The 2002 Devils had high expectations, and why wouldn't they. Two time defending Eastern Conference Champions. 1 game away from back-to-back Stanley Cups.But something wasn't right. They looked anything but the team they had been the previous two seasons. Could you blame them? Perhaps it was physical fatigue from two long runs. Maybe, it was just mental fatigue. Either way, the Devils just couldn't get it going. With the team finding itself in on the outside of the top 8 after games, Lou wasn't giving this team any benefit of the doubt.
What at the time was called a firing (I guess it can be debated if it was an agreement or what not, Tom Gulitti seems to believe Larry stepped down) gone was Larry Robinson, the coach that saved the team in 2000 and was the leader behind the rally in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Flyers. Gone were his associates, Viacheslav Fetisov and Jay Leach. In was Kevin Constantine. Back in 2000, the team needed a change from Ftorek's demanding and unsufferable ways to Robinson's looser and jovial ways. Now with the team not responding to that, it was back to the tough-no-love approach. After the unfortunate news that assistant coach John Cunniff's cancer had returned, Larry Robinson was back behind the bench 7 games after being let go, back as an assistant in charge of the defense.
While the Devils started to playing better but struggling to score, one bombshell move was not enough for Lou. The coaching staff had been shaken up. It was time for a hurricane to hit the roster. On deadline day, the Devils traded their Stanley Cup hero, the # 1 center of a top line in the league, and former alternate captain (he had been stripped of the 'A' earlier in the season) along with a current alternate captain, Randy McKay, with a 1st round pick to the Dallas Stars for Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner. It was a blockbuster for both teams with both GMs desperately looking for a spark. The entire A-line was having an off year with Arnott putting up just 41 points in 63 games at the time of the deal. The long-time Devil, McKay was almost at the end of the tunnel. With 6 goals in 55 games, he was nothing more than a 4th-liner at that point.
In return, the Devils were getting some good players. Joe Niewendyk was 7 years older than Arnott, but was a great two-way player having a fine season and just won Gold with Canada at the Salt Lake Olympics. Nieuwendyk was just a few years removed from some heroics of his own -- winning the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the playoffs for the 1999 Cup Champions. Langenbrunner, was a bit more of an unknown as his numbers continued to dip year after year, but was going to be an upgrade, certainly over McKay. Just for fun, Lou brought back Stephane Richer to fill out the lineup.
All the moves intended results had come to fruition. The Devils went 20-8-2-1 under Constantine. The scoring was more balanced. And they had moved from 9th in the conference to 6th place as the season came to an end. That 6th seed had the reward of playing the Southeast Division Champion Hurricanes -- a team that had less points than the Devils (95 to 91) and that had the fewest amount of wins (35) as all 16 playoff teams It was also the same team the Devils easily dispatched the year prior in the 1st round. The East looked wide open. The Devils were surging. Everything was setting up nicely for another deep playoff run.
Four Quotes from the Season:
Lamoriello called Constantine on Friday and said he was mulling over some options. One of them was for someone to replace Robinson. ''My first reaction was, 'I don't know if I want to do that,' '' Constantine said. ''I said to my wife, 'I don't want Larry Robinson's job.' ''
"He's a great guy. He's a great person. We all know that," Devils captain Scott Stevens said. "His best characteristic probably hurt him the worst, being a nice giy. Some people can take advantage of that."
"Everbody says that I'm too soft to be a coach. Well if that means I have to change the person that I am, to coach a club, then maybe that's not what I want to do."
(On trading Arnott) "All those nostalgic things go through your mind, but you're just trying to do something for your team," Devils president Lou Lamoriello said. "We needed to make a change."
The Series: Hurricanes (3) vs Devils (6)
Game 1: 2-1 Hurricanes
Devils outshoot Canes 35-17, but Irbe is the difference. Devils start the series without 4 forwards: Gomez, Nieuwendyk, Sykora and Stevenson. Gomez would miss the entire playoffs while Sykora was suffering from a sore ankle after being hit by a Scott Stevens slapshot in the series finale.
Game 2: 2-1 (OT) Hurricanes
Irbe again is the difference maker with 30 saves. Nieuwendyk and Sykora return, but the offense still struggles. Bates Battaglia with the winner in the first OT period.
Game 3: 4-0 Devils
Offense finally gets going with goals from Rafalski (2), Gionta and Holik. The goodwill from Irbe's first two games lasts 21 minutes as he gets pulled after 3 goals on 12 shots. Kevin Weekes makes his debut (spoiler alert: he's kind of a big deal). Devils are dominant, and Brodeur only has to make 16 saves for the shutout. So easy, Jim McKenzie can play 12+ minutes.
