The New Jersey Devils have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals on five occasions, winning the Cup three times. The Devils raised the Cup following their first two trips to the Finals in 1995 and 2000 but slipped in 2001 when they fell one game short of the ultimate prize. In 2003, the Devils won the Eastern Conference Championship for the third time in four seasons and faced the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, an underdog squad making their first trip to the Finals. The Mighty Ducks challenged New Jersey every step of the way but the Devils prevailed in seven memorable games for their third Stanley Cup title. Along the way the Devils set a record for most home wins in a postseason when they went 12-1 on home ice, including 4-0 in the Finals.
Here are the Top 5 New Jersey Devils 2003 Stanley Cup Finals Moments:
1) Back-to-Back Shutouts
The series opened at the Meadowlands with Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur facing Anaheim net minder Jean-Sebastien Giguere. As a team, the Devils yielded just 166 goals during the regular season, tops in the NHL. Giguere and the Mighty Ducks, however, were on a role and entered the Finals having lost just two games. Giguere, in the previous series against the Minnesota Wild, compiled three shutouts in a sweep and allowed just one goal in the entire series. In a series that would most likely feature little scoring, the Devils did their part to shut the Anaheim offense down.
New Jersey opened the series with a shutout of their own in a 3-0 victory. Jeff Friesen netted a pair of goals and Grant Marshall added another. The Mighty Ducks had 16 shots on goal but Brodeur turned each of them aside for his first career Stanley Cup Finals shutout. Brodeur would have a repeat 16-save shutout performance in Game 2 as the Devils, on goals by Friesen, Patrik Elias, and Scott Gomez, once again shut out the Mighty Ducks 3-0.
2) The Strangest Goal Allowed in Martin Brodeur’s Career
The Devils brought their 2-0 series lead to the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim but would fall in both road contests in overtime. Prior to their 1-0 loss in Game 4 that tied the series, the Devils fell in Game 3 3-2. Overshadowing Ruslan Salei’s overtime winner was by far the strangest goal that Martin Brodeur has ever allowed in his career. With just over five minutes remaining in the second period and the score knotted at one, Sandis Ozolinsh harmlessly dumped the puck towards the corner of the zone from just outside the blue line. As it turned out, it wasn’t harmless.
Watch the goal and enjoy the brief but priceless reaction by Devils Head Coach Pat Burns:
3) Offensive Outburst at the Meadowlands
With the series tied at two games apiece, the teams met for Game 5 back in New Jersey. After four tight-checking and low-scoring games, the goal light at both ends of the ice seemingly never turned off during this contest. It all started less than a minute in when ex-Devil Petr Sykora opened the scoring for Anaheim, giving the Mighty Ducks their first lead in New Jersey in the Finals. A short while later, Turner Stevenson of the Devils threw the puck towards the crease where Pascal Rheaume notched his only postseason goal of the spring. A little over four minutes later Brian Rafalski held the puck inside the Anaheim zone and quickly passed it towards Elias, all alone in the slot. Elias redirected it and the Devils held a 2-1 lead. It wouldn’t last as Steve Rucchin scored his fifth goal of the playoffs for the Mighty Ducks to close the scoring in the first period. The two teams scored a combined four goals in the opening period which already exceeded any single game goal output at the Meadowlands in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Brian Gionta gave the Devils a lead less than four minutes into the second period but the Mighty Ducks, once again, tied it. It was the first time in 14 home games dating back to the final week of the regular season that the Devils allowed more than two goals on home ice.
But just before the midway point of the game, New Jersey went ahead for good. A Gionta shot was initially stopped by Giguere and the rebound went off the skate of Jay Pandolfo into the net. It was disallowed by referee Bill McCreary but a review reversed the call and the Devils led 4-3. A pair of goals by Jamie Langenbrunner in the third period solidified the victory and the Devils, for the third consecutive time in the Stanley Cup Finals, had a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6.
4) Paul Kariya Survives a Scott Stevens Check and Scores a Goal
Anaheim brought their might early in Game 6 and quickly built a 3-0 lead before the first period was over. New Jersey countered to make it 3-1 early in the second period and then came one of the most unimaginable moments in NHL Finals history. With two assists in the first period but still without a goal in the series, Anaheim superstar forward Paul Kariya was about to enter the Devils zone shortly after the Devils got on the board when he became the latest recipient of a classic Scott Stevens check. Down and almost out, the Mighty Ducks captain was motionless. Then his visor fogged as he puffed a breath. Kariya stood up and was helped off the ice surface. No one knew when or if the Vancouver, Canada native would return.
He did return. Then he gave the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim a 4-1 lead.
Here is both the check and the goal:
Anaheim held on for a 5-2 victory setting up a winner-take-all battle in New Jersey.
5) June 9th, 2003: Game 7
June 9, 2003 is the date the Devils and their fans will never forget. After a scoreless first period at the Continental Airlines Arena, the Devils were the first team to put a dent in the goal column. After Colin White’s initial shot from the blue line was blocked, Scott Niedermayer attempted a shot of his own. The puck deflected off Mike Rupp, playing in just his fourth Stanley Cup Playoff game (Games 4-7 of the 2003 Finals), and the Devils had a 1-0 lead. That is all they would need.
Brodeur stopped all 24 shots the Mighty Ducks fired his way for his third shutout of the Finals and seventh overall during the 2003 Cup run. Friesen padded the Devils lead with a goal just beyond the midway point of the second period and iced the game and the series late in the third period when he wristed a shot past eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner Giguere for his second goal of the game and 10th goal of the playoffs. Half of his ten goals came during the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals occurred during the final shift of Game 7. From 1988 through the third game of the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins there was one constant in the Devils lineup, Ken Daneyko. After playing in every single one of the Devils first 165 postseason games in team history, he was scratched in Game 4 of the Devils opening series. Daneyko would play in Game 5 and in every game of the following series against the Tampa Bay Lightning before sitting for four of the seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Ottawa Senators. After not appearing in any of the first six games of the Finals head coach Pat Burns dressed the lifelong Devil for the deciding game.
In the final minute of regulation Burns had Daneyko on the ice as the clock ticked down. When the final horn sounded Daneyko was able to live every athlete’s dream as he skated off the ice into retirement on top of the hockey world. The Hockey Writers asked Daneyko about his emotions being on the ice as the clock winded down on his third Stanley Cup title and his career, “Obviously it was a good feeling and a nice gesture, as well as I knew that moment I was going to hang it up, wanted to go out on top and maybe Pat sensed that too. I thought I wanted to play one more year, but when it was 3-0 and (less than) five minutes left, I knew then and there it’s over and how fortunate I am to go out hoisting the Cup. It was very surreal, but I was at peace that it was time.”
Go out on top Mr. Devil did.
Below is Daneyko’s final shift in the NHL and the Devils third Stanley Cup celebration:
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.