The Detroit Red Wings rolled through the NHL regular season for the second straight year as the best team, albeit this time in a lockout-shortened 48-game schedule. With Sergei Federov leading “The Russian Five”, the Red Wings looked unstoppable when they came into the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals.
The same had been true in 1994 when they lost in the first round, so no one in Detroit took anything for granted. This time around, the Red Wings left no doubt about who was the best in the Western Conference (Detroit did not move to the East until the realignment of 2014).
The Wings had a potent offense with Federov and Ray Sheppard lighting the lamp, and the skilled passing of defenseman Paul Coffey. Goaltender Mike Vernon anchored the second-best defense in the NHL. This group blasted through the three rounds of Western Conference playoffs with a record of 12-2.
Awaiting them in the Stanley Cup Finals were the New Jersey Devils, who’d lost a heartbreaking seven-game conference finals the year prior to the New York Rangers. Martin Brodeur was still a mostly unknown goalie, as he led the way for a team whose success was built around defense.
Brodeur and the New Jersey defense wouldn’t be unknown much longer. Though were the fifth seed in the East, New Jersey had played its best hockey in the second half of the regular season and then rolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a record of 12-4.
New Jersey’s defense, with its famous “neutral-zone trap” would one day define hockey, and it all started here at the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals. The Devils came into famed Joe Louis Arena and took the Finals opener by a 2-1 count, thanks to limiting the Detroit offense to just 17 shots on goal. A 4-2 win in Game 2 also saw the Red Wings’ attack fail to get 20 shots.
An array of offensive talent doesn’t mean a lot if that talent can’t get shots on the net, and New Jersey had the Detroit offense completely locked up. Then the Devils’ own attack started to get rolling when the Finals went east and that meant it was all over but the shouting.
Five different New Jersey players lit the lamp in the 5-2 victory of Game 3. The Devils won Game 4 by the same score and for the first time in franchise history were hoisting the Stanley Cup.
New Jersey held its opponent to two goals or fewer 16 times in 20 games, including all four in the Finals. Claude Lemieux scored thirteen postseason goals for New Jersey to win the Conn Smythe Award, as MVP of the entire playoffs. Ironically, Lemiuex would end up with the Colorado Avalanche a year later and be at the heart of a fierce and bitter rivalry the Avs would have with these same Red Wings he helped torment in 1995.
In time, Detroit would eventually overcome the frustration and get over the top, solidifying their reputation as one of the NHL’s great franchises. But New Jersey was starting a pretty good reputation of their own, setting the stage for Stanley Cups again in 2000 and 2003. Their upset win of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals was the first of what would be many big hockey moments in the Garden State.