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Hell of a team

Devils bore, er, roar through playoffs for third Stanley Cup

Posted: Monday August 18, 2003 10:30PM; Updated: Tuesday August 19, 2003 6:46PM
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By Jon A. Dolezar, SI.com

They play stone-age hockey, clutching and grabbing more than an eighth-grade boy during a slow dance, but two months of springtime ice wars have made it clear that the Devils are the best team in the NHL.

The high-flying Canucks would've provided more excitement. The Cinderella Ducks would've given us a more storybook ending. But the New Jersey Devils stepped up their play in the postseason and are worthy recpients of the 2003 Power Rankings title. (Oh yeah, they won the Stanley Cup, too.)

After finishing fourth in points in the regular season, New Jersey dominated at home, struggled on the road, but ultimately overwhelmed Boston, Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Anaheim to claim the most famous trophy in the world.

So now as the four-month blip known as the NHL offseason begins, we figured it was only right to offer up one final Power Rankings to tide you over until October. The non-playoff teams are still in their same position from the final regular-season edition, while the 16 playoff teams have been reordered according to their playoff performance.

NHL Power Rankings
Rank  LW    Team 
1 4 New Jersey Devils
Say what you will about the franchise's penchant for defensive hockey, but the Devils are the ultimate "the-ends-justify-the-means" bunch. Lou Lamoriello and Co. hoisted the Cup for the third time in nine years, putting them just behind the Red Wings (three in a six-year stretch) and ahead of the Avs (two in six years) as the dominant team of the past decade.
2 11 Anaheim Mighty Ducks
The snowball effect started on April 10 when Jean-Sebastien Giguere held the Red Wings to just one goal on 64 shots in a triple-overtime thriller. It didn't end until Jiggy and the Ducks ran into an equally hot Martin Brodeur in the finals, but the eight-week stretch in between was both impressive and shocking.
3 2 Ottawa Senators
It would be unfair to say the Sens wasted the home-ice advantage of their Presidents' Trophy-winning season, but they were very close to accomplishing much bigger things. In fact, if not for a two-minute blip in the second period of Game 7 against the Devils in the East finals, it may have been Ottawa instead of New Jersey hoisting the famed silver chalice.
4 8 Minnesota Wild
The lasting legacy of the Wild's upset-filled run to the West finals will be Jacques Lemaire smirking like a proud papa after his team rallied to down the Avs in Game 7 of the first round. Minnesota is clearly a team on the rise, and the Wild won't be able to sneak up on opponents next season.
5 1 Dallas Stars
There is no embarrassment in the fact that Marty Turco got outplayed by Giguere in the Stars' second-round ousting, but Turco clearly wasn't the same goalie he was before his February sprained ankle. With a healthy Bill Guerin, that could've been a much different series.
6 7 Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks can be the NHL's submission as an example of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, all within one postseason. After rallying to beat St. Louis in seven games in the first round, Vancouver allowed Minnesota to do the same to it in the conference semifinals. Markus Naslund said the Canucks choked away the Northwest Division title to the Avs (though he later retracted it), and it would be hard to call their fold against the Wild anything but a Dr. Heimlich special.
7 12 Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning's first postseason trip in seven years resulted in their first series win. Not only did Tampa Bay knock off division-rival Washington in six in the first round, the Lightning followed that up by playing well against the Devils, despite falling in five games. But head coach John Tortorella created a goaltending controversy by starting John Grahame over Nikolai Khabibulin in what turned out to be the final game of their season.
8 6 Philadelphia Flyers
The curious saga of the Flyers' postseason play continued this spring. An amazing seven-game series win over the Maple Leafs was followed up with a puzzling six-game loss to the Sens, in which the Flyers folded in the final two games. The result was a one-way trip to Los Angeles for skittish goaltender Roman Cechmanek and another offseason of wondering in Philadelphia.
9 3 Detroit Red Wings
Everything looked to be in place for a repeat Cup run. But the defending champs' hopes were ruined by Giguere's hot first round.
10 5 Colorado Avalanche
The Avs overcame a terrible start to the regular season by winning 25 of their final 37 games to catch the Canucks for the Northwest title. Unfortunately, that would be the last title Patrick Roy would claim, as the upstart Wild shocked the Avs -- and ended Roy's career -- by coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the first round.
11 9 St. Louis Blues
Trading for Chris Osgood was supposed to solidify the Blues as a postseason power in the West. All it did was make a different mediocre netminder responsible for St. Louis' first-round exit.
