In commemoration of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I will choose my all time favorite Stanley Cup finals. I only believe in judging those that I was old enough to have seen or at least known the general significance of. Unfortunately that means no Rocket Richard or Bobby Orr. I’m sure their Stanley Cup eras were unbelievable, but this list begins with the 80’s
TOP 5 GREATEST STANLEY CUP FINALS
5. 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Calgary Flames
4 games to 3 Lightning
The Flames were significant underdogs, but had most fans on their side because of the passionate hockey history of their fans. The Flames took an early 2 games to one lead in some nondescript games, but then the series got interesting. Nikolai Khabibulin had a tremendous 1-0 shutout, then Calgary won game 5 in OT. Calgary went home with a chance to close out in game 6. 33 seconds into double overtime Martin St. Louis sent it back to Tamp Bay. Tampa won 2-1 in game seven to take the cup, a game made even more exciting by the fact that with looming labor trouble we weren’t sure when we would see hockey again.
4. 1999 Dallas Stars vs. Buffalo Sabres
4 games to 2 Stars
The teams traded off close victories in the first four games, heading back to Dallas for a very important game five. With yet another solid post season performance from Ed Belfour, Dallas took a 3-2 lead at home. Now the whole town of Buffalo was waiting to will their team to a game seven. The game started off normally enough, with Jere Lehtinen putting the Stars up in the first period. The Sabre faithful could stop holding their breath when Stu Barnes tied the game in the second. Then the game went through 70 minutes of excruciatingly tense hockey action. Finally in the third OT Brett Hull gathered up a rebound just outside the crease (or was he in the crease) beat Hasek and won Dallas the Cup. Ten years later all Buffalo still knows what “No Goal” means.
3. 2001 Colorado Avalanche vs. New Jersey Devils
4 games to 3 Avalanche
Unlike in the NBA often you don’t feel like the two best teams make the Stanley Cup finals. It’s usually the two hottest teams or one whose goalie has found a new gear. Not this year, not 2001. This truly was the battle for best the sport had to offer. The defending champion Devils versus the Presidents Trophy claiming Avalanche , who were on a mission for the legendary Ray Bourque. You had Brodeur vs. Roy, Sakic vs. Mogilny, Bourque vs. Stevens. It truly was a battle of the titans. They split the first four games and then New Jersey got a huge road win the take the series lead 3 games to two. All the Devils had to do was win at East Rutherford to clinch their second consecutive Stanley Cup. Roy and the Avalanche had other ideas and won by an incredible 4-0. Now the advantage was in Colorado’s court. They would not disappoint Bourque or the Avalanche faithful. Joe Sakic had a brilliant game, Roy had 25 saves and Colorado became the first team since 1971 to come back from a 3-2 deficit to win the Cup.
2. 1987 Edmonton Oilers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
4 games to 3 Oilers
The 80’s Oilers. Gretsky, Messier, Anderson, Kurri, Coffey, Fuhr. The Oilers were the royalty of hockey back then. One of the most dominant dynasties in recent sports. They won six 5 titles between 1984 and 1990; and they did it with style. This was the only one of those five that was a good series. The Flyers came in with Ron Hextall playing amazing between the pipes. He kept it up in the Finals when after falling behind 3 to 1 the Flyers stormed back to tie the series at 3 games a piece. In Edmonton the Flyers scored first for a 1-0 lead but then the Oilers took control of the game while blistering shots at the Philly defense. Still the lead was only two to one until Glenn Anderson scored with two minutes remaining to ice it for Edmonton.
#1 1994 New York Rangers vs. Vancouver Canucks
4 games to 3 Rangers
As chants of 1940 were heard throughout the NHL and memories of Messier’s guarantee of victory over New Jersey were fresh; a veteran laden Ranger team was ready to exorcise 54 years of ghosts and bring the Stanley Cup back to MSG. Even though New York had many ex-Edmonton stars plus their own heroes like Richter and Leetch people knew not to discount the young and dangerous Canucks. The Rangers raced out to a 3 to 1 lead in the series, but after Vancouver didn’t just win but dominated games 5 and 6; all of New York was on the edge of their seats for Game 7. The Rangers took a 3 to 1 lead into the third period, but Trevor Linden quickly scored to reduce the margin to one. The Rangers had to spend the last part of the game depending on Mike Richter to fend off a barrage of Canuck shots. Finally though the horn sounded and Messier held up the Stanley Cup.
One last bit of fun. I’ll give my pick for the worst Stanley Cup final I’ve seen.
#1 worst Colorado Avalanche vs. Florida Panthers
4 games to zero Avalanche
From the beginning of the series it seemed that Florida was outmatched and had no answer for either Colorado’s offensive skills or Patrick Roy. After Colorado won game 2 eight to one, you knew it was over. Although Game Four was at least close, the series was a big dud; at least everywhere but the Rocky Mountains.