In Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, Dallas Stars winger Brett Hull had the puck on his stick in triple overtime. With Buffalo Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek sprawled out in the crease, Hull flung the game-winning goal into the net as the Stars celebrated their first Stanley Cup.
The 1998-99 team had some of the best players in franchise history, including Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, and Sergei Zubov. In the mid to late 90s, the Stars consistently won their division but would be cast aside in the playoffs by much deeper teams, like the Detriot Red Wings. But with free-agent additions like Brett Hull and Ed Belfour, the Stars became a powerhouse and set a franchise record with 114 points on the season.
While the Stars made it to the Cup Final again the following season (losing to the New Jersey Devils), the Sabres, who also had one of the best players in the league, watched their short-lived opportunity for glory evaporate. To better understand the context and impact of Hull’s goal, here’s a look at the two teams, how they got to the Final, and what happened in Game 6.
Tale of the Tape
The 1998-99 Sabres were not pushovers. As they say, when a goalie gets hot in the playoffs, he can become an unstoppable force who can carry a team deep into the playoffs, much like Carey Price is doing for the Montreal Canadiens in 2021. Dominik Hasek was even better. Hasek posted a 1.77 goals-against average (GAA), and a .939 save percentage (SV%) in 19 games in the 1999 playoffs. In the regular season, he led the NHL in save percentage for the sixth straight time, en route to winning the Vezina Trophy. The seventh-seeded Sabres got hot at the right time, beating the Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
In the first three rounds, the Bruins were the only team to win more than one game against the Sabres. When Hasek was injured and replaced by backup Dwayne Rolston, the Sabres lost to Boston in Game 5, and when he missed two games in the Eastern Conference Final, Rolston won the first game against Toronto but lost Game 2. Hasek then returned and didn’t lose a game the rest of the series to help Buffalo reach their first Stanley Cup Final since the 1974-75 season.
On the other hand, the Stars finished the regular season as the top-seeded team in the West and faced the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. In the 1997 playoffs, the seventh-seeded Oilers had upset the higher-seeded Stars, but in 1999, Dallas earned a first-round sweep. In the second round, the Stars cruised to a 4-2 series win against the St. Louis Blues
The Western Conference Final against the Avalanche is where Stars goaltender Ed Belfour shined. He allowed four goals through the first three games, including a shutout in Game 3, to give Dallas a 2-1 series lead. Colorado won Game 4 in OT and scored 7 goals in Game 5. However, Belfour bounced back in Games 6 and 7, surrendering one goal in each game. Six seasons removed from changing cities and the team’s identity, the Stars headed to the Final.
Dallas and Buffalo traded wins through the first four games. Game 1 had Buffalo’s Jason Whooley score with under five minutes to go in the first overtime. Hull scored the game-winning goal in Game 2 before Derian Hatcher scored an empty-net goal in a 4-2 Dallas win.
Games 3 and 4 were decided by one goal. Modano and Hull were both injured during the series. Modano played through a wrist injury, and Hull’s knees were so bad that he was apparently limping in overtime in Game 6. At home for Game 5, Belfour shut out the Sabres to give the Stars the series lead.
The first to score in Game 6 was Jere Lehtinen off a weird-angle shot that banked off Hasek’s pad just over halfway through the first period. Buffalo tied the game with 1:40 to play in the second off of a snipe from Stu Barnes, whose goal in Game 1 sparked a third-period comeback for the Sabres. The game would stay tied through the entire third period and two subsequent overtime periods.
The fatigue set in during overtime and both teams looked sluggish. They both created rushes, but Hasek and Belfour snuffed out every chance in the first two overtime periods. With 5:10 left in the third overtime, Lehtinen took a shot from the faceoff dot, and Hull dangled it past Hasek to score the series-winning goal.
When the goal was scored, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff didn’t challenge the legality of Hull scoring from inside the crease. However, when the team returned to the locker room, and he saw the replay, Ruff returned to the ice demanding to know why the goal had not been reviewed or overturned.
During the regular season, the NHL had made the crease bigger and made it illegal for the opposition to plant themselves in the crease to score a goal, in an attempt to protect goalies from onrushing players. The NHL had cracked down on this new rule, and Buffalo later argued that some overturned goals earlier in the season were less offensive than Hull’s Cup-winning goal.
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Replays of the goal showed that Hull’s skate was inside the crease before he shot the puck into the net. Bryan Lewis, a former referee and the NHL’s Director of Officiating at the time, reviewed the goal after the game and validated it. He said that because Hull had the puck before entering the crease and maintained possession, the goal stood and the Stars won the Cup. Buffalo infamously refers to this moment as the “no goal” and refused to accept the league’s explanation of why the goal had counted. The rule eventually faded out, but the NHL claimed that goal was reviewed that night and that Hull maintained possession without disrupting the goaltender.
The Stars continued to be a contender, only missing the playoffs twice over the next ten seasons. Dallas returned to the Stanley Cup Final the next year, but lost to the New Jersey Devils, 4-2 in the series. The Stars continued to develop great talents like Marty Turco and Brendan Morrow, who were mentored by Modano and Hatcher, and Morrow became captain before the 2006-07 season.
The Sabres made playoff appearances in the following two seasons before embracing a rebuild. They had short runs in the mid-2000s and in the early 2010s, but now hold the record for the longest playoff drought after missing the playoffs for the last 10 seasons.
Dallas Stars writer at ‘The Hockey Writers’. I’ve previously covered college sports at the University at Albany. I secretly love to analyze trades from the past and observe the impact on a team’s future.