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Lighting The Lamp: Devil May Care

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured every home game day.

2010-11 New Jersey Devils jersey signed on the crest by Mike McKenna
2010-11 New Jersey Devils jersey signed on the crest by Mike McKenna
Rick Ackerman

Believe it or not, it has been well over three years since the New Jersey Devils faced off against the Blues in St. Louis. In November, 2010, the Blues defeated goaltender Mike McKenna and the Devils, 3-2. Alex Pietrangelo, Eric Brewer and Brad Winchester scored for the Blues and Matt D'Agostini had two assists. Bonus points to those who can recall who made 35 saves in net for the Blues (hint: he will be in goal for his European country at the upcoming Olympics).

The Devils have their own problems this season, mostly because of a lack of offense, ranking 25th in the league with 2.4 goals per game. Defense is the name of the game for New Jersey; they are ranked sixth (right behind St. Louis, ranked third) in the league with a stingy average of 2.34 goals against per game, mostly thanks to goaltenders Corey Schneider (1.86 goals against average, .927 save percentage) and legendary Martin Brodeur. It also helps that the Devils are first in the league with the lowest number of shots against per game, 25.6. In comparison, the Blues are second lowest with 26.1 against per game. So, it's not at all surprising that New Jersey is at best a mediocre team with some chance to make the playoffs, yet no chance to contend with powerhouses in the East such as Pittsburgh, Boston or Tampa Bay.

That doesn't mean the Devils don't come to play, though, as they clearly showed last week in New Jersey when they put a severe hurting on the Blues with a lop-sided 7-1 victory. So, at the least, the Blues will not take kindly at being embarrassed and seek a grand measure of revenge tonight by repaying the Devils in kind and blowing them out of the rink.

The Devil's franchise was founded as an expansion team in Kansas City, Missouri, as the Scouts in 1972, although they did not begin play until 1974, seven years after the Blues were born. The Scouts did extremely poorly the first two years, only winning 27 games (out of 160) and failing to qualify for the playoffs. In those two years, the Scouts averaged 8,200 fans in the 17,000 seat Kemper Arena. Staggering financial losses forced the sale of the team to a group headed by Jack Vickers, and the team was immediately relocated to Denver and dubbed the Colorado Rockies. In six seasons in Denver, the Rockies only made the playoffs once (in 1978) and although attendance was respectable, the franchise continued to have financial problems and was plagued with instability. In eight combined years, the Scouts/Rockies went through ten coaches, none lasting more than one season, including the flamboyant Don Cherry in1979. A proposed sale in 1978 to trucking magnate Arthur Imperatore that would involve relocation to New Jersey was nixed by the NHL, however Imperatore sold his rights to the team to millionaire shipping tycoon John McMullen (owner of MLB's Houston Astros) in May, 1982.

In late June, the NHL finally approved the relocation east and McMullen re-named the team the New Jersey Devils, commemorating the Jersey Devil, a legendary creature, perhaps a cousin of Bigfoot, believed to inhabit the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. Reportedly, McMullen's wife designed the fork-tailed and horned logo formed by the letters "N" and "J." The Devils began play in East Rutherford at the Brendan Byrne Arena, now the Izod Center. With a new home and stable ownership, New Jersey slowly worked towards respectability, assembling a young nucleus of players, including goaltender Chico Resch, defensemen Ken Daneyko and Joe Cirella and forwards John MacLean, Pat Verbeek and Kirk Muller. Adding to the stability was McMullen's addition of former Providence College coach Lou Lamoriello as team president in April, 1987. The 1987-88 Devils were the first to garner a winning regular season record in franchise history. They also qualified for the playoffs for the first time that season, losing the conference finals to the Boston Bruins. That was the series in which Devils' coach Jim Schoenfeld had a major confrontation with referee Don Koharski after a game, calling the ref a "fat pig" and urging him to "have another doughnut."

With the addition of coach Jacques Lemaire and players such as goaltender Martin Brodeur, defensemen Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer and forwards Stephane Richer, Bobby Holik and Claude Lemieux, the Devils went to the conference finals in 1994, narrowly losing to the Mark Messier-led Rangers in seven games, the last in double overtime. The following season the Devils defeated Philadelphia in the conference finals and won the franchise's first Stanley Cup with a sweep of the Detroit Red Wings. They would repeat as Cup champions two years later in 2000, this time eliminating the Dallas Stars. Stevens won the Conn Smythe Trophy after assisting on Jason Arnott's Cup-clinching goal in double overtime in game six. The Devils went on to bring a Stanley Cup to New Jersey a third time in 2003, defeating the Anaheim Ducks in seven games. The Devils would not return to the Stanley Cup Finals again until 2012, avenging their conference series loss eighteen years earlier by eliminating the Rangers, yet would lose in six games to Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings.

It is unlikely Martin Brodeur will play in goal tonight as he gave up six goals in Sunday's Stadium series loss to the Rangers, which is too bad for Blues Nation, also deprived of seeing Anaheim's Teemu Selanne's last game in St. Louis earlier this month. Selanne was a healthy scratch. Nevertheless, tonight's contest should be a dandy.