Penguins Win Stanley Cup

Were you a time traveler from the early part of the 2015-16 National Hockey League season, there is no way you would believe the words I am about to type. The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Stanley Cup.

If you think back to the lackluster start the team got off to and all of the hand-wringing about Sidney Crosby being “washed up,” then their 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks tonight at the SAP Center would not even seem plausible.

But the Penguins prevailed. They spent a good deal of the start of the year out of a playoff position, shooting up the Eastern Conference standings around the time the Devils began to drop down, and are now champions.

Brian Dumoulin got the Pens on the board 8:16 into game six, taking a 1-0 lead.  Logan Couture tied things up 6:27 into the second period, but Pittsburgh would strike just 1:19 later when Kris Letang scored the eventual game winner for the Pens. Patric Hornqvist added an empty net goal late in the third to ice the game for the Penguins.

The championship is the fourth in the history of the Penguins and their first since 2009 when they defeated the Detroit Red Wings.

This year’s Cup Final eerily mirrored Pete DeBoer’s last trip to the Finals, which was with the Devils in 2012. DeBoer’s teams fell behind early both times (two games to none), made a series of it, then ultimately fell in six games. The games were all pretty close for the most part, as well, both in 2012 and 2016.

And like the 2012 Kings, the 2016 Penguins rode a hot goalie through the playoffs. Matt Murray was a relatively unknown commodity before he burst on the scene and now the rookie, who played only 13 games in the regular season, has helped get the Penguins the 16 wins necessary to win the Stanley Cup.

The Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the playoff MVP, went to Sidney Crosby. Again, this is an amazing turnaround considering what some fans (and even some analysts) were muttering amongst themselves early in the season. But Crosby got the best revenge of all on everyone by winning.

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on a job well done in 2016. Next up, the Draft and then, before we know it, the World Cup of Hockey in September and the 2016-17 hockey season will be here.

Fifteenth Anniversary of 2000 Stanley Cup Championship

We are currently in the midst of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, with the Lightning taking a 2-1 series lead over the Blackhawks last night (June 8). But fifteen years ago tomorrow (June 10), the Stanley Cup Finals were going into a sixth game, a game that would live on as one of the most exciting in the history of the Devils, the Stanley Cup Playoffs and, possibly, in all of hockey. Fifteen years ago, on June 10, 2000, the New Jersey Devils became Stanley Cup champs for the second time in their history.

The Devils entered the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs in a state of flux. General Manager Lou Lamoriello had fired head coach Robbie Ftorek in favor of his assistant, Larry Robinson. It was a huge gamble, but one that would pay off in the end. The Devils finished the 1999-2000 season two points out of first place in the Atlantic Division behind the Philadelphia Flyers and would begin the playoffs as the number four seed in the East against the number-five seeded Florida Panthers.

The playoffs began on April 13, 2000 with a 4-3 Devils victory. The Devils would go on to eliminate the Panthers in a four game sweep in what would be Florida’s final playoff appearance until 2012 when they would face the Devils again, losing that time in seven on a double overtime goal by Adam Henrique. The Devils wrapped things up on April 20, 2000 with a 4-1 win.

The Devils next stop was Toronto (starting on April 27) and a Maple Leafs team that had finished first in the Northeast Division. The Devils dropped game one 2-1 at the Air Canada Centre as Curtis Joseph made 32 saves in outdueling Marty Brodeur. Game two, also in Toronto, was another close affair. Colin White scored the only goal of the game and Brodeur made 20 saves in a 1-0 Devils victory to tie up the series. Game three shifted to Continental Airlines Arena and was a veritable blowout in this close-scoring series, as the Devils prevailed 5-1. Petr Sykora, Alexander Mogilny, Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Jason Arnott all scored while Marty made 22 saves. The Devils were now ahead two games to one going into game four at the Meadowlands. This game was more true to form, as the Leafs edged the Devils 3-2. Joseph made 34 saves as Toronto tied things up at two games apiece. Game five, back in Toronto was another close one, albeit a little bit higher scoring. The Devils overcame Toronto’s 25 shots to win 4-3. This set up a possible Devils series victory on home ice on May 8 in game six. The Devils would take that game in a history-making 3-0 shutout win. Brodeur only faced six shots from the Maple Leafs, making it the lowest shot total ever faced in a playoff shutout win for a goaltender. Sykora, Arnott and John Madden would all hit the mark for the Devils. Curtis Joseph made 24 saves as the Devils marched on to their fourth Conference Final in team history.

