Wednesday, June 20, 2007

TOP 10 HOCKEY GAMES SEEN IN PERSON

10. '00 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 2 -Devils 2, Panthers 1

This was the first playoff game I covered as a reporter. It was also the first playoff hockey gamefor my now wife, father-in-law and sister-in-law, so it was pretty exciting all-around. The Devils had trouble winning playoff series after their Stanley Cup title in 1995, having lost three first-round series, two of which came when they were the top seed. Scott Stevens scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory. The Devils would go on to sweep the series and to steal a line from a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight, "more on this playoff run later".

9. '00 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 6 - Devils 3, Maple Leafs 0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZx9oqA3FAA&mode=related&search=

Another game I covered as a reporter. The Devils scored goals early in the first and early in the second period. But this game was more known for its defense. New Jersey held Toronto to a modern-day record six shots on goal ... for THE ENTIRE GAME!!!! It was like a countdown, three shots in the first, two shots in the second and one shot in the third for the Maple Leafs. Seeming it was a series-clincher, going into the locker room, I had never seen so many TV cameras ever for a Devils game. I think I got on CBC a few times standing with my tape recorder. But I was so nervous going into the Maple Leafs locker room because their season was over. However, everyone was professional and it was relieving. Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph revealed that he played with a broken hand, pretty amazing that he lasted that long.

8. '97 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 5 - Rangers 2, Devils 1 (OT)

In the light of Stephane Matteau's lucky wrap-around goal in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals Game 7, I had to witness another wrap-around, season-ending, OT goal (are there enough qualifiers?!). This time it was by Adam Graves, coming around the net in the same angle that Matteau did. This game would be known for a in-the-crease goal that was taken away from Steve Thomas and an unbelievable save by Mike Richter on John MacLean late in regulation. Richter flipped over and did a snow angel and made the save with his bare hand as his glove came off. Having to be a row away from one of my friends from home who was a Ranger fan and who was at my house in 1994 as well, LESS THAN IDEAL!

Look for it around the 2:25 mark of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlAFR4Bxpjo

Here is the Richter save in the same game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaW2U77wUoU

7. '92 Patrick Division Semifinals Game 6 - Devils 5, Rangers 3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMlPkDXnJVI&mode=related&search=

This game will be mostly known for the brawl which occurred after the game's final horn. New Jersey had forced its cross-town rival Rangers, who were the President's Trophy winners, to a seventh game. But tensions still ran high as most notably Scott Stevens and Claude Lemieux fought the likes of Tie Domi and Adam Graves. Players ended up in the Devils bench, but no suspensions were handed down. What I remember most was how loud the Devil fans were chanting "Rangers Suck!". It was nothing new, but for the first time in their team history, Devil fans had the feeling they had the upper hand on the Rangers and could keep 1940 (the last year the Rangers won a Cup before 1994) alive. Unfortunately, the Rangers would win Game 7 easily by a score of 8-4.

6. '88 Wales Conference Finals Game 6 - Devils 6, Bruins 3

The Devils forced Game 7 with their victory. This was a wild series that had the likes of "have another doughnut", a coach suspended and referees boycotting a game. But this was rather uneventful other than it would be the last home game of the year. I remember leaving this game and my dad telling me I would be going to Game 1 of the Final against the Oilers if they made it. And being all of 10 years old, all I could think about was beating Wayne Gretzky, who said years earlier the Devils were a "Mickey Mouse organization". It was not to be as the Bruins won Game 7 6-2.

5. '07 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 2 - Devils 3, Senators 2 (2 OT).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqzT1JZGOb0

In what would be the last time I would see a Devils home game at the Continental Airlines Arena, Jamie Langenbrunner made my trip worthwhile with a double-OT breakaway goal. The Devils blew a 2-0 lead, allowing a goal by the killer Dany Heatley with less than a minute in regulation. A co-worker of mine would later ask me, "how many F-bombs did you drop when Heatley scored?" as I have tended to get a tad frustrated in those situations. Surprisingly, I was quite cool, only putting my head down in frustration knowing that my wife and I had to drive back to Connecticut after the game. Thankfully, Langenbrunner scored and after my jump for joy from the last row of the corner in the upper deck in the opposite end of the arena, I just put my head down on my wife's shoulder and yelled "THANK GOD!"

