My Favourite Stanley Cup Final Series of All-Time
- 1987 Oilers over Flyers in 7
- 1971 Canadiens over Black Hawks in 7
- 1994 Rangers over Canucks in 7
- 2009 Penguins over Red Wings in 7
- 1997 Red Wings over Flyers in 4
- 1980 Islanders over Flyers in 6
- 1970 Bruins over Blues in 4
- 2001 Avalanche over Devils in 7
- 2004 Lightning over Flames in 7
- 1989 Flames over Canadiens in 6
The great thing about lists, no, make that the annoying thing about lists is that pretty much only the person compiling said list will agree with said list. So it’s said. For example, look at the NHL Top 100 Players of All-Time list that made the rounds back at the beginning of the year. There’s still people incensed that their pet player was not on that list. Answer? Make your own list. Which I did, and that just served to incense people further. Which is a fun thing to do, because if you really want to work yourself up into a self-righteous lather over someone else’s subjective stylings, well, then, enjoy the lather.
With the 2017 Stanley Cup Final currently underway between the Nashville Predators and the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, memories come flooding in from past Finals. Having watched every Stanley Cup Final since 1970, more than a few times I’ve been asked what the best ones were.
The best? How about the most entertaining? The Stanley Cup matchups I smile at (or wince at) when they are dredged up from the depths of subjective memory. With a minimal distance in quality between number 10 and number 1, here we go…
#10. 1989 – Calgary Flames over the Montreal Canadiens
In their second trip to the Cup Final (the first in 1986, where they lost in five against Montreal), the former Atlanta Flames go six and earn the glittering distinction of being the only team to hoist the Stanley Cup on fabled Montreal Forum ice while playing against the Canadiens. A very good Final between the top two teams in the league that season (Flames 117 points – Canadiens 115). Terry Crisp against rookie head coach Pat Burns. Mike Vernon vs. Patrick Roy…a hint of things to come. Calgary defenceman Al MacInnis taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy as top player. And, most importantly, I was able to attend all three Final games at the Forum. Can still see Lanny McDonald leaving the penalty box, picking up the puck, and scoring what would be the insurance goal. It happened to my right. To your left when you watch the video evidence. To my right, forever. And after the game, the Canadiens’ fans stood and gave the Flames a heartfelt standing ovation in recognition of being the better team.
#9. 2004 – Tampa Bay Lightning over the Calgary Flames
The Flames again, the Darryl Sutter/Jarome Iginla version versus the Lightning, the Brad Richards/Vincent Lecavalier/Martin St Louis/John Tortorella version. A tight seven game series, one in which the team that took the lead never relinquished it. Like an F1 race. So why is this one on my list? Because we didn’t know it would work out that way as we watched the 2004 Cup Final unfold. It was a tight series, and for some reason, the Flames captured the attention of a lot of Canadian hockey fans. Martin Gelinas kept scoring series’ deciding goals that spring, and JUST MISSED (honestly, it’s been shown that the puck did not cross the line) scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal in Game Six. Instead, the Lighting won in overtime, and then captured the Cup in Game Seven. Besides, this series featured Iginla and Lecavalier in a fight. A real fight. Classic.
#8. 2001 – Colorado Avalanche over New Jersey Devils
Another seven game series, featuring two of the four clubs that always seemed to be in the Cup Final back then (along with the Red Wings and Stars). It also featured Patrick Roy vs. Martin Brodeur, two of the best goaltenders we have had the pleasure to watch perform in recent memory. It was also the first time since the Flames and Canadiens in 1989 that the top two regular season teams met up for the big mug. And the former Quebec Nordiques beat the former Denver team (yes, Kansas City first), with the most notable event being all-world defenceman Ray Bourque winning his only Stanley Cup, after years of coming up short with the Boston Bruins.
#7. 1970 – Boston Bruins over St. Louis Blues
Arguably the two most famous goals in National Hockey League history featured the scorer flying through the air as they pot the Cup winning goal in overtime. Toronto Maple Leafs’ rearguard Bill Barilko in 1951, and 19 years later, Boston Bruins’ everything-guard Bobby Orr. When Number Four flew into hockey history, the Big Bad Bruins were poised to dominate the 1970’s. Which they kind of did, for a while. Boston would be upset by rookie goaltender Ken Dryden and the Montreal Canadiens a year later (more about that one in a bit), but the Bruins would win another Stanley Cup in 1972, and came up just short against the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974. The Gang That Could Shoot Straight Only When It Wanted To was broken up in November of 1975, when Phil Esposito was shipped to the Rangers. The Bruins won that trade, thanks to Jean Ratelle and Brad Park coming the other way. But we’re way ahead of ourselves.
Back in May 1970, the mighty Bruins were expected to dominate the St. Louis Blues, then in the third year of their existence, and also in their third straight Cup Final. And just like in 1968, and 1969 (against Montreal both times), the Blues were swept in four, even though some of the games were close.
