The Death of New Jersey's "Old Time Hockey"

Samuel IngroAnalyst IApril 29, 2009

Two straight years, New Jersey goes out, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

After playing one of the most miraculous regular seasons since the 2002-2003 Stanley Cup Championship run, the Carolina Hurricanes make a 3-2 comeback in the final two minutes of regulation to end the Devils' playoff hopes.

In the early part of the season, the Devils hall of fame bound goalie, Martin Brodeur, faces a near season-ending injury. All hope is lost in New Jersey, a team that built it's reputation on the back of their goalie and remarkable defense.

With the season seemingly doomed, little known Scott Clemmensen makes the move from Lowell up to the big leagues. Between the pipes, he puts together a storybook year, goes 25-13, and posts a 2.39 GAA.

The Devils are revived, and the offense comes alive for the first time in years.  Zack Parise has a career year and works beautifully on the top line. Down the stretch, captain Jamie Langenbrunner steps up and gets hot just at the right time.

Low and behold, February 26th, the legend himself Martin Brodeur returns from his injury and posts a 4-0 shutout of the Colorado Avalanche. There's no stopping New Jersey now.

Leading the division, with the trade deadline on the horizon, the Devils make very few moves. Only picking up defensemen Nicklas Havelid, they seem content to go the year with the current lineup.

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And why not? Brodeur is playing like a man possessed after surpassing Patrick Roy in the all-time wins category.

With the end of the year in view, the Devils suddenly drop off, their offense falls silent. What was once a fiery line of scoring ferocity has now become the victim of a late season decline.

The playoffs come and not a moment too soon. They clinch the Atlantic Division, despite a terrible slump at the end of the season and go into the playoffs ice cold against a hot, youthful Carolina Hurricanes.

No. 3 New Jersey vs. No. 6 Carolina

The slate is clean, the team rested, and with a run at Lord Stanley's cup on the line, the two teams square off. New Jersey is the heavy favorite despite Carolina's late season run, and the series should be no problem for the experienced Devils.

New Jersey dominates game one, putting up four goals to Carolina's one with ease. It looks like a lopsided matchup, but Carolina comes back to take game two in overtime.

The series moves to Carolina, and the following day the Devils respond in overtime this time giving the Canes a taste of their own medicine. They trade off the next game, Hurricanes 4-3, before they take turns shutting the other out in back to back games.

So it comes down to this, game seven. The setting, New Jersey on home ice. A 3-2 lead late in the third period, the legend between the pipes, two minutes left. One goal passes Brodeur, the score is 3-3, looks like its going to overtime.

One minute later, a stunned Martin Brodeur and a silent New Jersey crowd watch the red light flash.  Carolina has taken the lead with 30 seconds to go in regulation. The game, the storybook comeback season of Martin Brodeur has come to an end.

There will be no round two, there will be no Stanley Cup, just a long, quiet ride home from Newark, NJ.

What happened?

I'm not sure if anyone knows. Overconfidence? A fire burned in this New Jersey team. When their star goalie went down, they knew they had to step up and do it on their own. Brodeur returns, the team lets up, and jumps on his back again, playing a conservative defensive game again.

I'm reminded of the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, when Michel Therrien was replaced by Dan Bylsma. The Penguins, despite having two of the top scorers in the league, were 10th in the conference.

They were playing a conservative defensive-style game, Therrien gets fired. When Dan Bylsma took over, an aggressive offensive game dominated the Eastern Conference and the Pens went on an amazing streak to close the season with the No. 4 seed.

I can't help but think, that maybe the Devils should have followed suit. Perhaps this style doesn't work like it once did. Brodeur isn't the young man he used to be, more and more goals continue to sneak in.

Maybe its time that the "Old Time Hockey" the Devils pride themselves on, takes a walk. Or is it just time to start shelling out the money to keep your star players? Scott Stevens has retired, Scott Neidermeyer now plays for the Ducks, and Brian Rafalski now plays for the Red Wings. The key defensive players the team was built around were allowed to leave.

In this new generation of scorers (Crosby, Malkin, Semin, Ovechkin), combined with the offense-friendly rules taking over the league, "Old Time Hockey" no longer has a place in the NHL.

I say this out of complete love, as I sit here in my Devils jersey and hat.  If the Devils don't get with the times, they're doomed to repeat this season over and over again for years.


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