12 13 Washington Capitals
The Caps have too much talent on their roster to be first-round casualties, but even that was a vast improvement over the first season with Jaromir Jagr in the nation's capital. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it was enough of an improvement to earn a third go-round in Washington for the $11 million man.
13 10 Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs pulled out all the stops at the trade deadline, but the veteran players they acquired didn't have the desired effect. Injuries to Owen Nolan and Doug Gilmour, as well as mediocre play from Glen Wesley and Phil Housley, made Toronto's roster tinkering look questionable in the long run.
14 14 Edmonton Oilers
One of the best moments of the postseason was the pregame atmosphere at Skyreach Centre leading up to Game 3 of the Oilers-Stars first-round series. Edmonton took that third game to go up 2-1 in the series, but it couldn't hold the lead and ended up being bounced from the postseason by Dallas for the fifth consecutive time.
15 15 Boston Bruins
Bruins captain Joe Thornton is already among the handful of top players in the NHL, but Devils superpest John Madden reduced Thornton to a mere spectator. Boston needs to develop some secondary scoring beyond the Mike Knuble-Thornton-Glen Murray line if it hopes to be a contender in the suddenly deep East.
16 16 New York Islanders
Things started well enough for the Isles, who provided an opening-night wake-up call to the top-seeded Sens. But Ottawa buckled down in a big way after New York's stunning 3-0 win in Game 1, allowing just four goals in the remaining four games to the Isles' inconsistent offense.
17 17 Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have hired private investigators to look into their second-half collapse.
18 18 Atlanta Thrashers
Things are looking up in Atlanta, but keeping unrestricted free agent Slava Kozlov in the fold is a must.
19 19 New York Rangers
Wanted: Ph.D in chemistry to run multimillion dollar experiment in combustible hockey locker room.
20 20 Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are rumored to be interested in making a run at Sergei Fedorov. And John LeClair has apparently waved his no-trade clause to four teams, including Los Angeles. A Kings lineup with Fedorov, LeClair and Roman Cechmanek added to it from offseason could be scary to Western Conference foes.
21 21 Calgary Flames
The Flames finished the season on the upswing, but now comes the time of year that all small-market clubs dread -- free agency. Darryl Sutter may earn a new appreciation of things now that he is signing the checks, too.
22 22 Montreal Canadiens
The Habs need to see more of the 2001-02 Jose Theodore and much less of the 2002-03 version.
23 23 Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres lived to see another season, which given how improbable that seemed at some points last year, is like winning a round or two of the playoffs.
24 24 Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes blew up their roster at the trade deadline. At least they have a new arena opening on Dec. 27 to look forward, and some golf courses in nearby Scottsdale to tide them over until then.
25 25 San Jose Sharks
The moving vans at Teemu Selanne's house would appear to be headed south to Anaheim. And with them might go any chance of the Sharks making the playoffs next year.
26 26 Nashville Predators
The Predators have operated on the cheap up to this point, trolling for bargains like last year's unrestricted free-agent find Andreas Johansson. But now it's time for them to shell out some money to keep the core of their developing franchise together, since Andy Delmore, Scott Hartnell, Johansson, David Legwand and Kimmo Timonen are all restricted free agents.
27 27 Florida Panthers
Jay Bouwmeester looks to be a star in the making and will be a great piece for the franchise to build around. And Roberto Luongo can be really good, though he needs to improve his consistency and stop throwing a shutout one night and then getting yanked in the second after allowing four goals on 15 shots the next night.
28 28 Columbus Blue Jackets
New backup goalie Fred Brathwaite is hopeful of getting into at least a dozen games next year, though with ironman Marc Denis in nets, that might be an unrealistic goal. The Blue Jackets need blueliners to cut down on shots faced more than they need to worry about who will be standing in the crease to meet those shots.
29 29 Pittsburgh Penguins
Between Mario Lemieux's future being up in the air and the ongoing fight to try to get a new arena, it doesn't sound like it's going to be a fun summer in the Steel City.
30 30 Carolina Hurricanes
From Stanley Cup finalist to the bottom of the barrel in one season can't be a fun fall. Now general manager Jim Rutherford and head coach Paul Maurice will try to reverse the trend by getting some of their talented young players like Erik Cole, Jaroslav Svoboda and Josef Vasicek to bounce back from disappointing (and injury-plagued) seasons.
 

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