4. '88 Patrick Division Semifinals Game 6 - Devils 6, Islanders 5

The first-ever playoff series win in their first attempt and I was there! The Devils had a 6-1 lead midway through the second period and I can remember just being so ecstatic. They were going to beat the mighty Islanders! Happy retirement Denis Potvin, whose family was sitting right near me. But in the immortal words of Lee Corso, "NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS!!!!". The Islanders chipped away at the lead and had a chance to tie the game right before the buzzer sounded. But Sean Burke made a save on Pat LaFontaine on a shot which would have counted had it gone in and the Devils won the game and the series. I remember sticking it to my Ranger fan friends the next day in school because the Devils had knocked the Rangers out of a possible playoff berth on a goal in OT on the last night of the regular season and they were still playing while the Rangers were booking their tee times

3. '97 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 1 -Devils 5, Canadiens 2

The CBC version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwOT9VVzzVA

The FSN NY version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FonkWV8nU6o

In my first live playoff game in two years, an ordinary Devils victory turned into history. With the Devils leading 4-2 and less than a minute to go in the game, Martin Brodeur picked up the puck behind his net after Montreal dumped the puck in. He skated to the post and flipped a wrist shot in the air and into an empty net. He became just the second goalie in NHL playoff history to physically shoot a puck into a net in a playoff game. He tried many times during the season and just missed on different occassions. But this one was right down the middle of the net and the place (and I) went nuts. I lost my voice yelling "BRODEUR SCORED A FUCKING GOAL, HE SCORED A FUCKING GOAL!!!" I actually saw his other "goal" he was credited with, three years later against the Flyers when he was the last to touch the puck after a Flyer accidentally passed it in to his own empty net on a delayed penalty

2. '03 Stanley Cup Final Game 5 - Devils 6, Mighty Ducks 3

My first Stanley Cup Final game. My friend Scott and I bought the tickets at the box office just hours after the Devils beat the Senators in an exciting Game 7 of the Conference Finals. We decided to buy tickets to just one game because that's all we could really afford with an $80 face value and having to buy for more than one person. After great debate, we decided on Game 5 figuring that was our best chance at a clincher. After the Devils won the first two games, we looked to be in good position. However, the Devils lost the next two games, both in OT, making this game a non-clincher. It still was thrilling to be there and memorable for me personally for something more than just the final score and the fact the Devils were one win away from their third Stanley Cup since 1995. Earlier that week, my wife Norah's aunt passed away suddenly. That game happened to be the night of the funeral and I remember Norah debating whether to go or not. She would eventually go mainly to use it as an escape, to forget about it for a couple of hours. I'll never forget when she cheered after the Devils scored the first goal. Just for a moment, we could laugh and cheer and think about something else for a little while. On the ice, it was the most goals the teams would score combined in a single game during the series.

After much debate and internal struggle, I had to make this #1 ... it sucks because it was not in the Devils favor, but for historical reference, nothing beats this game.

1. '94 Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 - Rangers 4, Devils 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMBqmyi5LRM&mode=related&search=

Two words, Mark Messier. Although the Devils lost this game, it's still the most memorable game I have ever had the fortune to be at live in any sport. It started on the ride to the game. Having been in high school all day (junior year), my father picked me up at the house and threw the New York Post and said to me, "LOOK WHAT THAT HORSE-FACE SAID!" (that's what he called Messier then) and on the cover was the popular "WE WILL WIN TONIGHT". I thought, oh no, that's all we need. Getting into the arena, it was a surreal atmosphere. For the first time, the Devils could advance to the Stanley Cup Final with a win on home ice AND beat the Rangers in the process. The Devils would jump out to a 2-0 lead. When Scott Niedermayer scored on a slap shot on a delayed penalty, I never ever heard the arena as loud as it was at that moment. I could feel the chills up my spine, it was unbelievable. But the Rangers would chip away, scoring late in the second period on a goal by Alexei Kovalev, assisted by, guess who, Messier. After the second period, I turned to my father, who was separated from my mom at the time and also was a cop who worked early hours, and uttered a line which I believe jinxed my team. I said vaguely, "if something happens, will we stay for the whole thing," The something being the Wales ConferenceTrophy presentation and everything. He didn't answer. Well sure enough, Messier takes over. He scores on a backhand goal, which from my angle and my seat, I never saw go in. Then he scores on a rebound to give them the lead and the building goes crazy again. All the Rangers fans who were sitting on their hands in the first period were yelling as loud as the Devils fans did. Then with Brodeur pulled, Messier flipped a shot from the faceoff circle at the opposite end ofthe rink and into the empty net. UGH!!!! GAME FREAKING 7!!!! When the game was over, I turned to my dad as we were walking back to our car, a mile away in the Giants Stadium parking lot, and said "there's no way they are winning Game 7, there's no way." It turned out I would be right.

While it sucked to be there, looking back on how important and how unbelievable a performance it was, I can say that it was the top game I have ever seen in person.

Honorable mentions:

In what would be known as "The Save" to Penguins fans, 1991 Patrick Division Semifinals Game 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbMYsB4DZx0

I was in MSG seeing this game on Garden Vision ... Game 6 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ybk_V_c6LBw


1 comment:

Geneseo98 said...

Impressive list... Love the links... Too bad none of the games register on my radar, but all good times.

And no Whaler games?