Blue Jackets television play-by-play broadcaster Jeff Rimer continues his look at some of the greats to ever be associated with hockey and the NHL with his look at the Greatest Stanley Cup Finals in NHL history.
There have been many memorable Stanley Cup Finals over the years, some I can speak of first hand, while others I have just read accounts of. Without a doubt, it is the greatest spectacle in any sport.
There was the 1987 Stanley Cup Final between the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers, won by Edmonton in seven games. That series saw the Flyers come off the mat, trailing three games to one, to defeat the Oilers, 4-3, in Edmonton in Game Five, sending the series back to Philly for Game Six. The Flyers also won Game Six but dropped Game Seven, 3-1. It was the Oilers’ third of four Cup victories over a five-year period. An interesting story from that final was that head coach Mike Kennan brought the Stanley Cup into the Flyers’ dressing room before Game Six in Philadelphia, to motivate the Flyers to victory. The tactic worked, sending the series back to Edmonton for a deciding game, where the Oilers prevailed. It was the first seven-game final since Montreal defeated Chicago in seven games in 1971, but more on that later.
Another great finals series took place in 1989. This classic involved the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens. The Flames, trailing 2-1 in the series, won three straight to win the Stanley Cup in six games. An interesting note is that one of the two goalies for the Flames that season was none other than Blue Jackets goalie coach Rick Wamsley. The other Flames goalie Mike Vernon, however, played all six games in the finals. The Flames became the first team to beat the Canadiens on their home ice, in the Montreal Forum, skating off with the Stanley Cup in front of the Canadiens’ fans. Incredibly, the Flames did not win a single playoff series after the cup win until 2004, when they advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to lose to Tampa Bay, 4-3.
The Hockey News’ selected the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals as the second-best of all time. That series had Montreal facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks. To help set the scene, the "great" Montreal Canadiens failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 22 years the previous season, and Montrealers, needless to say, were very upset with their perennial cup champs. So the motivation to win was certainly there! And Montreal did not disappoint, winning their 16th Stanley Cup and the most exciting of their history. The Blackhawks, with the likes of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita in their lineup, held 2-0 and 3-2 series leads and also led 2-0 in Game Seven. The "Pocket Rocket", Henri Richard was the hero, scoring the tying and winning goals on Chicago Stadium Ice. Richard, incidentally, leads all NHL players in having his named engraved on the Cup no less than 11 times. In addition, that Cup victory marked the start of one era and the end of another. Rookie goalie Ken Dryden won the Conn Smythe trophy, as the Stanley Cup MVP, for his outstanding play, and team Captain Jean Beliveau retired after the finals. Beliveau left hockey as the all-time playoff leader in assists with 97 and points with 176. Brothers Frank (my all time favorite player) and Pete Mahovlich combined for nine goals in the seven-game series.
Now to the greatest finals of all time, the New York Rangers seven-game series win over the Vancouver Canucks in 1994. The drought was over! The Ranger's fans were delighted; New York had their first Cup win since l940. The Rangers had a star-studded lineup led by perhaps the game’s greatest captain ever, Mark Messier, along with Brian Leetch and goalie Mike Richter, while the underdog Canucks were led by the "Russian Rocket" Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden and goaltender Kirk McLean.
The two teams split the first two games of the series at Madison Square Garden in New York. Kirk Mclean was outstanding in the opener, stopping 52 shots as the Canucks won, 3-2, in overtime on a goal by Greg Adams. The Rangers bounced back to win Game Two, 3-1, before the series headed west to Vancouver.
New York easily won the two games in Vancouver by scores of 5-1 and 4-2. Game Five was a dandy with the Canucks pulling a major upset, a stunning 6-3 victory over New York, derailing the Rangers’ fans dreams of a cup win on home ice. The Canucks now had the momentum, and kept it, as Geoff Courtnall and Jeff Brown each scored twice in a 4-1 victory to send the series back to the Big Apple for a deciding Game Seven.
The series finale saw the Rangers clearly with their tales between their legs. The so-called leaders we spoke of earlier needed to step up, and they did. Brian Leetch and Adam Graves gave New York a 2-0 lead after the first period. Linden and Messier traded power play goals in the second period, so the Rangers led by two, 3-1, heading into the final period. Linden again scored to cut the deficit to one goal in the third but that's as close as the Canucks would come! After 54 years the Rangers’ Stanley Cup drought was over! The New York Rangers were Cup champions just as everyone had predicted prior to the series, but it was as wild, crazy and entertaining final.