With barely eight minutes remaining in the last game of the regular season, the Devils trailed, 3-2, but MacLean's 22nd goal of the season sent it into overtime. On a rebound in the extra session, MacLean put a glorious ending to the Devils' finest season.
It was heart-breaking for the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins, both of whom won their last games Sunday but failed to make the playoffs. The Devils, by going 7-0-1 in their last eight games, earned the spot.
Actually, the Devils, who are making their second playoff appearance, but first since moving out of Colorado in 1982, and the Rangers tied with 82 points.
In case of a tie, the team with the most victories is the winner. The Devils won 38, the Rangers 36, so the Devils earned fourth place in the Patrick Division and will play the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, beginning Wednesday night at Uniondale, N.Y.
It was the first winning season (38-36-6) in the history of the franchise which was established in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts.
As the Colorado Rockies during the 1977-78 season, the club won only 19 games and had just 59 points, but qualified for the playoffs. With 81 this season they would have missed. Such are the strange ways of the National Hockey League playoff system.
The Devils surged into the playoffs after Sean Burke, goaltender for the Canada Olympic team, joined them. The youngster posted a 10-1 record for the Devils.
New York Rangers 3, Quebec 0--After John Vanbiesbrouck stopped 20 shots to hold off the Nordiques, the Rangers sat around Madison Square Garden for more than an hour waiting to see if their season would continue.
It was looking good until well into the final 10 minutes of the regular season when MacLean revived the Devils.
The Rangers, who seemed to be lethargic for two periods, finally took advantage of Vanbiesbrouck's goaltending and scored three times in the third period to break it open.
"It's an empty feeling," Ranger defenseman James Patrick said. "It's terrible sitting there watching your hopes go awry on television.
"We had a better record than six of the teams that are in the playoffs. That's hard to take."
Pittsburgh 4, Hartford 2--Mario Lemieux became the fourth player in NHL history to score 70 goals in a season and the Penguins finished above .500 for the first time in a decade.
But, there is no joy in Pittsburgh. Victories in the last two games were too late and the Penguins, despite 81 points didn't make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.
It was costly to management, too. Penguin management said that if the club didn't make the playoffs, it would refund the $1 per game increase it charged for season tickets.
The Penguins were in the wrong division, the Patrick. In the other three divisions, 81 points would have qualified for postseason play.
Lemieux, who won his first scoring title with 168 points, joined Wayne Gretzky, whose seven-year reign as top scorer ended, Jari Kurri and Phil Esposito as 70-goal scorers.
Calgary 4, Minnesota 1--Goaltender Mike Vernon stopped 25 shots at Calgary as the Flames knocked the North Stars out of the playoffs and assured themselves the best overall record.
With 105 points the Flames earned home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup competition and will divide $200,000 as a bonus.
The North Stars lost their last three games and four of their last five, so the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lost eight of their last nine games, reached the playoffs as the fourth team in the Norris Division. The Leafs won only 21 out of 80 games and earned only 52 points.
Hakan Loob scored his 50th goal as the Flames tuned up for the Kings who they will play in the first round, beginning Wednesday.
Philadelphia 2, Washington 2--Needing a victory to win home ice advantage in the playoffs, the Flyers pulled goaltender Ron Hextall in the last minute of overtime at Philadelphia.
They were unable to break a tie forged by former King Gary Galley, who scored twice for the Capitals in the last seven minutes of regulation.
The Capitals will be the home team when the best-of-seven series with the Flyers opens Wednesday night.
Winnipeg 5, St. Louis 4--Ray Neufeld scored two minutes into overtime at Winnipeg to give the Jets the victory. Tony McKegney of the Blues tied the score with just 80 seconds left in regulation.
Boston 3, New York Islanders 2--A new line of Tom McCarthy, Ken Linseman and Keith Crowder scored all three Bruin goals at Boston. The Bruins set a league record by scoring 300 goals for the 18th consecutive season.
Montreal 4, Buffalo 4--Stephane Richer scored twice at Buffalo to reach 50 goals for the first time.