1999-00: The Second Triumph
Larry Robinson (shown, 1999-00 season) is named the ninth head coach in Devils' history.
Robinson, a former Stanley Cup Champion as a player with the Montreal Canadiens, became the leading man on the Devils’ bench with just eight regular-season games remaining. He replaced Robbie Ftorek, who had the Devils at 41-25-8 when he was let go by CEO/President/General Manager Lou Lamoriello on March 23.
Robinson was Ftorek’s assistant at the time, so the players didn’t view the move as something totally drastic. It was just a changing of the guard at the top, but the philosophy was the same. The systems weren’t changing.
“I think it was more of a change that was needed,” Brodeur said. “We were just going somewhere that Lou was afraid of, and I don’t think he wanted to bring a different face in here more than just changing coaches. Larry was always here. He was always right behind Robbie. It was a change that we welcomed because it wasn’t anybody new.
“Sometimes people are afraid of change, but it wasn’t a drastic change,” he continued. “It didn’t blow everything up. That’s what made it for us. It wasn’t that big of a deal for us. It’s not like we had eight games to go and had to revamp everything.”
However, the Devils didn’t finish the regular-season with much of a flurry. They went 4-4 and finished in second place, two points behind the Flyers in the Atlantic Division after finishing first in each of the previous three seasons.
The Devils were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, yet they ripped through fifth-seeded Florida in four straight games, winning the first three by one goal each before a 4-1 win in game four in the Sunshine State.
Next up was Toronto, and after losing game one, 2-1, at Air Canada Centre, the Devils won four of the next five games by a combined score of 13-4.
Next to the Rangers, there may not be a bigger rival for New Jersey than Philadelphia, and the team that finished with 105 points to the Devils’ 103 in the regular-season was up next.
The Flyers were the top-seeded team, but the Devils won four of the five regular-season meetings with the Broad Street Bullies. However, after winning game one by a 4-1 margin, the Devils couldn’t get anything right and lost the next three games by a combined 11-6.
“We knew that one little thing could make a difference, and late in the second period in game two at Philly, we got scored on and after that we could not play with them,” Brodeur said. “It was unbelievable. We lost three in a row. Just that one goal. One little thing and it all went south on us. It took us a while. It took us until that speech.”
The Devils won game five, 4-1.
They got third-period goals from Claude Lemieux and Alexander Mogilny to clinch a 2-1 victory in game six. In the first period of game seven, Eric Lindros came across the blue line with his head down and Scott Stevens made the Flyers’ star pay, silencing the usually raucous Philly crowd.
The Devils went on to win game seven, also by a 2-1 margin, thanks to a late game winner from Patrik Elias.
“There was a little bit of a feeling of invincibility,” forward Jay Pandolfo said. “When you come back from something like that, you get the confidence and you get on a roll. You believe you’re going to win, and that’s what you need to have success in the playoffs.”
The Devils opened the Stanley Cup Finals with a 7-3 win at the Meadowlands. Dallas scored a 2-1 victory in game two, but Brodeur would not allow more than one goal in any of the next four games.
He was brilliant in a 1-0 game five loss that went into three overtimes and lasted 106 minutes and 21 seconds before Mike Modano scored the winner.
He was unbelievable in game six as well, allowing just one goal as the game went into a second 20-minute sudden death overtime before Jason Arnott, the Devils’ leading scorer in the series, pumped in the Cup-winning goal at 8:20 of the second overtime.
Defenseman and Captain Scott Stevens was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Later that June, center Scott Gomez won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year for finishing with 70 points, including 51 assists.
“Larry was a really well-liked guy by the players. We just wanted to play for him and do really well,” Pandolfo said. “It was good timing, and it set us straight. He knew what it took to win, what you needed to do. That really helped out a lot.”
Dan Rosen covers high school sports and the NHL for The Record (Hackensack, N.J.). He is a regular contributor to Center Ice Magazine.