Cup vault

The Stanley Cup is won in Game 7 of wonderfully unstructured all-day shinny, the outdoor ice thick with the snow of scratching skates, a scrape with rinkside shovels a waste of time and energy.

It is won on the street, every asphalt match considered Game 7, flimsy nets pulled aside to the holler of “Car!”, the driver an inconvenient interruption as the clock ticks down to the final siren that often is the call of someone’s mother announcing that it’s suppertime.

The Stanley Cup is won in the Game 7 dreams of boys and girls, in the fantasy of a beer-leaguer, in the imagination of a coach guiding peewees or professionals.

On Monday, hockey’s most coveted trophy will be won by the Florida Panthers or Edmonton Oilers in the 18th sudden-victory, sudden-death Stanley Cup Final Game 7 in NHL history (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC).

Pietrangelo 2019

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presents the 2019 Stanley Cup to St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo at TD Garden in Boston. It was the previous time the Stanley Cup Final went the full seven games.

The presentation will be made to the winning captain by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on the ice of Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida. The 36-pound Cup will feel weightless in the arms of the champions; the game’s hero, likely as dictated by the score sheet, will be among the joyful celebrants.

To the opponent, the loss of the trophy will weigh very heavily all summer long, and probably much longer than that.

It is not always the goal-scorer or the goalie’s timely, impossible save that best defines “hero.” Maybe it’s one key shift. Perhaps an effective checking assignment or a blocked shot or a skater who we will learn has played through injury that, without stakes this high, never would have laced his skates.


Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe scored the championship-clinching goal in Game 7 of the 1955 Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens.

Since 1939, upon the adoption of a best-of-7 format, Stanley Cup Playoff series have gone to a seventh game 197 times.

Only 17 times between 1942 and 2019 has that happened in a Stanley Cup Final, and seven times, a Hockey Hall of Fame-bound legend has scored the clinching goal: Babe Pratt, 1945; Gordie Howe, 1955; Andy Bathgate, 1964; Jean Beliveau, 1965; Henri Richard, 1971; Jari Kurri, 1987; Mark Messier, 1994.

Surely, it’s fitting that the first Final-round Game 7 came in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ historic 1942 rally against the Detroit Red Wings, down 3-0 before rallying to win four straight. That comeback, the only of its kind in League history, is now the goal of the Oilers, 82 years later.

On seven occasions, Game 7 in a Stanley Cup Final has been decided by a single goal. The largest margin of victory has been four goals, all three times in 4-0 shutouts. Never has a winner scored more than four goals.

The Maple Leafs and Red Wings have each won a Final-round Game 7 three times, the Montreal Canadiens twice, nine other teams once each.

Langelle Leafs

Pete Langelle in a 1940s portrait. Langelle completed the Toronto Maple Leafs’ historic 1942 comeback with what would be the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 7 of the 1942 Final.

Maple Leafs forward Pete Langelle was the first to be proclaimed a hero on April 18, 1942, his goal at 9:48 of the third period ultimately clinching the Cup for Toronto in a 3-1 come-from-behind victory.

It wasn’t a highlight-reel goal, not that many are in the playoffs given checking that suffocates and pucks that are banged in from dirty-ice goalmouth scrums.

Detroit defenseman Black Jack Stewart’s wrist had been weakened by injury to the extent that his stick was fastened to his glove by a rubber band. Without the strength to swat at a puck sailing above goalie Johnny Mowers, Stewart was helpless when Langelle only had to jam in the decisive goal when it dropped.

Twice, Stanley Cup Final Game 7s have needed overtime to declare a champion, the Red Wings winning both: in 1950, Pete Babando scored at 8:31 of double overtime to push Detroit past the New York Rangers, and in 1954, Tony Leswick’s goal at 4:29 of overtime defeated the Canadiens.

Wings Babando

The Detroit Free Press blares across its front page the Red Wings’ double-overtime Game 7 Stanley Cup win in 1950 against the New York Rangers. At right, scoring hero Pete Babando.

Four times, a goaltender has recorded a shutout in a winner-take-all Game 7: Tim Thomas for the Boston Bruins in 2011; Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils, 2003; Gump Worsley, Canadiens, 1965; and Johnny Bower, Maple Leafs, 1964.

Five players share the lead for points (three) in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final: Brad Marchand, Bruins, 2011; Mike Rupp, Devils, 2003; Alex Tanguay, Colorado Avalanche, 2001; Dick Duff and Bobby Rousseau, Canadiens, 1965.

Marchand and teammate Patrice Bergeron are the most recent of 11 two-goal scorers in Game 7 of a Final, both in 2011.

Since the 1965 introduction of the Conn Smythe Trophy, voted to the most valuable player in the postseason, only once has it been awarded to the man who scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in a seventh game: Beliveau won the inaugural Conn Smythe in 1965.

Thomas Bower

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and Toronto Maple Leafs’ Johnny Bower are two of the four goalies who have recorded Stanley Cup Final Game 7 shutouts. Here, Thomas hoists the 2011 Cup, the pipe-smoking Bower signing autographs at the start of his team’s 1964 championship parade.

In the late Beliveau’s 1994 autobiography, there is not a single mention of his Smythe award, a measure of a legend to whom his team was everything.

The hero of Game 7 on Monday will soon be determined. What is certain is this: the player’s name will forever be part of hockey’s lore, and young fans will sleep in their Oilers or Panthers jerseys, hearts bursting or broken.

Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada’s Governor-General who in 1893 donated as a parting gift the trophy bearing his name, couldn’t have imagined a better, more dramatic way than this Game 7, the 18th in an unforgettable series, to crown his champion.

outdoor rink

The Stanley Cup is won on every sheet of ice, in every street hockey game and in the dreams of youngsters. Here, a solitary skater on the rink at Cedar Park Heights in Montreal suburban Pointe-Claire in February 2020.

Top photo: The original Stanley Cup, first presented in 1893, is displayed in the vault of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto under the watchful gaze of Lord Stanley of Preston.

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