The New Jersey Devils have participated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs 21 times since they began play in the Garden State. The Devils have won the first round of the playoffs ten times. From their first ever playoff series against the New York Islanders in 1988 through their latest first round series victory over the Florida Panthers in 2012, the Devils have had many memorable moments in their opening playoff acts.
Here are the Top Five New Jersey Devils First Round Moments:
1) 1988 Patrick Division Semifinals vs. New York Islanders
After John MacLean scored in overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Devils 1987-88 season finale, the Devils secured their first playoff berth since moving to East Rutherford, NJ. Their first opponent was the New York Islanders, a team that was four years removed from their fifth consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. During the 1987-88 season, the teams battled seven times and the home team won each game. The Islanders won the season series 4-3.
New Jersey forced overtime in their playoff debut when MacLean knotted the game at 3-3 in the third period but the Islanders prevailed. The Devils, however, responded in Game 2 with a 3-2 victory with Mark Johnson recording the first game-winning goal in Devils playoff history.
John MacLean played a vital role for the New Jersey Devils in their first ever playoff series.
In their first playoff game on home ice, the Devils blanked the Islanders 3-0 behind a 31-save performance by rookie goaltender Sean Burke. The first playoff goal scored on Garden State soil was by none other than Mr. Devil, Ken Daneyko.
The Devils and Islanders battled into overtime in Game 4 but future Devils coach Brent Sutter scored for the Islanders to even the series. The Devils took Game 5 4-2 with Aaron Broten, Pat Conacher, Bruce Driver, and Craig Wolanin scoring for New Jersey.
The Devils returned home with a chance to advance to the second round and they came out firing on all cylinders. MacLean continued his torrid pace and notched four assists while Patrik Sundstrom added a pair of goals and an assist as the Devils entered the third period with a 6-1 lead. The Islanders stormed back to make it 6-5 but the Devils held on to win their first ever Stanley Cup Playoff series.
2) 1995 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals vs. Boston Bruins: Martin Brodeur posts three shutouts; McKay’s Overtime Game-Winner
The Devils, led by second-year goaltender Martin Brodeur, were on a mission entering the 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs after their heartbreaking elimination in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals the season prior. They were so focused, in fact, that they didn’t allow Cam Neely and the Boston Bruins to score in the first two games of the series at the Boston Garden. Backed by a pair of goals by Claude Lemieux in Game 1, Brodeur stopped all 23 shots he faced as he Devils skated to a 5-0 win. Stephane Richer had a goal and two assists in Game 2 and Brodeur once again faced 23 Boston shots and once again made 23 saves.
The Devils slipped in Game 3 back at the Meadowlands and headed into Game 4 looking to push the Bruins to the brink of elimination. Through regulation Brodeur and Blaine Lacher, the Boston goaltender, stopped everything that came their way. However, 8:51 into overtime Randy McKay pushed home the puck at the doorstep of the net to propel the Devils to a 1-0 victory. Brodeur made 38 saves to earn his third shutout of the series. The Devils won Game 5 3-2 to advance to the second round for the second consecutive year.
Randy McKay scores the overtime winner in Game 4 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals:
3) April 17, 1997: Brodeur Scores against the Montreal Canadiens
The Devils held a 4-2 lead late in the third period of Game 1 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals as Shawn Chambers, Bill Guerin, and Brian Rolston (2 goals) found the back of the net. With about 50 seconds left to play Brodeur, the best puck-handling goaltender in the history of the game, took control of the puck behind the goal line to the side of his own net. In a matter of seconds he became the second (Ron Hextall being the first), and of now last, goaltender to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Devils won 5-2.
“He scored a goal! Martin Brodeur!” –Doc Emrick
4) 2006 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals vs. New York Rangers
How sweep it was. The Devils and Rangers had met three times in the playoffs and the Rangers prevailed each time. They took the 1992 Patrick Division Semifinals and 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in seven games and defeated New Jersey in five games during the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997, the Rangers were looking to beat the Devils for the fourth time. Instead, the Devils took all four games.
The Devils brought an 11-game winning streak into the postseason and didn’t let up. In Henrik Lundqvist’s NHL playoff debut, the Devils dominated from the outset and won 6-1. Four different Devils had at least three points including Patrik Elias who recorded two goals and four assists. Also of note, Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers leading scorer during the 2005-06 campaign, took a shot at Scott Gomez late in the game but dislocated his shoulder on the attempt. Jagr missed the next game and played a limited role in games two and three.
In Game 2 with Kevin Weekes between the pipes for the Rangers, the Devils defeated the Rangers 4-1. John Madden recorded a hat trick with two of his goals coming shorthanded. Jay Pandolfo recorded an assist on every Madden goal and finished with three assists. Brodeur stopped 25 of 26 shots.
In Game 3 at Madison Square Garden and with Lundqvist back in net, the Rangers were looking to feed off of their fans and slice the Devils series lead in half. A little over a minute into the game, Jamie Langenbrunner scored and the Devils saw to it that the Rangers never built any momentum. Brodeur stopped all 25 shots he faced and recorded his first career shutout at MSG as the Devils won the game and led the series 3-0.
The Rangers briefly held a lead in Game 4 but the Devils rebounded and won 4-2. Elias picked up a pair of goals and added an assist. Elias finished the series with five goals and six assists for a series total of eleven points, a Devils record for all three categories in a four-game series. The Devils won their 15th consecutive game with the victory but in their next round fell in five games to the Carolina Hurricanes.
5) 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals vs. Florida Panthers: Back-to-Back Overtime Victories
The Devils had not escaped the first round since 2007 and missed the playoffs entirely in 2011. After five games the Panthers led the Devils three games to two. In Game 6 at the Prudential Center, the Devils built a 2-0 lead behind goals by Steve Bernier and Ilya Kovalchuk. However, the Panthers rallied in the second period to tie the score. Neither team scored in the third period and the game headed to sudden-death overtime. The Panthers flurried around Brodeur but the Devils held on. A rush up the ice and a drop pass by Kovalchuk sent Travis Zajac in on the wing. Zajac slipped the puck past Florida net minder Scott Clemmensen and the Devils forced a Game 7 in Florida.
In a case of déjà-vu the Devils scored the game’s first two goals as Adam Henrique and Stephen Gionta lit the lamp for New Jersey. Just like in Game 6 the Panthers recovered to tie the game, this time by scoring a pair in the final regulation period. After a scoreless opening overtime, the Devils prevailed 3:47 into the second OT period to advance to the Semifinals. David Clarkson and Alexei Ponikarovsky got the assists as Adam Henrique scored his second goal of the game and his first of two overtime clinching goals in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Honorable Mention: 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals vs. Buffalo Sabres; Game 6 Quadruple Overtime Thriller
The Devils and Sabres split the opening four games before the Devils won Game 5 by a final of 5-3. The Devils were looking to vanquish the Sabres at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in Game 6 but Dominik Hasek, the Sabres goaltender, had other ideas. Hasek turned aside all 70 Devils shots while Brodeur stopped the first 49 Sabres shots. Then at 5:43 of the fourth overtime period, Dave Hannan backhanded the puck over a laid-out Brodeur to win the game for the Sabres 1-0 on their 50th shot of the night. At 125:43, it is the longest game in Devils history. The Devils, however, rebounded from the defeat and took Game 7 2-1.
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.