On a rare night where the Devils welcomed back many of their Cup-winning icons from the 2003 champions, this current itineration of the Devils had a rare laugher of a win over a once-proud but now clearly rebuilding Flyers team. This, despite the fact for a period plus last night it looked like the same desultory hockey we’ve seen against the Flyers this season, going back all the way to Opening Night when we got smoked in Philly in what seemed like a continuation of the loserdom we’d been afflicted with the previous several years. We also lost a brutal game against them in early December when Damon Severson’s turnover led to the winning goal and his own benching the rest of the night.
Even our only win before last night against Philly came when rookie Akira Schmid had what was then his best game of the season, making 31 saves in a 3-2 win. I’m not gonna lie that I was concerned about their toughness being a bad matchup for us, even more so when I saw Fabian Zetterlund (one of our few physical forwards) was scratched last night. However in the last two periods, finally the talent difference showed for the first and only time this season in the teams’ head-to-head matchup. A talent difference that Flyers coach John Tortorella acknowledged in the postgame:
He’s almost being generous describing it as a few years ago, but in a way it’s true. They are seemingly in the 2015-16 Devils part of their rebuild, only with some dreadful long-term contracts on the books they have to ride out, which we really didn’t have. In my love-hate relationship with Tortorella I’ll give him mad props for taking over a rebuild, usually coaches with his pedigree are above that kind of challenge late in their career and want to go only to win-now teams. Granted, Torts has already gone through the meat grinder with four other teams and everyone knows his style isn’t for the faint of heart, so at a certain point you run out of options if you want to keep coaching but still.
Fortunately we’re finally out of the long, dark tunnel we’ve been stuck in the last few years, and the light at the end of it wasn’t actually an oncoming train. As much as I was tempted to come home and relive every moment of this drubbing, at a certain point you kind of run out of things to say about a 7-0 game. You have to start by giving Schmid credit and congratulations on his first career NHL shutout and a triumphant start to his third act this year after losing his last four games over his prior two callups (though he had a bunch of solid starts before then in his initial callup).
He didn’t have to make a lot of great saves (especially later in the game as it became a rout), but as the saying goes – they don’t ask how, they ask how many. He made every save last night, which was the only thing that mattered. If last night was a great night for the Devils franchise in general, it was also a great night for Switzerland hockey fans – as all three Swiss Devil players earned the three stars of the night, led by a surprising three-point outburst from Jonas Siegenthaler getting him the first goal of the game and the first star on the night. Nico Hischier rounded out the Swiss contingent in the three stars with a goal and an assist of his own.
Really though, you could have picked out like ten guys to be on the three stars list and not gotten much of an argument last night. Yet somehow only three guys managed to have multi-point games in a seven-goal game where all seven goals came from different players. Talk about balanced scoring! Jack Hughes was the other player besides Nico and Siegenthaler to have multiple points and both of them were on typically pretty plays – a breakaway goal in the second period, and an even better spin-o-rama assist on a Jesper Bratt goal in the third period.
At that point you could have cued up the iconic Sweet Georgia Brown (anthem of the Globetrotters) and not been out of place. It’s the kind of beatdown we see so few of, especially against a bitter rival. Ironically, one of the few other laughers we had this season was a game against Torts’ former team in Columbus, a game I missed while watching my football team stink up the joint against its bitter rival.
To have it come on the same night where we honored an iconic championship team made it all the more fun. As expected, the ceremony itself hit every right note. First off, there was definitely a retro feel when the Devils came onto the ice in warmups wearing white jerseys to the sound of the Meadowlands goal horn. Another nice retro touch was playing Standing In Motion – one of the most popular CAA songs – as the background music while the ’03 Devils and staff all got introduced during the ceremony.
It was nice to be able to see and cheer a lot of old heroes, although as fun as it is to cheer Ken Daneyko at a reunion for the thousandth time or Martin Brodeur for the hundredth time, and as nice it is to see Scott Gomez with his storytelling gift of gab (one he freely cops to!), it was just as fun to see guys like Brian Gionta come back to the arena for one of the few times since leaving for Montreal in 2009 and get a nice ovation. Granted, he wasn’t a big part of the 2003 team in just his second season as a back six player, but he soon developed into a more key figure with 21 goals the next season, then the out-of-nowhere 48-goal explosion following the lockout.
To a degree I’d actually have mixed feelings about seeing Hughes break the Gionta team record for goals this year. Don’t get me wrong, Hughes is must-see TV (as fellow 2003 Cup winner Joe Nieuwendyk – among others – put it this week), and should be one of the leaders of the next great Devils team to come so I’ll likely feel differently after some big playoff runs. But at the moment it’s kind of fun having someone like Gio have such a place in Devils history – an unheralded, homegrown guy who developed into a true star, albeit only for the one season. Not to mention his 48-goal season came during a memorable second half that saw the Devils come from way back to earn the division title on the last day of the season in 2006, with Gio’s final two goals pacing the way in the dramatic 0-3 comeback at Montreal.
At this point it’s hard to see Hughes getting to 50 having that kind of meaning in the regular season, although it’s certainly possible they go down to the wire with Carolina for the division this year and that could wind up mattering depending on matchups I suppose. It’s not as if the playoffs were ever really in doubt after the thirteen-game heater early in the season though, other than during the one malaise in December. The 2005-06 Devils actually weren’t a sure thing to make the playoffs as late as mid-March when they were still just eight points above NHL .500, shortly before their eleven-game winning streak to close out the season, win the division and set up an exorcism of the Ranger playoff demon in the first round with a memorable four-game destruction.
Getting back to 2003, and last night – it had one more touching coda with a tribute to the late Pat Burns, punctuated by having his widow carry the Cup onto the ice along with captain Scott Stevens.
It is too bad the coach didn’t get a chance to take part in these festivities himself, and totally shambolic he didn’t get into the Hockey Hall of Fame until a few years after his passing, but at least that team was able to get him a deserved Stanley Cup (and eventual induction into the HHOF, since it’s probably doubtful even a three-time Jack Adams winner gets in without a title). Part of me actually hoped last night’s game ended at 3-0 for the symbolism, given that Game 7 of the SCF in 2003 – and the first two games of the series as well – all ended 3-0 for the home team. Of course, who’s really gonna turn down an extra four goals when you get them?
Now that we’re done looking back, comes looking forward with the trade deadline on Friday afternoon, but speculation is the long-rumored Timo Meier trade will likely be finalized in the next day or two, and probably without an extension – ideally lessening the trade cost, if we’re the ones to acquire the big Swiss winger, as we’ve been favored to for seemingly months. It would certainly be fitting to close out that trade the day after the Devils’ swiss army ambushed the Flyers.
Looking like the Devils on Meier with the Golden Knights landing Barbashev. If there’s a mystery team, I think possibly the Blues. They got rid of a lot of salary and added picks. They are supposedly interested. We’ll see.
Glad you got to enjoy the 20-Year Anniversary of ’03. Sounds like it was great. Did you see the funny phone video with Colin White handing it off?