Balance helped fuel Devils' run to Cup STANLEY CUP

June 26, 1995|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Stanley Cup has been won by many different kinds of teams through the years, but when the New Jersey Devils captured their first Cup Saturday night by sweeping the Detroit Red Wings, it was special.

The Devils, who won, 5-2, in Game 4, triumphed not with stars, but with teamwork.

Yes, they were led offensively by Conn Smythe Trophy winner Claude Lemieux, who said with a laugh, "Imagine being the most hated man in hockey and having your name on this trophy." And, yes, they were led defensively by Scott Stevens and bolstered by goaltender Martin Brodeur, whose postseason goals-against average was a measly 1.68.

But through the 20 postseason games, all 25 players played. Twenty scored. Saturday night, it was Neal Broten getting the game-winner. Through the postseason, nine players scored game-winning goals.

One was New Jersey native Jim Dowd, whose winning goal in Game 2 might have been the turning point in the series.

"Once you get behind two games at home like we did," said Detroit coach Scotty Bowman, "it is very, very difficult to catch up, especially against a team that is on a roll like New Jersey."

The Devils' strength was teamwork; their secret weapon was depth. The team winning hockey's biggest prize had more Americans on its roster than any other Cup winner, dating to 1893. Of the 25 players, 12 are Americans, nine Canadians and four Europeans.

Together, they rumbled through four postseason playoff rounds, losing just four games and none in the finals.

"This is the way we play," said Brodeur. "Every guy contributes. We used a lot of teamwork, playing all together, listening to our coach. That's what winners are all about, about playing all together for each other."

Brodeur, Stevens, Lemieux, Broten and the longest-serving Devils, Ken Daneyko and John MacLean, were still in their uniforms -- Brodeur was still in his skates -- as they sat together side by side on a dais answering the questions that follow championships.

Brodeur, who had said barely a word through the postseason, clamored in as if he owned the place. What was he thinking?

"That we own the place," he said, grinning.

They were a sight to see: Brodeur, 23, in just his second NHL season, with his serene face, cigar in mouth, champagne in hand; Stevens, leaning over to kiss Lemieux, the hated man who almost was traded to Detroit in February; Broten, the 15-year veteran who revived his career after joining the Devils 17 games into the season from Dallas and found his new teammates already talking about winning the Stanley Cup; and Daneyko and MacLean, ruffians on the ice, now enjoying cold beers, unable to do much more than shiver over their good fortunes.

"I'm just so proud of my teammates," said Stevens. "We were the ninth-seeded team. . . . Everyone contributed. No one plays together like we do in all of sports, as far as I'm concerned."

Through the playoffs, they ignored the persistent rumors that team owner John McMullen might move the team to Nashville, Tenn., next season if he can't work out a better lease at the Byrne Meadowlands Arena, where the Devils paraded the Stanley Cup around the ice in front of their frenzied fans.

After winning the Cup, they all said they hoped the move didn't happen, and were unwilling to consider the consequences if it did.

"These fans have waited 13 years," said Stevens, looking around the arena, where before that night just one lonely Devils banner hung from the rafters, for the team's 1987-88 Patrick Division title. "They deserve this as much as we do. The bottom line is we won the Stanley Cup, and that's the most important thing right now."

The possibility of moving seems just one more sign of the lack of respect this team thinks it had to overcome.

"We didn't get too much credit," said Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, who masterminded a strong defense that held the offensively powerful Red Wings to 16 shots in Game 4, and, in the end, turned New Jersey into the best offensive team in the playoffs.

Outsiders called it a variation of the neutral zone trap. But the Devils saw it as a smart, hard-checking style that demanded patience and mistake-free execution.

"It worked," said Devils defenseman Bruce Driver, "because when Jacques came here, he came with eight Stanley Cup rings from his days with the Montreal Canadiens, and everyone on this team gave him immediate respect. It worked because everyone bought into his system. And it probably wouldn't have worked if we hadn't gone on an eight-game winning streak in his first season with us last year. That streak showed us that he knew what he was talking about and if we played it, we'd win."

Lemaire, who sees little difference between the style of his team and the style he played as a player in Montreal under then-coach Bowman, used respect as motivation.

"We never had respect from no one, and I thought my guys deserved better. That's why we were so aggressive on the ice," he said. "We were angry. I talked to them every day, before every game, about the lack of respect. . . .

"It's great to see a bunch of guys play together and score more than guys with talent. And we did it without superstars. I have to say it: My guys are good."

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