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Lemaire Resigns As Devils Coach

Jacques Lemaire, who guided the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup in 1995 but saw his team get stunned by the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators in the first round of this season's playoffs, Friday resigned as head coach.

The defensive-minded Lemaire came under fire after the Devils won the Atlantic Division and finished with a franchise-record 48 wins and 107 points and were then ousted by the Senators in the Eastern conference quarterfinals. New Jersey scored only 12 goals in the six games.

"I felt that right now, it's just time," said Lemaire."When I started, I said that I knew when it would be time to go. Winning the Cup was a very memorable season and I want to thank (former assistant) Larry Robinson and all the players for that."

It was the second straight early exit for the Devils, who had the best record in the Eastern Conference in 1996-97, but were eliminated in the conference semifinals by the New York Rangers, scoring only five goals in a five-game series.

The Devils did not immediately name a replacement for Lemaire, but assistant coach Robbie Ftorek would be the leading candidate for the job. The 46-year-old Ftorek has been Lemaire's assistant for two seasons and coached the top farm team in Albany for three seasons before joining the Devils in 1996.

"There were lots of highs and lows, but the lows can never go over the highs that I've achieved here," said Lemaire, seemingly taking a backhanded slap at the media who sharply criticized his system and the team in the first round."But life goes on. One day, maybe, I will coach again. I don't take that from my mind right now."

Lemaire felt the pressure of being the top seed, especially this postseason, when the Devils were expected to breeze past Ottawa into the second round. As the team failed to score, Lemaire's frustration grew and media scrutiny intensified. After a Game Three overtime loss, Lemaire did not address the media. Prior to Game Four, Lemaire got into a shouting match with the hockey columnist for the New York Post.

The Devils fell behind three games to one in the series and won Game Five, but could not stave off elimination as Ottawa completed the upset in six games.

"I mentioned before the series that I would be disappointed if we lost, and I would consider resigning, but I said that to only one person," said Lemaire, who did not disclose the identity of the individual.

The 51-year-old Lemaire arrived in New Jersey for the 1993-94 season and has never had a losing season with the Devils, compiling a 189-122-57 mark in five seasons. Lemaire guided the Devils to the conference finals in 1994, when they lost an epic seven-game battle to the Rangers.

Lemaire implemented the neutral-zone trap as the Devils' defensive system, a system that allows a team to clog the neutral zone and create offense off the counterattack. It worked to near-perfection in the lockout-shortened season of 1995 as the Deils swept Detroit for the only Stanley Cup in franchise history.

But the following season, the Devils failed to make the playoffs to defend their title, losing a must-win game to Ottawa on the second-to-last day of the regular season. It was the first time a defending Stanley Cup champion failed to reach the postseason since Lemaire's 1970 Montreal Canadiens squad.

As a player, Lemaire totaled 366 goals and won eight Stanley Cups with the Canadians. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.

Lemaire also took over as head coach of the Canadiens in the stretch run of the 1983-84 season and led them to the Eastern Conference finals. He compiled a 41-27-12 mark in the 1984-85 season as Montreal won the Adams Division title, but lost to Quebec in the division finals. He voluntarily stepped down after the loss to Quebec.

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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