EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils, playing stunning team hockey, destroyed the talented Detroit Red Wings last night, 5-2, and are one victory away from winning their first NHL Stanley Cup championship.
It was a performance that devasted Detroit coach Scotty Bowman, who has coached five Stanley Cup champions.
"I was embarrassed and humilitated," Bowman said of his Red Wings, who did not score until late in the third period. "I told my guys at the end of the second period. I told them it starts with the coach and we don't have many answers at this time.
"I've lost a lot of games in the playoffs, but I've never been humilitated like this. This is totally unaccceptable, as a player, as a coach. This is a showcase series. What are other players in this league thinking watching this? Players who would do anything to play one shift in this series and they see this, see we're not competing.
"The Devils won every part of the game. We didn't compete. You're paying these guys big money and it's unacceptable to play like this. . . . I told them to go back to their rooms. That some of them needed a shower. This is the most disappointed, the most humiliating loss of my career."
New Jersey was brilliant. The Devils came into last night's game with a 4-3 home record in the postseason, compared to 10-1 on the road.
Knowing that, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire spent much of Wednesday telling his team that they "weren't that good a hockey team," that they "hadn't won anything yet" and that without clear, unrelenting focus the Cup could easily slip through their fingers.
Today, the Devils still haven't won the Cup, but they have the Red Wings in a 3-0 hole. Only two clubs in NHL playoff history have rebounded from a 3-0 series deficit to win a series -- and only one, Toronto in 1942 against Detroit, has ever done it in the Cup Finals.
The Devils will attempt to complete a Stanley Cup sweep of Detroit here tomorrow, in Game 4.
Last night, they came out skating hard and forechecking, building a 5-0 lead on goals by Bruce Driver, Claude Lemieux, Neal Broten, Randy McKay and Bobby Holik, before the Red Wings found the scoreboard. It was Lemieux's NHL-leading 13th postseason goal.
New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 22 saves, was within 3:03 of his fourth shutout in the postseason, when Sergei Fedorov scored on a power play. Steve Yzerman also scored on a power play with 1:33 to play, to make the final a "good publicity" score, as Bowman called it, for the Wings.
"I'm not worried at all about giving up those two goals," said Lemaire. "There were a lot of penalties at the end of the game, we were up 5-0 and the guys sitting on the bench were talking about different things -- not that we were cocky -- but we weren't focused really, on the game."
Lemaire said, "I would never have imagined we'd be up 3-0 with the players on the other side. It's not that the guys on the other side aren't working and trying."
The Devils' first two goals, by Driver and Lemieux, came in the first period against goalie Mike Vernon. In the second period, Broten scored to make it 3-0 and 1:21 later, McKay scored at 8:20, chasing Vernon.
Backup Chris Osgood, who had played just 36 minutes in one postseason game before last night, survived back-to-back power plays on which the Devils had a five-on-three advantage, but at 11:42, allowed Holik to score New Jersey's final goal at even strength.
"We smell blood," said McKay. "We're in a great situation. We'll come out in Game 4 and play the same way and, hopefully, we'll win again. . . . [but] if we let down our guard at all, we'll be in trouble. You saw that in the final period."
Last night, it was apparent early in the opening period that Detroit was in trouble. Bowman has been politicing for two games to get the referees to call the holding-the-stick penalty on the Devils, who he contends do it subtly in the neutral zone.
Bowman got only half his wish. The refs made the call at 8:56, dTC but they made it on Detroit's Vlad Konstantinov, giving the Devils a power play.
At 10:30, on the man-advantage, Driver took a pass from Broten two steps inside the blue line and hit a slap shot past Vernon, who was screened by McKay and three Red Wings, for a 1-0 lead.
The capacity crowd at the Byrne Meadowlands Arena mimiced the Detroit tradition of throwing octopus onto the ice after a Red Wing goals by tossing a lobster, a dead fish with a sign reading "NASHVILLE" and sundry other objects, including a small plastic octopus on to the ice.
DETROIT RED WINGS vs. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
(New Jersey leads series, 3-0)
Game 1: Devils, 2-1
Game 2: Devils, 4-2
Last night: Devils, 5-2
Tomorrow: at New Jersey, 8, Fox
Monday: at Detroit, 8 *, ESPN
Wednesday: at N. J., 7:30 *, ESPN
June 30: at Detroit, 8 *, Fox
* -- If necessary