Christmas has come early this year, hockey fans and nestled gently around TVs across North America Thursday night will be the gift we have hoped for all season – Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Is there any single game in sports that is as intense, as exciting, or even as enjoyable? We don’t think so, which is why the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks have a chance to write their own history, so we figured we would take a look back at some of the best or most notable Stanley Cup Final Game 7’s in NHL history.
Since the expansion of the NHL in 1967, there have been eight series to take it to the final game, with the last coming in 2009 when the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1. Just to put into perspective how rare of an occurrence it is, the World Series has gone seven games 14 times in that same time.
Out of all eight which is the greatest of all-time?
The date was May 18, 1971 and it was a classic original six matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City. The Blackhawks led late in the second period and it appeared that they would soon be celebrating, as long as their defense continued their strong play.
After a fluke goal from center ice by Jacques Lemaire near the end of the second, the Canadiens cut the lead in half before Henri Richard tied the score just before the intermission. They knew it wouldn’t be easy to win the Cup at Chicago Stadium, probably the loudest arena in the NHL during those days.
The Canadiens came out and Richard tallied again, only 2:34 into the third period to take the lead and held on to win it. For Richard it was his tenth Stanley Cup, and the franchise’s third in four years.
From a guy that won the most, to a guy that just couldn’t finish the job.
After that classic, the next Game 7 didn’t come until 1987, when goaltender Ron Hextall helped lead the Philadelphia Flyers to their second Stanley Cup appearance in three years. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy, as playoff MVP but that was the only hardware he would earn in the postseason. Hextall was a rookie who was just up against the wrong team at the wrong time – the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were looking for their third championship in four years. After what was one of the most thrilling Game 6’s of the 1980s, a game in which the Flyers managed a 3-2 comeback win, the Flyers lacked confidence in Game 7 and the Oilers pounced.
The Flyers took an early 1-0 lead but were left frustrated shortly after as Mark Messier and Jari Kurri scored. The Oilers tacked on one more and again hoisted the Cup around in front of their home fans. Hextall would never quite be the same after that despite a chance at redemption in the 1997 finals, only to be swept by the Red Wings.
In 2003, another underdog, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, made it’s first Stanley Cup Final berth against the New Jersey Devils and soon found themselves in Game 7. The Mighty Ducks lost the first two games before coming back to force the tiebreaker but it was all Devils’ forward Mike Rupp, the most unlikely of heroes, who gave New Jersey it’s third Cup in nine years. Rupp started the scoring in the first period and added an assist in the second and third period, to give the Devils a 3-0 win.
To this day, Ducks fans contest that if the team’s best player, Paul Kariya, hadn’t been knocked out by a controversial hit in Game 6 by Devils defenseman Scott Stevens, Game 7 might have went very differently. The Mighty Ducks came into the league for the 1993-94 season, which was also a year of another classic Game 7.
The Canucks were looking for their first Cup in franchise history but standing in the way was a team of destiny, a team that hadn’t won it in 54 years. That team was the New York Rangers.
The Rangers hosted Game 7, thanks to finishing the regular season with the NHL’s best record. They looked to put the Canucks away early, thanks to two first period goals from Brian Leetch and Adam Graves, to give them a 2-0 lead at intermission. But no one said ending a drought of that magnitude would be easy and the Canuck fought back. They cut the margin to 2-1 but the Rangers tacked on another off of the stick of Mark Messier.
The Canuck made it interesting though when Trevor Linden scored with 15:10 to play in the contest. As the minutes ticked off the clock it felt like a lifetime but the Rangers eventually held on and boy was there a party on Broadway!
So there you have it, some of the best or at least most noteworthy Game 7’s the NHL has had in the Finals. Now we await another chapter in history. Never has it gone into overtime, but if you ask us, we don’t care who wins, if it means we get a “next goal hoists the cup” type of scenario.
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS