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Give The Devils Their Due In a compelling finish to the Stanley Cup finals, resilient New Jersey outlasted the Mighty Ducks to win its third championship in nine years

June 16, 2003
June 16, 2003

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June 16, 2003

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Give The Devils Their Due In a compelling finish to the Stanley Cup finals, resilient New Jersey outlasted the Mighty Ducks to win its third championship in nine years

To the distinguished list of Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Orr
and Wayne Gretzky, add the name of right wing Michael Rupp. He is
a 23-year-old rookie and a natural center with 26 games of NHL
experience whom the desperate New Jersey Devils inserted into the
lineup midway through the Stanley Cup finals because the Mighty
Ducks of Anaheim were ruling the face-off circle. Rupp was a role
player who could hardly imagine that, like those immortals, he
would score a Stanley Cup-winning goal. "Tough to believe," he
said after the Devils' 3-0 victory in Game 7 on Monday night.
"Those are great names, but the most important names I'll be
linked with are the New Jersey Devils on the 2003 Stanley Cup."

This is an article from the June 16, 2003 issue Original Layout

The most obscure player on the most obscure champion in recent
NHL history planted himself in the high slot early in the second
period and deflected Scott Niedermayer's shot from the point. The
6'5", 230-pound Rupp then raised his arms in celebration and
astonishment when the puck trickled through the splayed pads of
netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere. It was Rupp's first career
playoff goal, the first of the game and the only one Martin
Brodeur, the NHL's best goalie now that Patrick Roy has retired,
would need.

The shutout was Brodeur's record seventh in the playoffs and
third in the finals, although it was not enough to wrest the Conn
Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP from Giguere. The New Jersey
crowd booed that announcement, but the Devils applauded when
Giguere accepted the award. They could afford to be magnanimous.
They won their third Cup in nine years, and while this year's
squad is far from the most imposing of the Devils' Cup winners,
it might have the most moxie.

The 2003 Cup run marked a watershed in NHL history: the end of
the star system--at least stars who do not wear masks and more
padding than a K-9 trainer. Despite a welcome spasm of offense in
Games 5 and 6 that awakened a somnolent final series, the
playoffs belonged to Giguere and Brodeur. They did more than
prove the truism that goaltending rules; they demonstrated, with
only modest stumbles, that today's game is about little else but
goaltending.

Until scoring twice with the extra man in Game 6, the Ducks were
an unspeakable 6 for 61 on the power play in the postseason, but
they reached Game 7 of the finals because Giguere tended the net
the way an ill-tempered troll guards a bridge. At the same time,
the Devils, whose leading scorer in the regular season, Patrik
Elias, had just 57 points and whose best playoff forward, John
Madden, did not score for the last 10 games, were able to win the
Cup because Brodeur was Giguere's equal despite an egregious own
goal in Game 3.

Hockey doesn't parse numbers like baseball--this sport has
Sabres, not sabermetricians--but some statistics underscore the
NHL's sea change. New Jersey right wing Jamie Langenbrunner led
all postseason scorers with 18 points (in 24 games), the first
time no player reached 20 points in the playoffs since 1969, when
the Boston Bruins' Phil Esposito led with 18. But Esposito had
eight goals in only 10 games that year and played in two rounds,
not the four Langenbrunner slogged through. Other than goalies,
the difference-makers these days are coaches and role players, a
point of note for budget-conscious general managers as the NHL
lurches into its final season under the collective-bargaining
agreement.

It wasn't until the end of these star-deprived finals that play
became compelling. The series turned last Thursday, in Game 5, a
match so out of context with the first four games that it seemed
to materialize out of the NHL's rollicking 1980s. The puck
dropped shortly after 8:15 p.m. EDT, but the Cup finals
unofficially began about 15 minutes later. During a first-period
scrum, a rare postwhistle get-together in a series that had been
so good-natured by playoff standards that the Devils and the
Ducks appeared ready to open bench doors for one another, Madden
emerged from the mob with blood spurting from his left cheek. The
gash, which had been opened accidentally by the skate of
Anaheim's Adam Oates and required 16 stitches, not only forced
Madden to miss a few shifts but also started the bile flowing.
"Everyone had been kind of polite, and the series wasn't that
rough," New Jersey center Scott Gomez said afterward. "It
definitely needed some blood."

Suddenly the gushing blood was replaced by a torrent of goals in
a fun, flawed match. Through the first four games of the finals
(nearly 248 minutes), there had been three shutouts and a total
of 12 goals. In the first 52:52 of Game 5, there were nine
scores. The Devils and the Ducks finally produced a match filled
with passion, wacky bounces and uncharacteristically mediocre
goaltending from Giguere and Brodeur. Like other premier goalies,
Giguere, who finished with five shutouts and a superb .945 save
percentage in the playoffs, is all but impregnable when he's
positioned properly. For the first time in the series, swarming
pressure from the Devils forced Giguere to move side to side.

