Sunday, August 24, 2008
Those Other Teams Pt. 5: Carolina & Ottawa
Today, and as a conclusion of this segment and discussion of Devils Rivals Who Aren’t the Rangers , let’s consider who I feel are two teams that have the potential to become rivals in some regard, but aren’t quite there yet.
The first are the Carolina Hurricanes. You may know them as the Team formerly known as the Hartford Whalers. Specifically as the team that Lou traded “The Little Ball of Hate” Pat Verbeek after a sub-par 26 goal, 47-point season – the season before that he set the team record in goal scoring with 46. Verbeek wanted more money, Lou said no, and he was traded for Sylvain Turgeon. While Turgeon wasn’t really an adequate replacement (30 goals, but only 17 assists) and Verbeek prospered in Hartford, he was eventually traded to Montreal for Claude Lemieux. I don’t think I need to explain what Claude Lemieux did for the Devils.
Anyway, the Whalers couldn’t stay in Hartford and eventually moved down to the Carolinas in 1997. The Hurricanes have been inconsistent in their 10 years, only making the playoffs four times and only consecutively twice. However, in those four times, they encountered the Devils three times. The first was in 2000-2001, as the Devils steamrolled them – and Stevens steamrolled Shane Willis - in 5 games. Good times! Except for the Domi hit and the Devils not repeating as Stanley Cup champions, but there we are.
But the other two times have been infuriating. The Carolina Hurricanes soundly beat an admittedly disappointing Devils squad in the next season in 2001-2002. The Devils finished 6th in the East, Elias was snake-bit all year long (and at center), and the big bright spot that I can remember was Jamie Langenbrunner breaking out for the squad. The Canes weren’t that impressive, but they got hot in net in the first round. Kevin Weekes and Arturs Irbe (Yes! Irbe! And he's someone's favorite player of all time! Seriously!) started to became the hottest tandem in the league and the Devils were just frustrated to no end. Not only did the Devils lose, but it was a stepping stone for Carolina. They rode the hot goalies all the way to Stanley Cup Finals – only to be decisively beaten by Detroit in 5 games.
And if that wasn’t enough, nearly the same thing happened in 2005-2006. The Devils won their division with an amazing winning streak, and the Hurricanes had an amazing regular season. The Devils gloriously swept the Rangers and the Hurricanes got past Montreal in 6 games. The two met in the second round and history started to repeat in some form. Cam Ward got hot, the Canes collectively raised their game, and the Devils couldn’t figure him or Carolina’s amazingly on-point collapsing defenders. Another playoff loss to Carolina and it was another stepping stone to a Hurricane Cup Run. This time, the Canes earned their prize in an entertaining 7 game series over Edmonton. Incidentally, both teams have yet to make the playoffs since then.
But beyond those two playoff losses, I can’t think of much else to hold against Carolina. Revenge in the playoffs would be nice though. Now that we’ve had that, let’s look at another team where the Devils are less than .500 against in the playoffs – the Ottawa Senators.
First, there was 1997-1998. A great Devils season where they won the division, only let up a mind-bogglingly low 166 goals all season (Martin Brodeur was just as amazing then as he is now), and many thought they could make some serious noise in the playoffs. Consider it revenge for going out in the second round early to Our Hated Rivals in 1997. But the Senators had other ideas and shocked the Devils. In 6 games, the Devils struggled mightily and while they scraped out some wins, they could play consistently enough against the Senators. The Devils would end a great regular season with a disappointing first round exit (and it’d happen again in 1999 against Pittsburgh, but that was 7 games).
But the Senators would continue to keep on fighting and provided two more troubles for the New Jersey Devils. They effectively ended the Devils era at the Continental Airlines Arena in 2007 in 5 games and they spoiled opening night of the new arena. Other than some big (and recent) regular season losses to them (e.g. 8-1 in 2006), that’s pretty much it. Like the Hurricanes, the Devils have had trouble against this team in the playoffs and in some moments. However, I still don’t think the losing has been consistent enough or long enough to really consider them as teams you’d always want to beat out of spite. Nor do I think either team has an animosity for each other unless I’m forgetting something significant. Maybe if it continues for the next few seasons, maybe, but now - not quite as bad as the other teams in the Atlantic Division. If you feel otherwise or think there’s another team worth mentioning, please let me know either through the comments or via an e-mail.
Ehhhh...pretty sure the Devils were not a disappointing squad in '02-'03, lol. You mean '01-'02, yes?
It annoys me to no end when Fill in the blank Southern team makes the playoffs,has a nice crowd and then the announcers pound you over the head with "You can't say this town doesnt love their hockey".....