EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The underappreciated New Jersey Devils, whom few gave a chance of beating the more talented Detroit Red Wings, completed a four-game sweep of the Red Wings with a 5-2 victory last night and danced the champions' dance, holding the Stanley Cup aloft for everyone to see.
"All that stuff about how we play hockey can now go in the trash," said Claude Lemieux, who was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player throughout the playoffs. "If you don't like our style, well too bad. You can go watch a show somewhere else."
The Devils, who had used teamwork, focus and a ferocious defense that outsiders termed a neutral-zone trap, completed their amazing run to the NHL title by losing just four games in four playoff rounds.
"We got behind in the series early and couldn't catch up," said Detroit coach Scottt Bowman. "You don't dream about being swept. But when one team gets on a roll like New Jersey and another gets on a slide like we were, it's tough to catch up."
Last night, the Devils worked hard for two goals each by Neal Broten and Shawn Chambers and a back-breaker by Sergei Brylin. They also resurrected their smothering defense to shut out the Red Wings for the final two periods. The Devils so dominated the final period that Detroit managed just one shot, by team captain Steve Yzerman.
The Red Wings managed just two early goals from Sergei Fedorov and Paul Coffey.
"I can't say I'm surprised that New Jersey won the series," said Yzerman. "We thought they were a great team. But I thought we'd persevere and get through their defense . . . but they just kept coming at us."
The New Jersey fans' celebration began in earnest with 12:14 left last night, when Brylin, the center who shares the position with Game 2 hero and New Jersey native Jim Dowd, was left wide open in the slot. He made a complete 360-degree spin and beat Detroit goaltender Mike Vernon for a 4-2 lead.
When Chambers scored his second goal with 7:28 left, it was all over. The team celebration that began on the ice and continued in the locker room showed no signs of letting up, not even in the interview room where players were brought to answer post-game questions.
Goaltender Martin Brodeur, who finished the playoffs with a 1.68 goals-against-average through 20 games, clopped in still wearing his skates, smoking a cigar and carrying a bottle of Champagne.
What was he thinking?
"That we own the place," he said. "We deserve to act like this. WE worked really hard. We are the best."
That fact was lost on no one, and especially not Lemieux. He had just six goals in the regular season, but a playoff-high 13 in the postseason. His offensive production, coupled with his strong defensive efforts earned him the MVP award.
"This is very special," said Lemieux, who had previously won the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 1986. "In Montreal, we were part of a tradition. We were winning the 23rd Stanley Cup there. Here, we're building a tradition. This is the first one.
Zka,5 "It's very special and to get this trophy [the Conn Smythe, MVP award]. . . . Imagine, to be the most hated man in hockey and to have your name on the Conn Smythe Trophy."
The only cloud hanging over last night's celebration is the question of where the team will play next season. Team owner John McMullen has threatened to move his club to Nashville, Tenn., should he not be able to renegotiate his lease here at Bryne Meadowlands Arena.
Team captain Scott Stevens, who shed tears as he lifted the Stanley Cup over his head, said moving the team would be a tragedy.
"I hope it's not our last game in New Jersey," he said. "The people here have waited 13 years for this. They deserve it and right now, I don't care about anything else."
It was a good thing. Because right then, Brodeur, the man who owned the place, poured his open bottle of Champagne over Stevens' head.
STANLEY CUP FINALS
DETROIT RED WINGS vs. NEW JERSEY DEVILS (New Jersey wins series, 4-0)
Game 1: Devils, 2-1
Game 2: Devils, 4-2
Game 3: Devils, 5-2
Last night: Devils, 5-2