In a battle of wills that pulsated into the final minutes, the Devils won, 4-2, when little-used Jim Dowd scored with 1:24 to play and Stephane Richer scored into an empty net with 20.9 seconds left.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," said Dowd, who had just one goal in 10 regular-season games. "The rebound just came to me. It felt great! You've just got to be ready. You've got to come ready to play when the coach calls."
Dowd, who scored off the rebound of Shawn Chambers' shot from the point, got the opportunity to score the game-winner, thanks to a marvelous play nine minutes earlier by Scott Niedermayer. The Devils defenseman used his speed to blast his way through the neutral zone and drive in on Detroit goalie Mike Vernon.
Niedermayer hammered the puck, and while his first shot missed the net, it rebounded off the wall right back to his stick for an easy follow-up into the net. The score wiped out a 2-1 Red Wings lead that had been forged on a goal by Sergei Fedorov 1:38 into the third period.
The victory gives the underdog Devils a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series as it moves to East Rutherford, N.J., for games 3 and 4 beginning tomorrow.
"I thought we played a super game," said New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire. "We know that Detroit has a lot of talent offensively and they're a quick team, and we showed tonight that we can skate with them and play smart. . . . We nearly played a perfect game.
"No doubt I'm happy, but while I haven't been in this business as long as [Detroit coach] Scotty Bowman, I know one thing. We didn't win anything yet. It's only two games and we need four."
But it was a brutal blow for Detroit. The Red Wings had left themselves little room to fail last night. Defenseman Paul Coffey had said the Red Wings had "stunk out the place" in Game 1.
The Wings' unanimous opinion was that they had not played well and that when they played well, New Jersey would be looking at a different result.
Last night, the Red Wings, for the most part, did play well. Bowman said he thought his team carried the puck into the Devils zone better, that it fought the one-on-one battles better, that it resisted the New Jersey tactic of "subtly" holding the stick and that it had generated much more and better offense.
But the Red Wings did not win.
"The Niedermayer goal was tough to take," said Bowman. "We know his speed and we let him take the puck from his own goal line through a pretty wide gap in the neutral zone."
Before this game, Bowman also had noted how aware he is of history, and history in the NHL's Stanley Cup championship series is that only three times -- Toronto (1942) and Montreal (1966 and 1971) -- have teams gone down 2-0 in games in the final series and come back to win the championship.
After last night's loss, Bowman said his team will have to find a way to generate some confidence tomorrow, and that won't be easy, given the mental and perhaps physical condition of his team.
Center Keith Primeau, who had said only a "lost limb" would keep him out of Game 2, did not play due to a twisted back that led to oblique muscle pain and last night, All-Star defenseman Paul Coffey, he of the four championship rings, went down on the ice and his status is unclear.
Coffey was hit in the back of the leg by the puck in the left circle just before Chambers took the shot that Dowd rebounded into the net for the victory. Bowman said he thought if the game had gone to overtime, Coffey may have returned, but the jury is out on tomorrow.
Asked if the official should have blown the whistle stopping play before Dowd's goal, Bowman said he thought it would be very unwise to "criticize the referee in that position . . . and that shouldn't be the focal point."
For Bowman, the focal point today will be finding a way to give his team some confidence going into New Jersey tomorrow.
"New Jersey is a very confident team, their road record shows that," said Bowman, pointing to the Devils' 10-1 record away from the Meadowlands. "They've only lost one game. But we've done well on the road, too. We have to go in there with a good attitude."
In New Jersey, it may help the Red Wings that the Devils lost two games at home to the Philadelphia Flyers in their Eastern Conference finals series, but it didn't help last night.
Not even the fact that they got on the scoreboard first for the first time in seven games made a difference, though Vyacheslav Kozlov's second-period power-play goal at 7:17 did give the sellout crowd of 19,875 at Joe Louis Arena hope.
The Red Wings' first lead, however, lasted only until 9:40, when New Jersey's John MacLean tied it.
Fedorov gave Detroit a 2-1 lead, when he carried the puck right down the slot and put it past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur 1:36 into the third period. It was Fedorov's first goal in seven games, but Detroit and Vernon could not hold on.
"We got a lead and I thought we really started to play with a real sense of urgency," said Bowman. "Even when the score was tied, the flow of the game started to go our way and when you get a lead, with teams like we have, you have to be able to protect the lead. That's the kind of team we've been all season. But we didn't do the job tonight."
NOTES: The 52-pound octopus named Stanley that was auctioned for the benefit of a children's charity yesterday brought $1,000, and two tickets, airline tickets and hotel package in New Jersey for Game 3 fetched $850.
DETROIT RED WINGS
vs. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
(New Jersey leads series, 2-0)
Game 1: Devils, 2-1
Yesterday: Devils, 4-2
Tomorrow: at New Jersey, 8, ESPN
Saturday: at New Jersey, 8, Fox
June 26: at Detroit, 8*, ESPN
June 28: at N. Jersey, 7:30*, ESPN
June 30: at Detroit, 8*, Fox