The New Jersey Devils moved to the Garden State in 1982 and have played there ever since. From 1982 through 2007, the Devils resided in East Rutherford before moving down the New Jersey Turnpike to Newark for the start of the 2007-08 season. They have had many memorable home openers in both arenas.
October 5, 1982: 3-3 tie vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Devils skated to a tie against the Penguins in their inaugural home opener in 1982 in front of 13,663 fans. Don Lever, the team’s first captain, scored the first goal in New Jersey’s history. Hector Marini scored to give the Devils a two-goal advantage before the Penguins stormed back to gain a one-goal advantage of their own early in the third. Before the Devils could lose, Merlin Malinowski came to the rescue to tie the game. There was no overtime period to break the tie so the score remained knotted at the conclusion of regulation. Glenn “Chico” Resch made 25 saves to preserve the point in the standings for New Jersey.
October 12, 1984: 7-2 win vs. New York Islanders
Two seasons later the Devils hosted the Islanders, the five-time defending Eastern Conference champions and four-time Stanley Cup winner before a loss to the Edmonton Oilers in 1984, in their home opener. Even more daunting for the Devils was the fact the Islanders had won every single one of the 14 games between the two squads since they moved to New Jersey. Dating back to their time in Denver as the Colorado Rockies, the Devils had lost 16 consecutive games and were winless in 19 straight contests against the Islanders. Then it all changed but not after the beginning looked quite familiar.
Long before Glenn “Chico” Resch held a microphone as the Devils color commentator in 1996, he was the Devils first goaltender.
The Islanders had a 2-0 lead less than a minute into the second period before New Jersey reversed course. Seven different Devils, Aaron Broten, Pat Verbeek, Mel Bridgman, Paul Gagne, Rich Preston, Doug Sulliman, and Lever scored goals and former Islander Resch stopped 28 shots for his 200th career NHL victory. The highlight of the night for New Jersey was their splendid penalty kill that successfully killed off six power-plays, including an Islanders 5-on-3 advantage in the final period. This was the Devils first win in a home opener while based in New Jersey.
October 7, 1995: 4-0 win vs. Florida Panthers
The Devils had just two notable banners hanging in the rafters at the Meadowlands, one from their 1988 Patrick Division championship and another from their 1995 Eastern Conference championship. Prior to the start of their 1995-96 home opener, they raised the most important banner, the one signifying their 1995 Stanley Cup title. Following the ceremony, they picked up right where they left off from the previous summer and dominated the Panthers. They outshot them 31-17 with third-year goaltender Martin Brodeur turning aside every one he faced for his 7th career shutout. John MacLean led the way offensively with a pair of goals. Bobby Holik also scored for the Devils and Stephane Richer added an empty-net tally. Scott Niedermayer had a pair of assists.
October 5, 1996: 3-1 win vs. Detroit Red Wings
After missing the playoffs in their fight to defend their championship, the Devils opened the 1996-97 season against the Detroit Red Wings, who were coming off the best regular season in NHL history in which they won a record 62 of 82 games and finished with a record 131 points. The Devils weren’t impressed. Paced by Brodeur’s 24 saves and goals by Bill Guerin, Brian Rolston, and Steve Thomas, New Jersey won their sixth consecutive home opener. Their streak would end at seven games.
October 6, 2000: 8-4 win vs. Montreal Canadiens
Prior to the Devils home opener against the Canadiens, the team and their fans raised their second Stanley Cup championship banner. Two key players were missing, however, during the ceremony. New Jersey was without Jason Arnott, who scored the Cup-clinching just four months prior, and longtime defenseman Niedermayer, who each were holding out for a new contract. During the ceremony, the sellout crowd of 19,040 chanted “We want Arnott,” alluding to the center of the important A-line, where he was flanked by wingers Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora.
On October 6, 2000, the New Jersey Devils raised their 1999-2000 Stanley Cup Championship banner.
On the ice, the Devils raced to a quick 2-0 lead on goals by Holik and Sergei Nemchinov. Before the period ended though, Montreal knotted the score.
The Devils came out on fire after the first intermission and less than five minutes into the second period, New Jersey chased starter Jeff Hackett with three unanswered goals, including one by defenseman Colin White. Montreal responded with a goal of their own but the final period was much of the same as the Devils had another three-goal period. With eight goals, the Devils set a franchise record for most goals in a home opener. 16 of New Jersey’s 18 skaters had at least one point and Alexander Mogilny led the way with three. In the crease, Brodeur made 26 saves on 30 shots.
