April 24, 2010
(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. Gone but not forgotten, we've asked for these losers to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The fans who hated them the most. Here are Philadelphia Flyers bloggers Travis Hughes and Ben Rothenberg from Broad Street Hockey, fondly recalling the New Jersey Devils.)
By Travis Hughes and Ben Rothenberg
The New Jersey Devils gathered around the burial place of their 2009-2010 season, an abandoned lot in 'Arts District' of Downtown Newark situated snugly between the loading dock of Prudential Center and the fenced lot of Tony's Discount Auto Sales.
The team had purchased the lot for about $25, which just days earlier could have afforded them a parking spot or even a playoff hockey ticket in this part of town.
Things were different now.
As the mourners waited for the ceremony to get going, the rest of the team couldn't help but overhear their largest muttering angrily to himself.
"Aw shucks," Martin sighed. "Now I gotta go stop at the Casual Male XL in Bloomfield on the way home." He walked over to an unopened box labeled "Red Alert Devils Giveaway Towels," opened it up, and pulled out one of the forgotten promotional items. Frustrated, he began to rub the jelly stains off his size 58R suit.
The whole thing just made him sad.
Sure, Martin shed tears most any time a container of something delicious was compromised, but this was special. This was jelly, the very substance which Brodeur had requested be used to fill the custom made set of pads he commissioned during the lockout.
It was a small, intimate ceremony of about only 30 or so people; the 20-ish players on the number-two seed's roster, a few coaches and front office types, and the handful of Devils season ticket holders. The guard dogs fenced in next door at Tony's Autos looked on as well. The end of the hockey season meant that they no longer had free, unsold hot dogs to look forward to eating after games -- a donation from the Devils that Tony routinely appreciated.
As well-attended as the memorial service was, though, it was horribly disorganized. The general consensus amongst the group seemed to suggest this was a symptom of the team's dizzyingly frequent line changes throughout the season. Jacques Lemaire just stood behind the group, stubbornly, with his arms crossed.
Nobody wanted to start speaking. They all gazed down at the dirt beneath their feet, kicking pebbles with their expensive dress shoes. Everybody turned to the Captain, Jamie Langenbrunner(notes), hoping to follow his lead.
"But I don't wanna," stomped Langenbrunner.
"Fine, if I have to," said Langenbrunner, suddenly feeling like an important part of the group for the first time in years. "Let's focus on the positives. We scored on six percent of our shots during the series, which is somewhat better than zero."
Some teammates nodded in agreement.
The essence of Carcillo still sat in the back of the minds of these men, eating away at their brains. They simply couldn't erase the image of his mustache-encrusted face yelping for joy at the end of overtime just a few days earlier. Many still held the fear that their women would be mesmerized by The Carcillo, and that he would draw away from the Devils and towards Him like a magnet, never to return.
"The fan base really made some strides this postseason, I think," reminisced Travis Zajac(notes). "Sure, it was a little weird that they were all wearing orange and booing every time the other team made a save, but it's better than when they used to sit on their hands doing nothing."
"And I reached the milestone of 99 career playoff wins!" Brodeur piped in, his voice somewhat muffled by his mouth being stuffed with several of the pierogies Chico Resch had snuck into the service.
"It's just unfair we had to face that ringer Brian Boucher(notes)," Dainius Zubrus(notes) added. "There should be rules against a team using more than one goalie during a season. We lost to three different Flyers goalies this year, and yet on our side, I can't remember anybody but Brodeur ever starting even one game for us this season."
Yann Denis hailed a cab.
"If only we had gotten to play against their sixth-stringer, that Jeremy Duschene kid," added the dimpled and dreamy Zach Parise(notes). "Then maybe we would have been able to at least make it a six-game series. That would have doubled Ilya's career playoff win total, too."
"Where is Ilya?" Lou Lamoriello wondered aloud, assuming the franchise's alleged savior was already at the airport boarding a one-way flight to Moscow.
This frustrated Lou. After all, just a few weeks ago, he was cruising 20,000 feet above the East Coast from Atlanta to Newark, toasting champagne with the Russian superstar he hoped would bring the team another Cup.
But, then, right on cue, Kovalchuk emerged. He wove through the mourners wildly, zig-zagging several times through the crowd before finally firing a bouquet of flowers about 15-feet wide of the grave site. The familiar sight of a Kovalchuk attempt flying yards off-target seemed like a fitting way to end things.
The players gathered around the gaping void, a space almost the size of Brodeur's five-hole, lowered the Atlantic Division-banner-draped casket into the abyss, and shoveled the April soil onto the corpse of their playoff lives for the third straight year.
Having finally scarfed down the last of the pierogies, Brodeur felt, as the team's emotional leader for so many years, that he had to come up with some closing words to close the book on the season with the poignancy it deserved.
He grappled with what to say for several seconds, but finally, it came to him.
"Anybody up for stopping off at KFC for a couple Double Downs?"
Travis Hughes and Ben Rothenberg blog about the Flyers at Broad Street Hockey on SB Nation.