Top 10 Stanley Cup Finals Series
It is that most special time of year for hockey fans: The Stanley Cup Finals!!! The final round to determine the best team in the world, the stage for the best players to put on the greatest show the sport has to offer. If you look back through the history of the NHL, there have been many magical moments, games, duels, battles, and memories in the final series of each season since it began in 1926. But what are the greatest Finals series ever contested? Well that’s what I’m looking at here.
To be considered, the series doesn’t have to have gone the full seven games, though that does help. What makes the series great is the quality of hockey played. Did both teams play like champions and well enough to win the ultimate series? Could either team have won if a few events went the other way? These factors will help determine my list here. Also, there have to be multiple truly great games to land a series on here, not just a few stellar moments. My apologies to Bobby Orr, but game 4 of the 1970 finals does not get that series on this list. The Bruins dominated the Blues during the rest of the series which was not close or very interesting. The games need to be close, entertaining, and the series has to be tight, with both teams getting close to a title. As the Penguins and Sharks prepare to battle for the Cup, we can only hope that their duel joins this list someday. So here we go!
10. 2014, L.A. Kings vs New York Rangers, Kings in 5.
The closest five game series ever played. That’s the universal description of the 2014 Finals between NY and LA, and I can’t argue against that. All but one of these games were decided by one goal, and three of them required extra time to decide, including double overtime thrillers in games 2 and 5. The Kings won their second Stanley Cup, sealing a reputation as a resilient hockey team. They came back from down 3 games to 0 in the first round of the playoffs against San Jose, and won three game 7’s on the road. The Rangers managed to make it to the finals despite almost impossible scheduling of their games. Because Madison Square Garden expected little of the Rangers and overbooked Billy Joel, the Rangers had to play 5 playoff games in 7 nights, including two sets of back to back games. Somehow, a captain-less Ranger team rode Henrik Lundqvist to the Finals and battled the Kings in the most unlucky series they could possibly have contested. The Rangers played admirably and had several chances to win all the games they lost, except game 3. But because they didn’t I can’t justify this series going any higher than #10.
9. 2006, Carolina Hurricanes vs Edmonton Oilers, Hurricanes in 7
An unexpected classic and one that began to restore the luster to the Cup after the lockout season. That’s how the 2006 finals should be remembered. Both teams missed the previous playoffs, and got into contention behind great goaltending, experienced defensemen, and young offensive talent. The Hurricanes tied the record for the biggest one game comeback, coming back from down three goals to win the opener 5-4. The Oilers continued in freefall, losing 2 of the next three games badly. They had to use three different net minders, and somehow forced a game 7. Cam Ward was too good in game 7, and Carolina won their first Cup. The NHL won fans back with a great final series a year after a labor strike cost the entire 2004-2005 season. It lands this series at the 9th spot here.
8. 2001, Colorado Avalanche vs New Jersey Devils, Avalanche in 7
The winningest goaltenders of all time lead the best teams in the league to the finals and play seven games to decide the final. That’s a dream set up for the league, and that’s exactly what hockey got in 2001 when Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy led the Devils and Avalanche respectively to the finals. The teams alternated winning each game throughout the series. Ultimately, Colorado’s home ice advantage and Alex Tanguay’s 2 goal game in game 7 won the Avalanche’s second Stanley Cup. This was the last time that the top seeds in each conference met in the Finals. The series met all expectations, and was an instant classic.
7.2009, Pittsburgh Penguins vs Detroit Red Wings, Penguins in 7
Round one between these teams in 2008 was good. The rematch was even better. The Red Wings won the 2008 Stanley Cup over the Penguins, winning the final game on Pittsburgh’s home ice. The next year, the teams made it back to the finals and war ensued. The teams combined for a brutal battle, capped by a game 7 for the ages at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead early in the third when Tyler Kennedy scored his fifth goal of the series. Kris Draper cut the lead in half with 12 minutes to go in the season, and Detroit’s fans yelled lustily for their team to tie the game. Marc-Andre Fleury shut down Detroit the rest of the way to secure a revenge win for the Penguins. A great series heightened by the revenge factor. This year’s Penguins team should take notes on the way their ’09 counterparts performed.
