Sat down to type up last night's blog, and blogger said NO BLOG FOR YOU!!!! Apparently, this was across the board, so I know it wasn't anything personal. It did, however, mean that I got some extra time to sleep. Which, of course, I couldn't spend sleeping. So I got some extra time to read. And I like reading.
But enough excuses! I know I said no more all-hockey blogs till the Cup Final was over, but with that historic event set to take place either Wednesday or Friday, I wanted to post a new Top 7. I started following the Stanley Cup in 1993, when the Montreal Canadiens ousted the Los Angeles Kings in five games. There have been some awesome Cup Finals since the, and there have been some duds. Below are my favorite seven Stanley Cup Final series (and yes, the top 4 should be pretty obvious if you know me very well, but go with me anyway)
#7: 2006--Carolina Hurricanes over the Edmonton Oilers in seven games.
This was a GREAT series and capped fantastic playoff runs from both teams. #8 seed Edmonton knocked off the top-seeded Red Wings in the first round (thank you!) and shocked a whole lot of other heavy hitters on their way to the final against a Hurricanes team that's never really gotten a lot of respect around the league, winning arguably the weakest division in hockey but finishing with a dang good record anyway. Game 1 was wild, and everything seemed lost for the Oilers when late-season acquisition and playoff hero goalie Dwayne Roloson was injured for the rest of the series late in a tie game. They looked even worse when his replacement Ty Conklin gave up this unfortunate goal to lose the game:
Roloson didn't play again that series. Neither did Conklin. Rather, it was journeyman backup Jussi Markkanen that carried the Oilers back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a game seven in Carolina against rookie keeper (and eventual Conn Smythe winner) Cam Ward, where the Canes pulled off a 3-1 win for the franchise's first and only Cup. Lots of solid veterans to feel happy for on the Canes team, too: Brind'Amour, Wesley, Cole, Wallin. The team motto for the playoffs was "Whatever it takes." They definitely lived up to it.
#6: 1995--New Jersey Devils defeat Detroit Red Wings in 4
I have never loved the Devils. I thought I was going to have a hard time picking a team to root for in this series, but when the games started it was clear who was the lesser of two evils. This was the lockout-shortened year, and so there were no games between Western Conference teams and Eastern Conference teams except for this series. Everybody was so stinking sure the Wings were going to steamroll right over the Devils. Most experts predicted a sweep. Well, they were right about the sweep, but they were wrong about who would be holding the brooms. It almost felt like, if the Wings had just got one win in there somewhere, they could have taken control of this series, but it was over so quickly they didn't seem to realize what was happening until it was all over. (This vid also features the Devils' Cup wins in 2000 and 2003)
#5: 1994-New York Rangers defeat Vancouver Canucks in seven games
This was a mind-blowing Stanley Cup win for the Rangers, breaking a 54-year Cup drought. This team was stacked, but it still took seven games to take out Pavel Bure's feisty Vancouver Canucks. The defining moment in this run, however, came not in the Final, but in game six of the Eastern Conference Final. Down 3 games to 2 against the Devils, Mark Messier made a since-famous guarantee that the Rangers would win game six on the road to force a deciding game seven in New York. That night, he went on to have one of the most memorable games in Stanley Cup history:
#4: 1996--Colorado Avalanche beat the Florida Panthers in four
Now we get to the point where personal bias plays the largest factor. Since I've been a big-time NHL fan, I've considered three teams to be "my" team. I had no idea they would all deliver Stanley Cup wins before the year 2010. (Also, my MLB team has won a World Series in my lifetime) I'm so freaking fortunate, but I've never been a bandwagon fan. In 1992, I adopted the Penguins because I loved Mario Lemieux. In 1994, I became a Tampa Bay Lighting fan because, well, heck, I don't really know WHY, but I suffered through a LOT of terrible, terrible seasons with that team before they unexpectedly broke through for a couple of years. And once the Avs moved to Denver and I got to catch all of their games on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain, I fell in love with the way the team played the game. I had no idea when I became an Avs fan that they would become, well, the Avs. Sakic, Forsberg, Foote, Roy, Kamensky, Deadmarsh, Keane, these guys all became favorite players instantly. And they weren't considered the front-runners, either, until they knocked off the Team of Destiny, 96's version of the Red Wings, in the Conference Final, starting what would be the best hockey rivalry of my hockey-viewing lifetime. 1996 was their first Cup and mine. And as much of a laugher as the series was, game four was a classic. The scoreless tie went all the way into the third intermission before Avs d-man Uwe Krupp finally, finally, FINALLY put a puck by Panthers' goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck, and the Avs won 1-0 to sweep the series.
#3: 2004--Tampa Bay Lightning defeat the Calgary Flames in seven
Oh, man, the 2004 Lightning. From, say, 1997 until 2003, the Lightning were the joke of the league. Heck, they were the joke of the entire sporting world. Sports Illustrated ranked them the worst franchise in pro sports two years running. I mean, the L.A. Clippers and Kansas City Roayls were laughing at us! Then, for a few great years, things totally turned around. In 2003, the Bolts made the playoffs and upset the division champion Washington Capitals before losing to eventual Cup-champs New Jersey. The next year, they won it all. But oy, it wasn't easy. After blitzing through the Islanders and Canadiens in nine games total, the Bolts alternated wins and losses for the next thirteen games, beating the Flyers in seven before going into Calgary down 3 games to 2. Game six was another instant classic, going two overtimes before Marin St. Louis sent it back to Tampa all tied up at three games apiece. (Amidst some goal/no goal controversy in the Calgary media) Game seven was tight, tight, tight, but unheralded goal scorer Ruslan Fedotenko scored two for the Bolts and much-heralded goalie Nikolai Khabibulin only let in one as Tampa finally won the league's ultimate prize for much-traveled, gray-bearded captain Dave Andreychuk.
#2: 2009--Pittsburgh Penguins defeat Detroit Red Wings in seven
If you really need my explanations on this one, just check out about two weeks' worth of blogs on this very site from last May/June. Holy crap. Holy holy crap, what a series. You know, going into last year's Cup Final, only one team had lost games 1 and 2 on the road of the SCF and come back to win the series? You know that, going into last year, only three teams had lost game 5 of a 2-2 series and come back to win the Cup? Geez. Sometime I still can't believe the Pens pulled this one off. Max Talbot forever. And, of course, that last-second save by Flower.
#1: 2001--Colorado Avalanche defeat New Jersey Devils in seven
This one deserves its own post.
What a run. What a year.
Mission 16W. Raymond Bourque. Patrick Roy seemingly giving the Cup away in game five, then stealing the rest of the series. The Avs vs. their old coach. Rob Blake vs. his old team. Peter Forsberg's sudden and devastating spleen injury. Winning game six on the road to force a deciding game seven. (What is it with my teams having to fall behind 3-2 in the Cup Final? Bad for my blood pressure!) Alex Tanguay, Cup Hero. Brodeur vs. Roy. The two best teams all year long, meeting in an epic seven-game clash of the titans. No flukes, no Cinderella, just a two-week slugfest between the best of the best. "And after twenty-two years, RAYMOND BOURQUE!!!" And, the classic image of captain Sakic handing the Cup directly to #77 for the honor of the first hoist.
I love this game.