1993-94 New Jersey Devils Team Photo - Click to View Full Size
1993-94: One Final Step
Valeri Zelepukin sends game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals into overtime by scoring a goal with 7.7 seconds remaining in the third period; the game and season would end with a 2-1 double OT loss to the New York Rangers.
Can one goal, despite it coming from those cross-river rivals, make everyone forget how a rookie goalie began his rise to legendary status that season? Hardly.
“If you take the whole year, plus the playoffs, that’s probably the most this organization has ever learned on how to become a winner,” former defenseman Tommy Albelin said. “Especially when you’re so close and you get bounced in double overtime in game seven of the Conference Finals. It’s a feeling you never want to experience again. That’s a big factor as to why this organization went on to win three Cups. We never wanted to feel that again.
“It’s just an empty feeling,” Albelin continued. “You’re almost at the point where you want to quit playing. Then the summer comes along and you think about what could have happened. You want to start training, and you want to have that opportunity to go to the playoffs again.”
The Devils may have lost that game seven, and surrendered that series to the Rangers in such dramatic fashion. However, the positives gleaned from the 1993-94 season are too great to ignore.
It actually started in the off-season when for the first time Devils’ CEO/President/General Manager Lou Lamoriello dipped into the Montreal Canadiens family to nab a coach.
Jacques Lemaire brought smart, two-way hockey to New Jersey, and won the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year in 1994.
“With him, I think people believed that we were a complete hockey club now; a structured and well-disciplined team,” goalie Martin Brodeur said of Lemaire. “I think he fit exactly what we were looking for the whole time. It just took a little while to find him.”
Under Lemaire, the Devils won a franchise-best 47 games in 1993-94, a mark that has since been bested only twice. The Devils won 48 games in 1997-98 and again in 2000-01. They lost only 25 games as well, the fewest in franchise history up until that point.
The Devils topped the century mark in points for the first time in franchise history, finishing second in the Atlantic Division with 106 points. The Rangers had 112 and won the Presidents’ Trophy.
Martin Brodeur captures Calder Trophy as top rookie and Jacques Lemaire picks up the Jack Adams Award as the league's top coach.
The 1993-94 season was also the coming out party for Brodeur, who went 27-11-8 with a 2.40 goals-against average in the regular-season. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.
Brodeur had made his NHL debut in March of 1992, and played in four contests in the 1991-92 season. At the time, his teammates didn’t know what to think.
“You have to see it for yourself to believe it,” former team Captain Scott Stevens said.
Brodeur’s climb to greatness began thanks largely to an injury to backup goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz, which allowed Brodeur a spot on the opening night roster as Chris Terreri’s backup.
He had his first career shutout on October 20 against Anaheim (4-0), and went 11 games without a loss (9-0-2) from February 28-March 29. Brodeur went 8-9 in the playoffs, while Terreri was 3-0, with a 1.95 goals-against average.
“He came in and took over the leading role right from the start, and showed a lot of poise which I think is his biggest attribute right now,” Stevens said. “If something bad happens it slides right off. He can overcome those little things. A lot of goalies have trouble overcoming that. He’s obviously a very skilled athlete. He skates and handles the puck well. You don’t get a lot of people that athletic playing goal.”
The Devils obviously won their first playoff series since 1988 as well, topping the Buffalo Sabres in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
After dropping the first two to Boston in the semifinals by a goal each, the Devils ripped off four straight wins to move into the conference finals, where they tested their mettle against the Rangers.
The Devils won game one, 4-3, on a game-winner by Stephane Richer. They held a three-games-to-two advantage with the series shifting back to the Meadowlands on March 25. However, the Rangers came back from a 2-0 deficit to win in game six, 4-2. The series ended two nights later on Stephane Matteau’s overtime tally.
“I think it was a learning experience,” Stevens said. “Sometimes you have to fail first in order to succeed. I look at it as a lost opportunity for a Cup, but if we didn’t go through that experience maybe we wouldn’t have our own Cups. It made us more hungry the following year when we won the Cup.
“It hurt, but you know what, we didn’t forget it,” Stevens continued. “It stuck with us the whole summer.”