6. 1987, Edmonton Oilers vs Philadelphia Flyers, Oilers in 7
For all the great moments Wayne Gretzky had in hockey, he was only in one great Stanley Cup finals, this underrated gem. The Oilers and Flyers played different ways and finished with the best records in the league. Edmonton played like their star, Wayne Gretkzy: with finesse, passing, and an overwhelming offensive skillset. The Flyers depended on a classic Philly recipe: grit, toughness, physical play, and great goaltending, in this case from Vezina Trophy winner Ron Hextall. Philly also had revenge on their mind. They lost the 1985 finals to Edmonton in 5 games. The contrast in styles and revenge factor made for a masterful series. The Flyers fought back from being down 3-1 in the series to force a game 7. After a 2-man advantage in the first minute of play they claimed the early lead. The Flyers just did not have enough defense to contain Gretzky, Messier, and a legendary Edmonton offense in game 7, however. Edmonton won their third Stanley Cup and sealed their place as one of hockey’s great dynasties.
5. 1942, Toronto Maple Leafs vs Detroit Red Wings, Leafs in 7.
This is the oldest series on the list. It also is among the most historic in all of sports. This was the first finals series to go the full seven games. More historically, it was the first time in any major team sport that a team came back from down three games to none to win a series, and this remains the only time it has ever happened in a championship round (Yes, the next time was the 2004 comeback by the Boston Red Sox over the NY Yankees in the league championship series). Detroit went up three games to none over the heavily favored Leafs before disintegrating in game 4. Red Wing Coach Jack Adams punched a referee and was suspended, while the team could not seal the series on home ice. They were obliterated 9-3 in game 5, then outscored 6-1 over the final two games to seal their infamous spot in hockey history.
4. 1950, Detroit Red Wings vs New York Rangers, Red Wings in 7.
Another old match up from ye olde days of the NHL when there were only six teams. And another series where the Rangers were affected by wonky scheduling. This is the only series where one team didn’t play a single home game. Madison Square Garden annually booked the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Baily’s Circus for Mid-April, so the Rangers couldn’t play a game in the Garden. Two games were played in Toronto and the other five were played in Detroit. And somehow the Rangers forced the series into a seventh game, and forced that deciding game into double overtime. Detroit won the game on Pete Babando’s 2nd goal of the game, his only two goals of the playoffs in his only season with the Red Wings. An incredible moment and marvelous series.
3. 2004, Tampa Bay Lightning vs Calgary Flames, Lightning in 7.
This series matched up two teams from small markets who had enjoyed little success at the time. Calgary had missed the playoffs for seven straight years before riding Jarome Iginla’s back to their first Finals since 1989. The Lightning had made the playoffs only twice in their twelve year history when they earned the best record in the Eastern Conference and powered their way to their first finals appearance. The series opened with uninteresting games one to three, but the teams amped it up for the final four games. Game 4 was a 1-0 goalie duel to Tampa. Game 5 went to Calgary in overtime. Game 6 also needed overtime, with the Flames holding a 3-2 lead in the series and a chance to win the Cup on home ice. Instead, Tampa escaped with a 3-2 victory in double overtime. The Lightning then survived a game 7 battle at home to win their first cup. This classic series left the world clamoring for more hockey that they would not get for a full year.
2. 2013, Chicago Blackhawks vs Boston Bruins, Blackhawks in 6
Two vanguard franchises of the NHL met to duel for the title in 2013. Both teams were recent Cup champions; both had remarkable runs to get to the finals in 2013. Both teams played with every ounce of energy they could muster. They combined for six competitive and dramatic games. They opened with a triple overtime classic, then immediately followed with another overtime game 2. There would be one more overtime game, but the most memorable game of the series ended in regulation. Needing a win to stay alive, the Bruins took a 2-1 lead into the final minutes of game 6 in Boston. Chicago put two goals behind Tuuka Rask within 17 seconds of each other to steal game 6 and the Cup on the road. It’s a painful memory for Bruins fans, but a legendary moment from a great series. It belongs high on this list.
1.1994, New York Rangers vs Vancouver Canucks, Rangers in 7
The 1990’s had very few great battles in the Finals. Five of the decade’s series were sweeps, including four consecutive sweeps from 1995 to 1998. In the middle of the decade, there lies a gem that cannot be ignored. The Rangers and Canucks were two denied franchises who had magical years and playoff runs in 1994. Mark Messier took his winning resume from Edmonton and gave New York the belief needed to be champions. They met a physical Vancouver team that looked to finish an improbable run from the 7th seed to the Stanley Cup. Vancouver won game one in overtime before getting beat up in games 2-4. The Canucks won games 6 and 7 in convincing fashion to force game 7 in the Garden. This is one of the best remembered games in Stanley Cup history. New York jumped to a 2-0 first period lead, and Messier put in a second period power play goal that gave the Rangers a lead they would not relinquish. New York won the game 3-2, and earned an emotional title for their long-suffering fans. It tops the list of most dramatic and greatest series in Stanley Cup History.