Hockey fans in Steel Town, USA look back on May 26 with a great amount of fondness. In addition, this date was a big date for coaching changes in the National Hockey League and it also saw the start of a new tradition after winning the Stanley Cup.
Penguins Rule the Day
May 26 has given Pittsburgh Penguins fans many reasons to cheer over the years. Starting in 1986, when Mario Lemieux won the Lester Pearson Award presented to the outstanding player in the NHL, as voted by the NHL Players Association members. Lemieux scored 48 goals and 141 points during his second full season in the league. Today, this trophy is known as the Ted Lindsay Award.
On May 26, 1992, the Penguins opened the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, who came into the series with an NHL record 11-game playoff winning streak. They appeared to be well on their way to their 12th straight victory with a 4-1 lead midway through the second period.
Rick Tocchet and Lemieux started the comeback by lighting the lamp to cut the Chicago lead down to 4-3 before the second intermission. Jaromir Jagr evened up the score with under five minutes to play before Lemieux struck again with just 13 seconds left on the clock to secure a 5-4 victory.
Fast forward to 2009, where the Penguins earned their second straight Eastern Conference championship on this date. They beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1, to complete a four-game sweep and return to the Stanley Cup Final for a rematch with the Detroit Red Wings, who beat them in 2008.
The Penguins earned yet another trip to the Stanley Cup Final on May 26, 2016. This time they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Rookie Bryan Rust scored both Pittsburgh goals as they returned to the championship series for the first time since 2009.
A New Tradition is Born
The Edmonton Oilers beat the Boston Bruins 6-3, on May 26, 1988, in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. This completed a four-game sweep even though it was technically the fifth game after a power outage wiped out the previous game in Boston. Wayne Gretzky, in his final game with the Oilers, had a goal and two assists to become the first player in NHL history to score 250 postseason points. The Oilers were also the first team to win 11 home games in a single playoff year.
Shortly after winning their fourth Stanley Cup in the past five seasons, the Oilers gathered around the greatest trophy in sports to snap a photo. They were the first team to do so, which has become standard practice nowadays.
The Coaching Shuffle
On May 26, 1978, the Vancouver Canucks hired Harry Neale as the sixth head coach in team history. He replaced Orland Kurtenbach. Neale led the Canucks to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons. His time as head coach ended in 1982 after he was suspended for 10 games for getting into an altercation with a fan in Quebec. Roger Neilson took over and led the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final. Neale was promoted to general manager at the end of the season, in a deal that was worked out before the suspension.
The Toronto Maple Leafs hired Dan Maloney as their head coach on May 26, 1984. Maloney took over for Mike Nykoluk. He lasted just two seasons behind the bench.
The Blackhawks named Bob Murdoch as their new head coach on May 27, 1987. Murdoch was the 27th coach in Chicago’s team history. The 1987-88 season was the only one Murdoch spent as Blackhawks’ head coach. He later became the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets in 1989, replacing Maloney.
The Montreal Canadiens hired Alain Vigneault as their new head coach, on May 26, 1997 the 25th in team history. Vigneault replaced Mario Tremblay, who had resigned following the 1996-97 NHL season. He leads the Canadiens to the playoffs in his first season but failed to earn a postseason berth in the next two. He is fired after 5-13-20 start to the 2000-01 season and replaced by Michel Therrien.
On May 26, 2004, the Florida Panthers named Mike Keenan as the team’s new general manager and Jacques Martin as their new head coach. The move came two days after the team fired general manager Rick Dudley.
Odds & Ends
Bobby Hull was awarded the Hart Trophy, on May 26, 1966, for being the NHL’s most valuable player. He scored 54 goals and 97 points in 65 games for the Blackhawks to win the Hart for the second straight season.
The Bruins acquired Rick Middleton, on May 26, 1976, for the New York Rangers, in exchange for Ken Hodge. Middleton played 12 seasons in Boston, scoring 402 goals and 898 points in 881 games. Hodge was nearly the end of his career and played in just over one season with the Rangers.
The following year, on May 26, 1977, Quebec Nordiques defeated the Jets 8-2, to win the 1977 Avco Cup, as the champions of the World Hockey Association. This would be the franchise’s last championship until they won the 1996 Stanley Cup as the Colorado Avalanche.
On May 26, 1987, Brian Propp tied a team playoff record with four assists as the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Oilers 4-3, in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Flyers went on to win Game 6 to force a final showdown after trailing 3-1 in the series, but they could not complete the comeback.
Neal Broten was the hero for the New Jersey Devils on May 26, 1995. His second goal of the night, in overtime, gave the Devils a 2-1 win over the Penguins, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final. This was Broten’s lone playoff overtime of his 17-season NHL career.
The Dallas Stars beat the Avalanche 3-0, on May 26, 1999, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final. Ed Belfour made 34 saves to record his sixth career playoff shutout, while Joe Nieuwendyk scored a goal and added two assists in the win.
Two years later, the Avalanche beat the Devils 5-0, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Goaltender Patrick Roy made 25 saves to earn his 18th playoff shutout and his ninth consecutive win the in the Final. Joe Sakic was the offensive hero for Colorado with a pair of goals.
The Rangers fended off elimination, on May 26, 2015, with a 7-3 victory at the Lightning, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. Derick Brassard led the offensive onslaught with a pair of assists to go along with his hat trick. Both T.J. Miller and Rick Nash finished the game with a goal and three assists.
Happy Birthday to You
There have only been 17 players born on May 26 to play in the NHL. The most notable names of the bunch are P.J. Stock (45), Jimmy Vesey (27), Josh Leivo (27) and Mathew Barzal (23).