Their opponents in those Eastern Conference Finals would be the Devils’ Atlantic Division rivals, the Flyers. Game one at the First Union Center took place on May 14, 2000. The Devils would set the pace with a 4-1 win. Brodeur faced a few more shots in this game than the last (36) and made 35 saves, while the team got goals from Sykora, Scott Niedermayer, Claude Lemieux and Bobby Holik. Game two in Philly saw the series tied up, with another close game, this time a 4-3 Flyers win. Brian Boucher made 30 saves for Philadelphia.

Game three shifted things to the Meadowlands and would see Philly go up two games to one with a 4-2 victory. With their win on Meadowlands ice in game four (3-1), the Flyers were a win from moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals, with the Devils on the verge of elimination. From here on out, with their backs against the wall, New Jersey had to deliver a classic performance.

Game five was back in hostile Philadelphia and would see the Devils pull a little bit closer to their goal with a 4-1 victory. Sykora scored again, so did Holik, Elias and Arnott. Brodeur made 21 saves. It was back to the Meadowlands for game six.

In Philadelphia’s second chance to close things out, the Devils would pull out a close one, 2-1 on home ice. Mogilny and noted Flyer-killer Claude Lemieux (back for his second stint with the team) would net the goals and Brodeur would make 12 saves as the teams hurtled toward a game seven.

Back in Philadelphia, the Devils would play their third straight elimination game and second overall in enemy territory. With the same 2-1 score as game six, this one would go down in the annals of history as Patrik Elias came to the rescue and scored two, including a late game-winner to send the Flyers packing and the Devils to the second Stanley Cup Final in team history. Martin Brodeur made 26 saves.

The Stanley Cup Final would open up in New Jersey (the first time the Devils had had home ice advantage for the Finals in their history) on May 30, 2000 with a 7-3 Devils rout over their Western Conference opponents, the Dallas Stars. The Stars were the defending Stanley Cup champions and got to their second straight Finals by beating the Oilers four games to one in the first round, taking out San Jose in the second round, four games to one and beating the Colorado Avalanche in seven games in the Western Conference Final.

Game two at Continental Airlines Arena was back to the 2000 playoffs standard of one-goal games. Dallas prevailed 2-1 to tie things up. Stars goaltender Ed Belfour made 27 saves. Game three, at Dallas’ Reunion Arena was also a 2-1 affair, with the Devils coming out on top. Sykora and Arnott would score for the Devils, while Brodeur made 22 stops on 23 shots.

The Devils would move to within one win of their second Cup with a 3-1 win over Dallas in game four. The goal scorers for New Jersey were Brian Rafalski, Madden and Sergei Brylin. Brodeur again came out the winner with 16 saves. The Devils were headed home with a chance to win the big prize. What they got was a cold wake up call. Three overtimes, almost six periods of hockey, 106 minutes and 21 seconds of a scoreless thriller would be played until Mike Modano would be the hero for the Stars, sending the series to game six in Texas with a 1-0 Dallas win. How do you possibly top that?

Game six would see goals from Mike Keane of the Stars and Scott Niedermayer of the Devils in regulation and that was it. For the second straight game, it would take overtime to settle this one. In fact, it would take two. Eighty-eight minutes and twenty seconds into the game, at 8:20 of the second overtime, Elias would center a pass to Arnott and a new Devils hero was born. Arnott’s goal gave the Devils a 2-1 win and their second Stanley Cup. Brodeur made 30 saves and defenseman and team captain Scott Stevens would be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It is hard to believe that all of that is now fifteen years in the past. From the comeback against Philly to the overtime battles against the Stars, the 2000 playoffs were truly a memorable time to be a Devils fan. As the Devils were crowned the first Stanley Cup champions of the new millennium, they were also making Stanley Cup history along the way. It is a playoff run that will live on in the annals of NHL history.