He failed to react to a Turner Stevenson pass from the face-off
circle that found Pascal Rheaume on the rim of the crease for the
first New Jersey goal, and for the rest of the game Giguere had
more trouble reading plays than a seventh-grader has reading
Faulkner. He had to search for the puck through the thicket of
Devils forwards, and when he did stop it, he often left juicy
rebounds. Giguere emerged from the dressing room 45 minutes after
the 6-3 debacle and wrote off the aberration as a poor team
effort. "I'm sure Anaheim disagrees," Gomez said, "but this was
good for hockey. You put nine goals on the board, you get people
talking."

People had been talking for more than a week about the negative
aspects of the series, and often the discussion involved Paul
Kariya, the Ducks' invisible captain. Of the NHL's 20
highest-paid players, Kariya was the only one who had reached
even the Cup semifinals, and his $10 million salary carried the
burden of high expectations, which he had not met in the first
four games against New Jersey. Then Kariya had an assist in Game
5, his first point in the finals, and two more early in a 5-2 win
in Game 6 last Saturday. So to say that the thunderous check by
the Devils' 6'1", 215-pound defenseman Scott Stevens in the
second period of Game 6 woke Kariya from his lethargy is an
exaggeration. But the hit, and Kariya's response, did reveal a
profound measure of his value.

The check was textbook Stevens: elbow tucked in, shoulder flush
to the jaw of the 5'10", 180-pound Kariya, who was splattered
with 13:48 left in the period, the back of his head bouncing off
the ice. He lay supine, an inanimate snow angel. "Seeing that
[is] not a good feeling," said Petr Sykora, Kariya's right wing
and Stevens's former teammate in New Jersey. "I know how it
is"--Sykora was knocked out of Game 6 of the 2000 Cup finals
because of an elbow thrown by Dallas Stars defenseman Derian
Hatcher--"and how it can affect a team."

Two minutes later Kariya rose and was helped to the bench by
teammates, then escorted to the dressing room (or maybe to
Lourdes). Craig Milhouse, a Ducks physician, went through a
checklist of neuropsychological questions to be sure that Kariya
was not on the planet Zoltron, but Kariya's eyes were clear and
he was lucid. "We were talking to him, and finally he said, 'I'm
ready to go. Let's go,'" Milhouse said after the match. "I think
he was tired of being asked questions."

Kariya, who started using a mouthpiece and thicker padding in his
helmet after a cheap shot by Gary Suter in 1998 caused a serious
concussion (his second since turning pro in 1994-95), answered
any lingering questions when he rejoined the bench with 9:14
remaining in the period. "After that hit," fourth-line winger Dan
Bylsma said, "he looked like a guy who really wanted the puck."
Kariya found it late in that second period. Capping a brilliant
three minutes of up-and-down hockey--perhaps the most
entertaining stretch of a Cup final in a decade--Kariya skated
down the left wing and fired a shot past Brodeur's glove from
just above the face-off circle. Last rites had turned into a last
laugh. "It was inspiring after his problems with concussions,"
Anaheim right wing Steve Thomas said later. "But you're not going
to keep a guy like that in the dressing room in Game 6 of the
Stanley Cup finals."

Coach Mike Babcock did, however, keep him on the bench for most
of the third period, playing Kariya just 3:32. Like Brodeur, who
was excused by Devils coach Pat Burns with about 11 1/2 minutes
to go, he was resting for the 12th Game 7 in Stanley Cup finals
history.

The Devils played a near-perfect Game 7, sealing the Anaheim
attack and getting two goals from left wing Jeff Friesen, a
former Duck. Coming off two shaky games, Brodeur was in control,
stopping 24 shots and handling the puck smartly. He did a good
job handling the Cup too. Of course, he's had plenty of
practice.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER FLAP PHOTO: PAUL CHIASSON/AP [COVER FLAP] THE DEVILS DELIVER! New Jersey Cops Another Stanley Cup SCOTT GOMEZ AND PATRIK ELIASCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ELSA/GETTY IMAGES/NHLI FEELING NO PAIN Raising the Cup soothed the battered Madden, who suffered a 16-stitch gash to his cheek in Game 5.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (TOP) STONED COLD Giguere, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, took care of Elias by himself in the Devils' 3-0 win in Game 2.COLOR PHOTO: MARK J. TERRILL/AP CREASE CRASHER Despite the best efforts of Brodeur and Colin White in Game 6, Kariya and the Ducks won 5-2.COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO TRIPLE DECKER Stevens (far left, 4) and Sergei Brylin crunched Kariya in Game 4; Oleg Tverdovsky upended Stanislav Chistov (center) in Game 6; Kurt Sauer steamrollered Brian Gionta (14) in Game 4.COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT LABERGE/GETTY IMAGES/NHLI [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO [See caption above]
Giguere and Brodeur demonstrated that today's game is about
LITTLE ELSE BUT GOALTENDING.
"Everyone had been kind of polite, and the series wasn't rough,"
Gomez said. "It definitely NEEDED SOME BLOOD."