Twenty years ago the New Jersey Devils experienced the ultimate bounce back season. They had gone to the top of the mountain in winning the Stanley Cup in 1995. The ensuing 1995-96 campaign watched the Devils become the first team since the Montreal Canadiens in 1969-70 to miss the postseason a year after winning the title. What came next was a historic turnaround in East Rutherford, NJ.
On that note, we take a look back at the 1996-97 Devils.
Atlantic Division Champions
For the first time in club history, the Devils claimed a division title. Under the tutelage of bench boss Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey edged out the Philadelphia Flyers, posting a ledger of 45-23-14, good for 104 points.
Those Devils also garnered the most points of any squad in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey only allowed 182 goals, a league low. Plus their defense yielded the smallest amount of power play goals with 28 and as a result sported the league’s top penalty kill percentage at 88.09%.
Martin the Magnificent
Responsible for holding a lot of those goal totals down was All-Star goalie Martin Brodeur. Brodeur’s 1.88 goals-against average was a career-best and a league-best figure as well. The Montreal-native also posted a league-high ten shutouts. Teaming with Mike Dunham, Marty earned the William M. Jennings Trophy.
That year the Devils’ top netminder finished second in Vezina Trophy voting behind Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo Sabres.
Andreychuk Hits Milestone
Acquired a year prior from the Tronto Maple Leafs, Dave Andreychuk continued hitting the back of the net with the Devils. The left wing from Hamilton, Ontario netted 27 goals that season. On March 15, 1997, in a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals, Andreychuk backhanded a rebound from Bill Guerin and beat Bill Ranford, fittingly on the power play. The goal was No. 500 of his storied career.
Home Sweet Home
The home cooking was especially good in the Garden State. Overall, the Devils went 23-9-9 at home. Included in that ledger was a 15-game unbeaten streak, which ran from January 8 to March 15. It was a stretch where New Jersey posted a mark of 9-0-6.
From “Crash Line” grinder to scoring power forward. The 1996-97 season was a breakout year for Bobby, who paced New Jersey with 39 assists and 62 points. Holik’s 23 tallies were also a career high at the time.
Devils Get Killer Instinct
During February of that season, the Devils acquired Hall of Fame center Doug Gilmour and defenseman Dave Ellett for Steve Sullivan, Jason Smith and the rights to Alyn McCauley. Although he didn’t notch a goal in ten playoff games, Gilmour’s 22 points in 20 games helped the Devils streak to a division title.
Getting Their Skates Wet
Some Devils rookies made their debuts or were granted some considerable playing time among a veteran squad. Those rookies included Jay Pandolfo, Patrik Elias, Dunham, Pascal Rheaume, Vadim Sharifijanov and Krzysztof Oliwa.
Playoff Ups and Downs
As the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Devils faced eighth-seeded Montreal. During the third period of Game 1, Brodeur fired the puck into an empty net and became the second goalie in league history to score in a postseason contest, a 5-2 Devils victory. A 4-0 shutout in Game 5 gave New Jersey the series.
New Jersey kept the shutout streak going into the second round with a 2-0 blanking of the New York Rangers in Game 1. However, the goaltending magic dust rubbed off on Mike Richter and the Blueshirts took the series in five.
Though the season ended in disappointment, it did set the Devils back on track for what would be a run of 13 consecutive postseason appearances and two more Stanley Cup titles.