|With the arrival of Pat Burns behind the Devils' bench at the start of 2002-03 season, there was reason for fresh optimism among "Garden State" hockey diehards. Burns had made a mark at every destination of his coaching career and the Devils were hoping that the passionate motivator's influence could put New Jersey over the top. Ken Daneyko, current MSG Plus hockey analyst and veteran of 20 NHL seasons (all as a Devil) kindly took time out of his packed schedule to reminisce about his final year in professional hockey.
Daneyko spoke about Burns' impact when he arrived in New Jersey. "He gave us a spark. Lou thought we needed a fiery guy and he fit that mold perfectly. Pat was very emotional on the bench. He was a great motivator who knew when to push the right buttons," he remarked.
New Jersey topped the Atlantic Division by season's end and finished 2nd overall in the Eastern Conference. Langenbrunner eclipsed his career previous high with 55 points, only trailing Patrik Elias for the team lead. He kept up his habit of clutch performances by racking up a club best five game-winning goals that season. It was a sign of things to come as Jamie continued the trend into the 2002-03 playoffs.
"We were fortunate to have Jamie. He was huge that playoffs and had a knack for scoring big goals and making plays," Daneyko remembered.
"It was a battle with the Flyers all season for the division. They had a big physical team but we went on a run late in the season. Pat and the older guys preached the importance of finishing as the number two seed. It's something you fight for all year," Stevenson stated.
"We played all year for home ice advantage. Sometimes there isn't a rhyme or reason to why teams win games but to have home ice was huge," Daneyko added.
In their opening game of the postseason against the Boston Bruins, Langenbrunner scored both Devils' goals in their 2-1 victory. With Game 2 of the series knotted up at 2-2, Jamie broke the deadlock ripping a one-timer past Bruins' goalie Steve Shields. The Devils did not relinquish their lead as they went on to win 4-2 and jump out to a 2-0 series lead. Martin Brodeur was sensational in Game 3, stopping all 29 of Boston's shots en route to a 3-0 shutout.
The Bruins bounced back in Game 4 by putting five goals past Brodeur who gave way to backup Corey Schwab in a 5-1 defeat. John Madden's first period power play goal gave the Devils the lead in Game 5 and two goals from Langenbrunner put the game and the series out of reach. Brodeur returned to form with his second shutout of the series as the Devils marched on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"The first round was big. Burns switched up the lines and knew how to mix and match. We did well defensively, shutting down strong offensive teams like the Bruins with Joe Thornton, Glen Murray and Brian Rolston and later the Lightning with Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier," Stevenson said.
Former Devils' fan favorite John Madden spoke about the impact of Burns putting together the dominant line that he and Langenbrunner were a part of, "We were formed to be a checking line. Pat's idea was to check the opposing teams and little did we know that we'd become an offensive line as well. We shut down big lines and Jamie scored countless big goals. It was a great line and we really gelled along with Jay Pandolfo."
In the opening game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, neither team could get on the score sheet until Langenbrunner's third period goal. The floodgates soon opened as Madden and then Stevenson each found the back of the net to increase New Jersey's lead to 3-0 as Brodeur completed yet another shutout. The Lightning led Game 2 until Brian Rafalski blasted a one-timer past goalie Nikolai Khabibulan on the two-man advantage. Grant Marshall was able to level the affair 2-2 before the start of overtime. Early into overtime, Langenbrunner drove to the net and followed his own rebound that deceived Khabibulan to earn the game-winning goal. Jamie was immediately mobbed by his teammates as the crowd at the Continental Airlines arena went into a frenzy.
Career Devil Patrik Elias outlined Langenbrunner's important contributions during their Stanley Cup run. "Being a part of winning teams, he knew what it took to win. Jamie won a lot of big games for us in the Tampa and Ottawa series. During the playoffs, sometimes guys go through a drought and he stepped in. It's all about teamwork and he was obviously one of our leaders," he recalled.