Before the Devils moved to New Jersey in 1982, they spent eight years split between Kansas City and Denver. If not for a timely transformation into a title contender in the mid-1990s, the team might have split from New Jersey, too.
The defensive, trap-heavy Devils of the mid-’90s and early-2000s saved the franchise, both in a factual and spiritual sense.
The stretch from 1994, when the Devils fell a game short of the Stanley Cup Finals, to 2003, when they won their third title in eight years, remains the team’s golden era, which turned the team from nomad to notable in the country’s biggest media market.
Four trips to the Stanley Cup with all those series wins and losses in-between created dozens of great, high-pressure games. Here’s our list of the 10 best from 1994-03.
10. 03/10/2000 & 10/28/2000: The Devils record two 9-0 wins
The best regular season games can’t compare to the least consequential playoff game, but two 9-0 victories in the span of seven months are good enough to pair for the 10th spot.
Both games -- the first was against the Atlanta Thrashers and the second against the Pittsburgh Penguins -- tied the Devils’ all-time record for goals in a game.
In the second nine-goal win, inarguably more impressive (the Penguins made the playoffs that year while the Thrashers finished 14-57-7-4 in 1999-00) both John Madden and Randy McKay scored four times.
9. 05/15/1994: Game 1, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals: Devils 4, Rangers 3 (double overtime)
The 1993-94 Devils helped authenticate a wandering franchise, thanks in most part to the iconic Eastern Conference Finals they played against the Rangers. New Jersey lost in seven thrilling games -- including one of the best Game 7 in hockey’s history -- but were the leaders after Game 1’s 4-3 double overtime win in Madison Square Garden.
New Jersey’s Stephane Richer got the game-winner.
8. 06/04/2001: Game 5, 2001 Stanley Cup Finals: Devils 4, Avalanche 1
In a critical Game 5 with the series tied at two, the Devils dominated Colorado, scoring three unanswered goals to pull within one game of a second straight title.
Historically, the Game 5 winner in a 2-2 series in hockey wins the series more than 75 percent of the time, which is why this game was so important.
On the other hand, there’s no need to get into what happened in Games 6 and 7.
7. 06/13/1995: Game 6, 1995 Eastern Conference Finals: Devils 4, Flyers 2
After coming so close in 1994, the Devils, playing in front of their home crowd, finished off the Flyers in six games to reach their first Stanley Cup Finals in 21 years of existence.
With the Knicks, Nets, Islanders and Rangers all eliminated by that point in 1995, the spot in the final round also solidified the Devils as the New York metro area’s best summer sports story.
6. 05/26/2000: Game 7, 2000 Eastern Conference Finals: Devils 2, Flyers 1
The Game 7 road win completed a comeback from down three games to one, and rescued New Jersey’s shot at a second Stanley Cup title.
Patrick Elias poked in the game-winner with only 2:32 left in the game, flattening Philadelphia’s home crowd.
5. 05/08/2000: Game 6, 2000 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Devils 3, Maple Leafs 0
Perhaps the crown jewel of the Devils’ golden era of defense was this game, in which New Jersey advanced to the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals by holding the Maple Leafs to only six shots -- and only one in the third period -- all of which Martin Brodeur swatted away.
(The six shots remain a modern NHL low.)
Petr Sykora scored 18 seconds into the game, which would have been more than enough offense to secure a win for the Devils on that night.
4. 05/23/2003: Game 7, 2003 Eastern Conference Finals: Devils 3, Senators 2
Among non-Stanley Cup Finals games, this comeback win over the Senators likely stands as the Devils’ most galvanizing. Up 3-1 through four games against Ottawa, which won that season’s President’s Trophy, the Senators had won the next two to force a Game 7.
Down 1-0 early in the deciding game, the Devils scored the next two before Ottawa tied the game at two early in the third period. Jeff Friesen broke through with the game-winner with 2:14 left, shocking the Ottawa crowd.
3. 06/09/2003: Game 7, 2003 Stanley Cup Finals: Devils 3, Anaheim 0
Staring at a repeat of the 2001 Stanley Cup, the Devils played a near-perfect game against Anaheim to win their elusive third title, stamping their claim as a mid-sized NHL dynasty.
In the game, Brodeur saved all 24 shots while Mike Rupp (one goal) and Friesen (two goals) took care of the scoring.
2. 06/24/1995: Game 4, 1995 Stanley Cup Finals: Devils 5, Red Wings 2
There’s a before and after era for the Devils, with the dividing line being the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals. The Devils -- who entered the series as +200 underdogs -- swept the Red Wings, which was capped by the 5-2 win in Game 4.
New Jersey trailed early on, 2-1, but scored four unanswered in front of their home crowd to clinch metro New York’s second title in two years.
1. 06/10/2000: Game 6, 2000 Stanley Cup Finals: Devils 2, Stars 1 (double overtime)
In the small picture, the Devils won a championship in the most dramatic way possible: By a game-winning, double overtime goal. Jason Arnott was the hero, while Brodeur saved 30 of 31 shots.
In the big picture, it gave the Devils a second title in five years, and their first such Stanley Cup win over the course of a full length season, with the title in 1995 coming during a strike-shortened 48-game season. If the ‘95 season was the first statement, then the 2000 season was the exclamation point.