So what’s the big deal about this Stanley Cup Final, if the result was pretty much predetermined?
Bobby Orr. Even the way the name looks in print is special. The dude was Thee Man then, and still is. I was in Grade One when this blessed event occurred, and it was a big deal. A generation of Bruins’ fans signed up for life that May. Orr leading the B’s to their first Cup in 29 years. The face of the league wins the Stanley Cup in overtime. It was pretty difficult to avoid becoming a Bruins’ fans. All I can say is, thank the Hockey Gods for Ken Dryden, but that’s another story.
#6. 1980 – New York Islanders over Philadelphia Flyers
The second ever all-expansion (translation; no “Original Six” teams allowed) Stanley Cup Final. The Flyers won the first one in 1975, in six games over the Buffalo Sabres. Great Final. Maybe #12 on my list. Five years later, head coach Pat Quinn had his Flyers playing great hockey. A fine team that didn’t win a Cup, because the young Islanders (only in their 8th year in the existence), who arguably could have won the Stanley Cup in 1978, and in 1979, finally put it all together and become NHL champions. And they liked it so much, they did it again, and again, and again. This was the first year in that Four Straight Stanley Cup dynasty. Yes, one of the goals was offside, but Bob Nystrom’s OT goal in Game Six was onside. And the Islanders were underway.
#5. 1997 – Detroit Red Wings over Philadelphia Flyers
Another appearance by the Flyers in a supporting role. So where do I place the glory year of the Flyers, 1974 and 1975? They both could have been on this list, but there’s only room for ten of these babies. The Flyers over Bruins in the spring of 1974 is notable, because the Next Six finally pushed aside “The Original Six”. Number #11 on my list. Number #5 on my list features the Red Wings finally winning the Stanley Cup again, their first since 1955. That’s a long drought. Not as long as the Rangers 54 year drought, or the current Maple Leafs’ streak, but still a long time. The actual play on the ice may not warrant a Top Ten listing, but it’s the celebration afterwards that still resonates. To this day, I have not witnessed a more joyous Cup winning celebration in my life. It’s as if even diehard Red Wings’ fanatics couldn’t believe the unbelievable has just occurred. Because before that, the Dead Things always found a way to lose, to squander generational talent to lesser teams (1993 Maple Leafs, 1994 Sharks, and 1995 Devils leap to mind). This time around, finally. Finally. And they liked it so much, they went out and did it again the following season, something that is an exceedingly rare accomplishment in today’s NHL.
#4. 2009 – Pittsburgh Penguins over Detroit Red Wings
And the Red Wings just kept on winning, taking home the big chalice a couple of times after the late 1990’s, including in 2008, when they beat the up-and-coming Pittsburgh Penguins. And then the following spring, Detroit jumped out to a 2-0 lead in games in the Cup Final rematch with the Penguins, and most of us expected to crown the Red Wings the first team to repeat as Cup champions since the aforementioned Detroit team from 1997-98. Except the Penguins became only the 4th NHL team to rally from that 2 game hole, and captured the Stanley Cup in an exciting, satisfying 7 game series. On a beautiful Friday night in June, it went down to the final seconds, as Pens’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury just got over to his right to block a surefire goal from the stick of super defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom. It was one of those Final series where both teams deserved to win. Top notch hockey.
#3. 2004 – New York Rangers over Vancouver Canucks
Let’s face it, any Stanley Cup Final series involving the New York Rangers will receive a lot of attention. Add to the script all the ex-Oilers manning the helm, including uber-captain Mark Messier. The Rangers jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the series, and everyone was ready to finally silence the taunts of “1940”. One of the league’s marquee franchises was about to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. But it hadn’t been one of the greatest Stanley Cup Final on ice, until Trevor Linden and his stubborn Canucks refused to follow the script. Back in the Big Apple for the Coronation in Game Five, Vancouver came out loaded for Broadway Bear in the first period, and earned a convincing 6-3 win. Back before the faithful in the Lower Mainland (this was just before yahoos in the crowd would be known for their post-Final rioting tendencies), the Canucks tied things up with a 4-1 victory. This set up one of the most anticipated Game 7’s in league history, and for only the second time since 1971, the Stanley Cup Final went the distance. Would the Rangers once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Would Islander and Devils’ fans be able to continue the “1940” serenade? Almost. New York carved out a 2-0 lead, but Trevor Linden cut the lead. Messier scored the 3rd goal for the Rangers, but Linden responded again, and came very close to tying things up. Despite the heroics of Linden, in one of the most impressive Game 7 efforts ever, the Rangers held on for a 3-2 win, and finally got their paws on the Stanley Cup. And then held one of the greatest Stanley Cup celebration parades of all-time, which because they’re the Rangers, received a ton of press coverage….until OJ Simpson got into a white Ford Bronco on the other side of the country.
