Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stanley Cup Drama

"Game 7, Stanley Cup final". How many kids have uttered this line?
The stuff of NHL legend is the stuff of street hockey routine.


On the eve of the 4th Stanley Cup Final game 7 of the decade, i thought it was a good time to talk about the hockey that's actually being played once again.

Contrary to what you might expect with 2 months of hockey played on the back of 6 months of hockey, it's rare for Stanley Cup finals to go the distance. In fact, only 14 series have gone to Game 7 in 69 runnings of that format. Prior to that, there were 8 Games 5's over 20 seasons sing that format.

Now, for all of us neutrals watching tomorrow, I don't think anything less than a close contest will do. And for anyone else who's lived out this dream on the street, unleashing the final buzzer beating shot in Game 7 (in OT, no doubt), a game with a late and dramatic goal is the only tonic to replace the team we actually care about.

Don't hold your breath for that either. Only 2 of those 22 series that went the entire distance were forced into overtime. On top of that, only 5 were settled by a goal coming any time after 10 minutes in the third (and one of those was at 10:30). In reality, it's just as likely that the game winning goal will come when you are settling down to watch in the first (4 have) or at least within the first two periods of the game – allowing for a 3rd period of clock-watching – as 9 Game 7's and 4 deciding Game 5's have done.

The good news is that the Detroit Red Wings are there. This is their NHL-leading 8th Stanley Cup Game 7, albeit their first in 45 years. Detroit has won 4 (one behind Toronto's record 5) and lost 3 (one behind Vancouver's city record of 4). More to the point, in the past at least, Detroit liked leaving it late. Both OT games featured Detroit, both also featured a Red Wings Cup parade. The 1950 final vs. the New York Rangers, with a winning goal in second overtime, must have been the perfect tension we are looking for. Their win 4 years later vs. us was alright, but for the obvious flaw.

Anyway, let's see. Triple OT?


Montreal in Game 7's

Over the years, Montreal has featured prominently in Game 7's. Of our 24 Cup victories, 2 have come in Game 7's, while 2 others have come in the 5th game of a 5-set (3 of which featured Blackhawks as losers).

Montreal is the only team to lose in two consecutive Game 7's. Those 2 came in 1954 and 1955. Quite remarkable to think that team was an OT goal in 1954, and perhaps a late second period save in 1955 to prevent a momentum shift, away from 8 consecutive Stanley Cups. In any case, it does mean the team played in games they could have walked away with the Cup an astounding 8 years in a row.

While the Habs played in the very first 5-game series to go the distance (and won their first Cup), their other claim to notoriety must surely be the fact they staged the most anti-climactic of all Game 7's when they beat Chicago in 1965. To mirror the rest of the series, the Canadiens pushed their home ice advantage home within 14 seconds of the opening faceoff in a Game 7 non-contest that ended 4-0 (their 3rd shutout of the finals). It makes one who wasn't there wonder what on earth was going on.


Game-winning goals

The other feature of tomorrow night's show is the stars on offer. The repeat final is giving us another chance to watch the best offensive flair against the best defenceman in a generation. It also pits 2 high scoring teams with many scoring stars against each other.

If you were sitting in the Detroit equivalent of a Molson zone, fans might be shoving for position in the Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen or Hossa areas – that Stanley Cup winning free beer all the sweeter. The equivalent in Pittsburgh for those watching on Jumbotron will see jostling for Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar and Staal.

But despite the fact that stars win Cups and stars get to finals (and into the HHOF). Is your bet best placed on a shooter? Or do the nerves of the occasion lend to a chippy and unlikely goal source. The list is peppered with legends, that is until a 6'6" German named Uwe showed us in 1996 that, actually, anyone is eligible to score that goal. Since that time, it's been a parade in second-tier players, particularly in Game 7s (no offense Tanguay). This article I read this morning takes note and suggests some of the likely unlikelys to watch as potential Rupps.

The complete list of Game 7 winning goalscorers is here, with time of goal and final score, opponent and year:

Pete Babando (8:31 OT2, 4-3 Detroit over NYR, 1950)
Tony Leswick (4:20 OT, 2-1 Detroit over Montreal, 1954)
Babe Pratt (12:14 3rd, 2-1 Toronto over Detroit, 1945)
Pete Langelle (9:48 3rd, 3-1 Toronto over Detroit, 1942)
Henri Richard (2:34 3rd, 3-2 Montreal over Chicago, 1971)
Gordie Howe (19:49 2nd, 3-1 Detroit over Montreal, 1955)
Jari Kurri (14:59 2nd, 3-1 Edmonton over Philly, 1987)
Ruslan Fedotenko (14:38 2nd, 3-1 Tampa Bay over Calgary, 2004)
Mark Messier (13:29 2nd, 3-2 New York over Vancouver, 1994)
Alex Tanguay (4:57 2nd, 3-1 Colorado over New Jersey, 2001)
Frantisek Kaberle (4:18 2nd, 3-1 Carolina over Edmonton, 2006)
Michael Rupp (2:22 2nd, 3-0 New Jersey over Anaheim, 2003)
Andy Bathgate (3:04 1st, 4-0 Toronto over Detroit, 1964)
Jean Beliveau (0:14 1st, 4-0 Montreal over Chicago, 1965)

Those last 2 guys had to wait near a full hour to realise what heroes they had become on the night. Not the stuff of street hockey legend...


For tonight, though, money's gotta be on experience – Fedotenko in 3rd OT?

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