While perusing The Athletic this morning, I came across a piece from the former “Down Goes Brown” Sean McIndoe. He ranked the worst Game 7 losses for each franchise’s history. Going through the article, I was convinced the New Jersey Devils’ Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009 was going to be the top pick. It was one of the worst losses in recent memory for any team. The Devils had a one-goal lead with less than two minutes left in the game. Then, Jussi Jokinen scored his third goal of the series to tie the game with 80 seconds left. Devils fans were in shock, but just 48 seconds later, Martin Brodeur gave up another goal, and the Devils were eliminated.
Yet, once we got down the list, the Carolina game wasn’t even mentioned. The Devils’ loser was the New York Rangers Game 7 loss in 1994. As we thought about it, that makes a lot of sense. The Devils hadn’t had a Stanley Cup win at that point. The Rangers had been a nightmare to deal with at that point, and the Rangers went on to win its only Stanley Cup that didn’t come with six teams in the league.
This got us thinking about the Devils’ history of Game 7s. It’s actually really interesting. The Devils didn’t make the playoffs in the first five seasons of existence. Then in 1988, they went on a miraculous run all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. On the way, they played their first Game 7 in franchise history. It was a wild series, including a 10-4 win for the Devils in Game 3. The Devils ended up winning after John MacLean scored his fifth goal of the series. There were around six minutes left in the game when MacLean beat Pete Peeters to win it for the Devils. In the next series, the Devils forced a Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. This one they lost, but it was another example of how Game 7s are always a part of the Devils’ fabric.
The Devils didn’t win another series until 1994. They lost two Game 7s in the first round of 1991 and 1992. One was to the New York Rangers, but that one doesn’t get nearly as much play. Their first win in the postseason realm came when the Buffalo Sabers forced them to win a Game 7.
Then there is the Rangers series, where three of the games went to two overtimes. That includes Game 7, where the words “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau” still ring in the ears of older Devils fans. That’s why it was ranked as the best/worst Game 7 moment. The Devils won the Stanley Cup the next season, but that never comes up. The “guarantee” made by Mark Messier, and the fact the Rangers won that game on their way to an incredibly boring Cup Final win forced NBC and now ESPN to show the Conference Finals win over and over and over again.
The Devils were pretty dominant in 1995 and they never reached a Game 7. They even swept the Detroit Red Wings in the Final before lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The next significant Game 7 was knocking out the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000. It was the last significant game of the Eric Lindros era, as Scott Stevens hit him as hard as we’ve seen him hit anyone. He never played another game in Philadelphia.
That next season, as the Devils were making another run to the Stanley Cup Final, they faced the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. It was a rivalry that was building, especially after what Tie Domi did to Scott Niedermayer the year prior. The Devils ended up steamrolling the Maple Leafs in Game 7 thanks to four second-period goals. The Leafs took the lead early, but the Devils dominance took over.
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Later that postseason, the Devils took on the Colorado Avalanche. They were the two best teams in the league, and that season it didn’t seem particularly close. Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur are two of the best goalies in the history of the league. They should be in every single person’s top five. Now, they faced off in the biggest matchup.
This wasn’t a particularly exciting Game 7, mostly because there was so much emotion in Game 6. The Devils lost in a game where the Devils either ended their season on top or devastated. It ended with the latter.
The Devils played two incredibly significant Game 7s in 2003. They went to seven games with the Ottawa Senators in what was that era’s best chance to win a championship. This was named the Senators’ worst Game 7 loss, and we can see why. The Sens were at home and the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners. This was their opportunity to give their fans something to love. Instead, it’s one of the worst memories for this entire fanbase.
In 2003, the Devils and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim went back and forth for six games before playing Game 7. There, Martin Brodeur recorded his seventh shutout of the postseason, a record that has not been touched since.
Since then, there was that unspeakable Carolina game. Then, there was Game 7 against the Florida Panthers. It was also ranked as the Cats most significant Game 7 loss (because it was their only Game 7 loss). The Panthers had a 3-2 series lead, then the next two games went into overtime. Travis Zajac was the hero in Game 6, and Adam Henrique started his legacy in the second overtime of Game 7.
The Devils have one of the wildest Game 7 histories, but it’s overlooked because they have no postseason history for basically 10 years. Hopefully, that changes very soon. For now, let’s remember the history of Game 7s, and let’s ignore the bad history.