The pursuit of the Stanley Cup is nothing short of majestic.
There are no shortage of classic duels and glorious surprises, so when we were assigned to narrow it down to the Top-10 Stanley Cup finals, we knew it would be a daunting task.
Early discussion suggests the current battle between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, which continues tonight at Joe Louis Arena, might one day be part of this discussion.
But for now, it merely serves as a backdrop to these 10 great Stanley Cup series.
10. 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins defeat Minnesota North Stars in six games
This was the last title for Badger Bob Johnson and the first of back-to-back titles for The Magnificent One, Mario Lemieux. Despite sitting out one game with a wonky back, Lemieux still managed five goals and 12 points in the series to claim the Conn Smythe Trophy. The North Stars won the first and third games to take a 2-1 lead, but that was quickly forgotten when the Penguins won the final three games and cruised to an 8-0 victory in the clincher.
9. 1989 Calgary Flames defeat Montreal Canadiens in six games
For a team that was nearly bounced in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks (remember Stan Smyl’s breakaway on Mike Vernon), the Flames survived and became the first visiting team to clinch the Cup at the fabled Montreal Forum. The Habs won Game 3 in double overtime to take a 2-1 series edge, but the Flames rallied to win the next three. Al MacInnis, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto and Doug Gilmour all played key roles in the final.
8. 1971 Montreal Canadiens defeat Chicago Blackhawks in seven games
Just one season removed from missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 years, the Canadiens erased a 2-0 series deficit and roared back to beat the Blackhawks. Brothers Frank and Pete Mahovlich combined for nine goals and 15 points in the final, Henri Richard scored the tying and winning goals in the clincher and this served as the coming-out party for a rookie goalie named Ken Dryden, who went 12-8 with a 3.00 goals against average to claim the Conn Smythe Trophy.
7. 1954 Detroit Red Wings defeat Montreal Canadiens in seven games
The third Stanley Cup for head coach Tommy Ivan in six seasons is only complete when Tony Leswick scores at 4:20 of the first overtime. Alex Delvecchio led the way with two goals and six points in six games and Red Wings president Marguerite Norris became the first woman in history to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
6. 1980 New York Islanders defeat Philadelphia Flyers in six games
Though only five-years-old at the time, this is one of my first playoff memories. Who can forget Bob Nystrom flying down the wing with the flowing locks and pumping in the series winner at 7:11 of the first overtime? The Islanders also won the series opener in overtime and this was the beginning of a dynasty as the Islanders won four consecutive Cups.
5. 1999 Dallas Stars defeat Buffalo Sabers in six games
What’s a list like this without a little controversy? Brett Hull delivered the series winning at 14:51 of the third overtime period in Game 6 and with the celebration already underway, the folks in the video review booth decided not to look at whether or not Hull’s skate was in the crease. For the record it was, but the goal counted and the Cup was presented, much to the chagrin of Dominik Hasek and company. Stars goalie Ed Belfour allows just nine goals, while posting one shutout and a goals against average of 1.26.
4. 1994 New York Rangers defeat Vancouver Canucks in seven games
Maybe part of the allure was the Rangers claiming the Cup for the first time in 54 years under the guidance of Mike Keenan. Another part was watching the Canucks battle back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the next two to go the distance. The series wasn’t complete without captain Mark Messier delivering the series winner, though defenceman Brian Leetch was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
3. 1950 Detroit Red Wings defeat New York Rangers in seven games
If going the distance wasn’t enough for you, how about the fact the series was decided when Pete Babando scored at 8:31 of the second overtime? Don Raleigh had two overtime winners (Game 4 and 5) in the series for the Rangers, but the Red Wings found a way to win without having Gordie Howe, who sustained a serious head injury in the first game of the playoffs. Goalie Harry Lumley posts a 2.22 goals against average with one shutout for Detroit.
2. 1987 Edmonton Oilers defeat Philadelphia Flyers in seven games
In the final game, there were no overtime heroics but this was hockey the way it was meant to be played and was part of a string of four Stanley Cups in five seasons for the run-and-gun Oilers. Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri combined for seven goals and 20 points, but Flyers goalie Ron Hextall was so brilliant in defeat that he walked away with the Conn Smythe Trophy.
1. 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs defeat the Detroit Red Wings in seven games
For the first and only time in Stanley Cup history, the Maple Leafs rebound from an 0-3 deficit to capture hockey’s biggest prize. Toronto stayed alive with a 4-3 victory in Game 4, then stole the momentum with a 9-3 win in Game 5, blanked the Red Wings 3-0 in Game 6 and then earned a 3-1 win in Game 7, before a crowd of more than 16,000 at Maple Leaf Gardens to cap the comeback. Pete Langelle provided the game-winner midway through the third period.
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