October 16, 2003: 2-2 tie vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Three years later the Devils had their first home opener in which defenseman Ken Daneyko was not a member of the organization. The 18th overall pick in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, he was drafted by New Jersey in their inaugural draft before they called themselves the “Devils.” He was also one of five players to play for all three of the Devils Stanley Cup winning teams. Their last Stanley Cup banner to date was lifted to the rafters on this night.
Sergei Brylin came through with two seconds remaining to tie the game on the night the Devils lifted their third Stanley Cup banner.
In their first home game since Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, Jay Pandolfo gave the Devils a 1-0 lead when he deflected a point shot by Brian Rafalski in the game’s opening period. Toronto scored a pair of goals in the second period and carried a one-goal lead into the third. They were just two seconds away from spoiling the ceremonial evening for New Jersey before Rafalski created another goal. He threw the puck towards the net after faking a shot and at the doorstep of the crease Sergei Brylin, the only forward to win all three Cups with New Jersey, tied the game. The game remained tied following overtime.
October 5, 2005: 5-1 win vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Devils next scheduled home opener was wiped out due to the 2004-05 lockout. When the NHL finally resumed playing games, New Jersey’s roster looked much different as captain Scott Stevens retired and interim captain Niedermayer signed with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Up front, Elias was out due to an illness he suffered while playing overseas during the lockout. Even the man behind the bench was different as Larry Robinson took over for Pat Burns. However, the Devils still had Brodeur in net and he came up huge on this night.
Back on the ice for the first time since the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Devils faced the Penguins and a super-hyped rookie named Sidney Crosby, making his NHL debut. Crosby had a glorious chance to bury his first NHL goal early in the contest but Brodeur slammed the door. Brodeur was a brick wall in the first period as he stopped all 17 shots and helped the Devils kill off four Penguins power-plays, including a long five-on-three. In all, the Devils killed off 10 of 11 Penguins power-plays.
Late in the first New Jersey went ahead as Brylin opened the scoring and rookie Zach Parise lit the lamp for his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. The Devils wouldn’t look back as Brylin added another goal and Brian Gionta, on his way to a franchise record 48-goal season, notched a pair. Brodeur made 36 saves including 16 while on the penalty kill.
October 12, 2006: 7-6 win vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Devils last home opener at the Continental Airlines Arena was nothing short of a roller coaster ride. It opened with a bang as Devils center John Madden scored the game’s first goal after the midway mark of the first. The Maple Leafs tied the game later in the period but an offensive flurry in the second left the Devils trailing Toronto 6-3 entering the final 20 minutes.
Brian Gionta celebrates one of his three goals in the 2006-07 New Jersey Devils home opener.
Then Gionta took control. He scored a pair of power-play goals in the third period to bring the Devils to within one. Late in the game with 38 seconds remaining in regulation and Brodeur on the bench for an extra skater, he took a pass from Scott Gomez and jammed the puck past goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin to complete his first career hat trick, a natural hat trick no less, to tie the score.
Following a scoreless overtime, Gionta would add a shootout goal before Madden, who finished the game with two goals and an assist, roofed the game-deciding goal two rounds later.
October 27, 2007: 3-1 loss vs. Ottawa Senators
The game itself wasn’t memorable but the circumstance remains historical for the franchise. On this night, after calling the Meadowlands home for 25 years, 24 seasons of play, and a season-opening nine-game road trip, the Devils started a new era as they debuted in their new home, the Prudential Center in Newark. David Clarkson took the first shot in the arena, Gionta scored the first Devils goal in the building, Elias and Paul Martin notched the first Devils assists, Brodeur made the first Devils save, Dainius Zubrus recorded the Devils first hit, and Travis Zajac took the first Devils penalty. Zajac was also the first Devil to win a faceoff. The only negative for New Jersey was their first win in Newark would have to wait until next game, just as it took two games in 1982 for the Devils to win their first contest in East Rutherford.
January 22, 2013: 3-0 win vs. Philadelphia Flyers
It took a delay of several months due to a work stoppage but the Devils finally opened their 2012-13 season in January with a sparkling new 2011-12 Eastern Conference Championship banner hanging in the rafters above their own end of the ice. The Devils faced off against the Flyers for the first time since they eliminated their rivals from the south in five games in the previous spring’s Eastern Conference Semifinal. New Jersey’s stellar play against Philadelphia continued as Brodeur made 24 saves for his 10th career shutout against Philadelphia and 120th overall. Zajac and Clarkson lit the goal light in the first period and Ilya Kovalchuk scored a shorthanded goal on a penalty shot in the second.
Highlights from the 2012-13 Devils home opener, a 3-0 shutout of the Flyers.
The 2014-15 Devils home opener will take place on October 18 against the San Jose Sharks.
Leo is in his second year with THW. He covers the 3-Time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League. You can follow Leo on Twitter, @LeoScaglioneJr.