''It's a positive note for us,'' Brodeur said, referring to Sunday's lopsided victory. ''But we're not out of the woods yet. We dug ourselves a pretty big hole. This was a good step, but we also know if we don't win the next game, they have an opportunity to knock us out in their own building.''
''Finally, someone decided to cut across the middle,'' Stevens said, sounding like a hungry shark whose dinner had been delayed. ''It was nice to have a chance, though. It keeps people thinking about it.''
Game 4: 3-1 Devils
NJ chases Irbe out of the net a little earlier this game, one period to be exact, after goals by Gionta (SH), Holik from behind the net. Rafalski adds some insurance later.
Jim McKenzie plays 13+ minutes.
Game 5: 3-2 Hurricanes (OT)
Petr Sykora's sore ankle is bothersome enough that he sits out the 5th game. Nemchinov, who had been a healthy scatch the last two games and Andreas Salomonsson replace Sykora and Kamensky in the lineup. Paul Maurice goes with Kevin Weekes, who in just a short few months goes backup goalie for the Lightning to starting his first ever playoff game. The Devils found themselves up 2-1. Goals from Holik and Elias gave the Devils a 2-1 lead late in the third. But with under two minutes left, Holik took a boarding penalty and Jeff O'Neill tied the game with under 90 seconds to go.
In OT, Weekes continued his brilliant play, absolutely robbing John Madden on a rebound from a Stephane Richer shot in what most agree was the deciding play of the series. Minutes later, Josef Vasicek (RIP) scored the OT winner.
Jim McKenzie plays 11+ minutes.
''It's a penalty,'' said Holik, who scored the Devils' first goal, his fourth of the series. ''For all the good things you do, you have to take responsibility for the bad things. But I get hit like that a dozen times a game. So I didn't feel like it was such an illegal hit. But there's nothing I can do about it now.''
''It's back-to-back games,'' Sykora said, referring to Tuesday's Game 4 in New Jersey and Game 5 here. Game 6 is Saturday in New Jersey. ''This way, I can give it three days. I just want to play on Saturday and never look back,'' Sykora said.
Game 6: 1-0 Hurricanes
Back in Jersey for game 6, Sykora was ready to return in the elimination game and so was Turner Stevenson (making his playoff debut). Out was Nemchinov and Richer. Game 6 was more of the same as game 5 as Kevin Weekes was incredible. Brodeur stopped 21 of 22 shots but the 1 goal, a Ron Francis 2nd period power play goal, was the decider. Weekes made 32 saves for the shutout, and 72 of 74 in the final two games of the series.
"I'm in shock right now," said Devils center John Madden, who had a great chance to win Game 5 in overtime only to be stopped by a phenomenal glove save by Weekes. "I never thought we would lose in the first round. That was not even in my head at any point. "He made some saves that will be on highlights for three years to come,. "I.E., Game 5, he reached back on me, and he made some saves tonight where he didn't even know where the puck was."
"This is the realization of a childhood dream," said Weekes, traded from the Lightning to Carolina on March 5 to serve as Irbe's backup. "For any of you who have played sandlot baseball or street hockey, you can relate. "We all grew up watching the playoffs on TV, and unfortunately I've been watching them too long because my teams have never been participants. I watched all the great plays and all the great goalies. I'm just having a good time right now."
- Devils playoff debuts for Joe Nieuwendyk, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Gionta, Valeri Kamensky, Andreas Salomonsson and Christian Berglund.
- Scott Gomez, recovering from a broken hand, missed the entire series
- Petr Sykora, suffering from a sore ankle after taking a shot off the ankle in the regular season finale, missed game 1 and 5. He finished with 1 assist in 4 games.
- This series saw the final games of Stephane Richer, Valeri Kamensky and Sergei Nemchinov's NHL careers. John Vanbiesbrouck, who backed up Martin Brodeur, would retire after the playoffs as well.
- Also playing their final games for the Devils: Bobby Holik (the Devils leading goal scorer in the playoffs) who would sign with the Rangers and Petr Sykora who was part of a big off-season deal for Jeff Friesen and Oleg Tverdovsky
- Deadline acquisitions, Langenbrunner, Nieuwendyk, and Richer, combined for 3 assists in 13 playoff games
- Kevin Constantine was "fired" in June and replaced with Pat Burns
- The Hurricanes Cinderella run would continue all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, defeating the Canadiens and then the Leafs both in 6 games.
- Even after his ridiculous relief performance and shutout in game 1 of the 2nd round...after a bad performance in game 4, Weekes found himself back on the bench for game 5 against Montreal, where he would stay for the rest of the playoffs
Edited by devilsrule33, 28 April 2014 - 10:55 AM.