would be fourth, while the Flyers got the top seed. A similar situation would befall St. Louis and Detroit in the West, but neither of those teams even made the Western Conference Finals that year, so we move on from that tangent.

The Devils would trounce the Florida Panthers in round one, sweeping them out of the playoffs in four games. In the second round, the competition would amp up a bit, but they would still down the third seeded Toronto Maple Leafs four games to two. The Flyers had an easy first round as well, eliminating the Buffalo Sabres in five games, before dispatching their primary rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

The stage was set for the top teams in the then Atlantic Division to battle for a shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup. Both teams had finished the regular season with 45 wins; the Flyers squeezed out a couple more points from ties (they still existed back then) to win the conference, so on paper the match-up looked fairly close. It wouldn’t seem that way for the first four games.

Games One Through Four

Thanks to Hockey Reference we’re able to look back at the box scores of each game to help us understand what was happening prior to some of the more famous moments in team history. While some of the in-depth points are from my memories of twenty years ago, HR will be providing the stats and YouTube will be providing some fond memories captured on film.

Game 1 was actually good news for the Devils, as they convincingly triumphed 4-1; Randy McKay and Sergei Brylin each had a pair of assists to go along with goals from Scott Niedermayer, Petr Sykora, Bobby Holik and Claude Lemieux. Four of the game’s five goals were scored in the first, with Lemieux’s power play tally just over a quarter of the way into the third, padding the margin of victory. Martin Brodeur stopped 35 of 36 shots for a ridiculous .972 save percentage. Things looked good for the boys in red and black.

Then the wheels fell off the bus.

Game 2 looked to be going the Devils’ way, as with just over five minutes left in the second, Patrik Elias struck to give the Devils a 3-1 lead. While Rick Tocchet opened the scoring for the SRR, Scott Gomez and Jason Arnott would tip the score in New Jersey’s favor before Elias added on. However, with under a minute to go in the second, Eric Desjardins would cash in on a power play to make it a closer 3-2 game. The Flyers would score twice within the first two minutes of the third, to win 4-3 and even the series as one apiece.

Games 3 and 4 were both played back in New Jersey, and home ice would have to be helpful for the Devils, right? Well, not quite; the Flyers would take game 3 by a score of 4-2 and push the Devils to the brink of elimination with a 3-1 victory in game 4. Brodeur looked rough in all three losses, while Brian Boucher was looking like an all star for the Flyers. With the series heading back to Philadelphia, the series seemed all but over.

Games Five and Six

Maybe the Flyers wrote the Devils off; maybe the Devils finally had a fire lit under them. Whatever the case, the Devils that showed up for Game 1 also happened to show up for Game 5; another 4-1 victory gave the Devils another breath of life. Each member of the A-Line contributed a goal and an assist each in leading the Devils to Game 6 back in New Jersey.

Of note at this time is that Eric Lindros, arguably the biggest name on the Flyers at this point, had not appeared in a game yet in this series. He had been out since March due to concussion issues, and even had a setback while rehabilitating, leading to him missing all of the playoffs until this point in late May.

Game 6 would not be a high scoring affair, with the game being scoreless for over 50 minutes. With a bit under nine minutes to go, Claude Lemieux would keep a puck in the zone, Bobby Holik would put get off a good shot, but Lemieux would reap the rewards of his own hard work, cashing in a rebound. 1-0 good guys. With just under three and a half to go, the lead would double; Sergei Brylin would steal a puck behind the net, and put it out front where Alex Mogilny would show off his soft hands in roofing a backhander over Boucher. Lindros would get one back for the Flyers with under a half minute, but the 2-1 score would send the series back to First Union Center for a winner take all Game 7.

Game Seven

The deciding game again started out in the Devils’ favor; Elias and Arnott would connect for Patty’s sixth of the playoffs early in the first on a power play. Less than two minutes later, one of the defining moments of this game and series would happen:

Scott Stevens catches the recently returned Eric Lindros with his head down, and would scramble his eggs with one of the most debilitating hits of the late 90s/early 2000s. Now there’s absolutely no way this hit would be legal in today’s NHL, and honestly from a humanity standpoint, it stunk to see a player who had just returned from concussion issues going down to a head hit.

In Stevens’ defense, he did lead with the shoulder (as the announcers even call out on the replay), and only made contact with Lindros’ head due to a combination of Lindros being low to the ice at the moment, and his head dropping a bit right before the impact. I do believe that this hit still would have rocked Lindros even if he did have his head up, and he could have still wound up concussed and injured. A shame that it happened, but a very legal part of the game in 2000.

The Flyers would push back even after losing their big center, with Rick Tocchet scoring his fifth playoff goal (fourth of the series) on a power play in the second. The game would stay 1-1 until late in the third, when Elias and Arnott would contribute to their second (but certainly not last) series clinching goal of these playoffs together.

Funnily enough, Alex Mogilny is the third forward on the ice here, as he would also be for this duo’s more famous third series clinching goal; also funny enough is that Scott Stevens keeps the puck in the offensive zone on this play, as he would do again one round later. Mogilny jumps on the puck that Stevens keeps in, sends it to Arnott for a shot on goal, but it’s Elias who cashes in on the rebound for his second of the game and a 2-1 lead. As it did in Game 6, the 2-1 lead stuck, and from down 3-1, the New Jersey Devils had cemented themselves as a superior team, besting the Flyers in 7.

Legacy of the Series

This series stands out in Devils history for a number of reasons, with two of them being shown in video above. Overcoming a 3-1 deficit had only been accomplished 15 times in league history prior to this, the 16th instance, and it was the first (and to this date, only) time the Devils found themselves in that situation. It was also only the fourth time that a team overcame a 3-0 or 3-1 deficit in any series en route to winning the Stanley Cup. As of this writing, the feat has only been accomplished twice more, once in 2013 and once in 2014.

I mentioned the final goal of Game 7 being the second that Arnott and Elias were involved with; Sykora’s goal a mere 18 seconds into Game 6 against Toronto wound up being the game (and thus, series) winning goal. Of course, all Devils fans remember their combination to win the 2000 Stanley Cup which was their third series clinching goal of these playoffs, for both the drama and the result.

To give Jason and Patty each an additional shout-out here, HR shows that Arnott was a point per game in this series, while Elias contributed nearly a quarter (four) of the Devils’ 18 goals in the series. Both had an excellent series, though both still had a fair amount to contribute in the Stanley Cup Finals. While Elias did not score, he added five assists to finish tied for the Devils’ playoff scoring lead with (you guessed it) Arnott, who arguably saved the best for last, with seven more points in six games to also finish with 20 points. I would say that both players cemented their place in team history with the 2000 Cup run, and I honestly think the Devils should honor their most well known forward trio with a collective spot in their ring of honor.

On the flip side, this win would prevent the Flyers from getting a chance at the Stanley Cup, pushing their drought to 25 years at the time. While they would reach the Cup Finals in 2010, they were unsuccessful there as well; their drought now stands at 44 (45 if they lose in the upcoming postseason) years. This series would also be the last time Eric Lindros would suit up for the Flyers; he would sit out a full season due to issues with the team before the Second Rate Rivals would send him to Our Hated Rivals, resulting in him STILL being hated by the Devils’ faithful.

Overall, the 2000 playoffs are usually remembered for moments that happened in the Cup Finals. Worth remembering though, is that none of that happens without the Devils storming back from being down 3-1 and taking out the Second Rate Rivals.

Your Take

Do you believe that this series is the apex of the Devils getting the best of the Flyers? What memories, if any, do you have of this series? Which Devils players do you feel were most important in sending the Devils to the Cup Finals? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!