#2. 1971 – Montreal Canadiens over Chicago Black Hawks
Yes, it was spelt Black Hawks back then. Could also have been spelt Just Miss Winning the Cup. After reaching the top of the mountain in 1961, the resurgent Chicago squad came up short in 1962 (to Toronto), 1965 (to Montreal), and would also lose to Montreal in 1973. But 1971 stands out. By all measuring sticks, that spring’s Stanley Cup Final should have been between the Black Hawks and the Big Bad Bruins. Esposito against Esposito. But the Montreal Canadiens were in the midst of the “forgotten” dynasty. They won the Stanley Cup in 1965, and 1966, before being upset by the Over the Hill Gang from Toronto during Canada’s Centennial Year of 1967. Undaunted, the constantly retooling Habs dusted themselves off and captured the Holy Grail again in 1968, and 1969. They just missed making the playoffs in 1970 by the narrowest of margins, and coupled with the league tired of seeing the upstart St. Louis Blues losing in the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL changed things up. The Black Hawks were moved from the Eastern Division over to the Western Division, and everyone pretty much penciled in, with Magic Marker, Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final that spring. Which they lived up to. Trouble was, the record smashing Boston Bruins stumbled in the first round against their historic nemesis, the Canadiens. Led by rookie goaltender Ken Dryden, and captained by Jean Beliveau in his career swan song, Montreal managed to survive a highly entertaining seven game series, dispatched of the stubborn Minnesota North Stars in six, and met Bobby Hull and his Black Hawks for the Cup.
This Final went the distance, with the home team winning every game, except the last one. Chicago took the first game 2-1 in overtime (Jim Pappin scored early in the extra session), and prevailed 5-3 in Game #2. Back in Montreal, the Habs evened things up with 4-2 and 5-2 wins. Game #5 was back in Chicago, and the home team theme continued with a Hawks 2-0 win. With a chance to win their first Stanley Cup in ten years, Chicago entered the third period of Game #6 with a 3-2 lead, before the Habs’ Big M and Little M teamed up in the third to force a deciding game. And in Game #7, played on Tuesday, May 18th, the home town Black Hawks got goals from Dennis Hull and Danny O’Shea to build up a 2-0 lead. Then the Hockey Gods intervened. With just over 5 minutes’ remaining in the second period, Jacques Lemaire sent in a missile from just over centre ice that fooled Tony Esposito way off in the Chicago net. Uh-oh. The goal still gets replayed to this day. It then seemed only a matter of time before Les Canadiens would take over the game, and they did, getting two clutch goals from one of the greatest Habs of all-time, Henri Richard. The Pocket Rocket. Who pocketed yet another Stanley Cup. An unforgettable series.
#1. 1987 – Edmonton Oilers over Philadelphia Flyers
The NHL recently held a fan vote to determine which team was the greatest squad of all time. The 1985 Edmonton Oilers ended up on top, and for good reason, as they dominated the regular season en route to their second straight Stanley Cup. Any of those 1980’s Oilers team could have been selected Best Team Ever. Edmonton should have won again in 1986, but shot themselves in the foot against a very good Calgary Flames team, and had to wait until the following year to right that wrong. During the 1986-87 season, yet again the Oilers, and the Philadelphia Flyers, ruled the roost. And just like in 1985, they met up in the Stanley Cup Final, though this time the Flyers had with them super rookie netminder Ron Hextall. Sexy Hexy, one of the most entertaining players in the long history of the NHL.
The Oilers made it their mission to recapture the Cup, and they stormed out to a 3-1 lead in games, looking confident the entire way. They almost swept the Final, but the Flyers managed to pick themselves off the mat in Game Three, and rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to take that game 5-3. That was a sign of things to come, as Mike Keenan’s plucky Flyers refused to lose, and forced a Game Seven back in Edmonton. This is where things get murky. You’ll have to do the detective footwork yourself, but there is still some whispered controversy on what happened to the Flyers between Games 6 and 7. Suffice to say, a couple of notable hockey authors have written/talked about it, but when I broached the subject (off-air) with a couple of ex-Flyers from that team, they basically pleaded the Fifth, even though they’re not American citizens. Maybe it’s all a bunch of nothing, but whatever the case, the young, brash Flyers ran out of gas in Game #7, played on the last day of May. Philly jumped out to a very early 1-0 lead, the first time all series they scored the opening goal. But then their legs appeared to wilt, the Oilers smelled blood in the water, and before a pumped up crowd that would have given Predators’ fans a run for their ear plugs, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and the gang kept coming in waves at the Flyers, and won the game 3-1. In one of the greatest Stanley Cup Final moments of all time, Captain Gretzky hoisted the Stanley Cup, and passed it to defenceman Steve Smith, who scored the own goal in that deciding game a year earlier against the Flames. All was right against in the City of Champions. As for the Flyers, Hextall won the Conn Smythe as top playoff performer. Since that day, Philadelphia have come close a couple of more times in the Final, but have still not won a Cup since repeating in 1975.