With this year’s edition of the Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning being tied 2-2 heading into Game 5, it was guaranteed that one team would emerge victorious, take a 3-2, series lead, and that the Stanley Cup would be in the building in Chicago for Monday’s Game 6.
Any game in which the potential for the Stanley Cup to be won is present is a huge one for the sport of hockey. Tonight, we may see the Chicago Blackhawks skate around with hockey’s most prized trophy for the third time in just six years.
The Stanley Cup is what it’s all about, after all. I’m fortunate enough to have seen it be won in person once in my life, when Carolina did so in 2006. I’ll never forget that night. The euphoria of seeing my hometown team do something it had never done before was unbelievable. The goosebumps, the chills, and the feeling of surreality that I couldn’t escape are all things that I experienced that night which are just as clear to me now as they were that 19th night of June in 2006.
Fans in Chicago have had their team win it twice recently, but neither of those occurrences came in the Second City. Tonight, those who are lucky enough to be in attendance will be hoping that their Blackhawks will create a memory for them that will last until the end of their days.
To get you all excited for this potentially monumental occasion, I present to you five of the greatest moments in the history of the Stanley Cup being captured. This list isn’t going to look so much at the plays that won the Cups (there’s plenty of that already out there) as much as it is the moments that ensued after the Cup was won. Let’s take a look.
5. “And This One Will Last a Lifetime!”
The storybook 1994 New York Rangers were able to defeat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win the Stanley Cup on home ice at Madison Square Garden. For one of hockey’s most storied franchises, it may come as a huge surprise to any casual fans reading this to learn that the Rangers’ Stanley Cup championship in 1994 was the franchise’s first since 1940. That’s right. The Rangers had gone 54 years between Stanley Cup parades in the Big Apple.
To put that into perspective, the Montreal Canadiens captured Lord Stanley’s Cup 20 times in the span of the Rangers’ drought.
Hockey Hall-of-Famer Mark Messier was the team’s captain, and his lifting of the Cup in New York serves as the dominant moment and image in his career. Among the other notable members of that Rangers team were Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, Kevin Lowe, Sergei Zubov, Jeff Beukeboom, Adam Graves, Craig MacTavish, Stephane Matteau, and Nick Kypreos.
Sam Rosen’s iconic call often finds its way into Stanley Cup and NHL Playoff video montages to this very day. And since the Rangers haven’t won hockey’s ultimate prize since that night, the emotions it brings about are still fresh in the minds of the fans of the Broadway Blueshirts, serving as a constant reminder of what hockey in New York can be.
4. Stanley and Selanne
The foolproof recipe for a tear-jerking Stanley Cup moment is when an all-time great who deserves to hoist the Cup as much as anyone finally does so after a long wait. That’s exactly what happened when Anaheim won their first league title in 2007. Teemu Selanne, who was (just) 36 years of age at the time, had his 18 year wait ended when Anaheim knocked off the Ottawa Senators in that year’s Final.
At the time, the hockey world had no idea that Selanne would go on to play seven more seasons as an Anaheim Duck. This made it all the more special when the Finnish hero finally got his chance to take Stanley for a skate. Selanne’s teary-eyed speechlessness when asked about his feelings on the win has found its way into the league’s promotional commercial spots quite a few times since.
The Stanley Cup moments that see men who aren’t just great players, but are also exemplary people are some of the best in my mind. There aren’t many better players in the history of the sport than Selanne, but there also aren’t many better people. Tonight, it’s entirely something that we will see a moment eerily similar to Selanne’s, when a Finnish veteran who has never won a league championship has a chance to do so.
That man is Kimmo Timonen. Just last year, Selanne wore a “C” while Timonen wore an “A” as Team Finland skated to a surprise bronze medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics. The two Finns are good friends, and it’s easy to imagine a phone call coming from one to the other should the Blackhawks accomplish their goal in the next two games.
3. The Great One’s First
Unquestionably the greatest player in the history of hockey, Wayne Gretzky won four Stanley Cups in his career, each coming as a member of the prolific Edmonton Oilers dynasty in the 1980s.
While the other moments on this list are primarily significant because of the emotional value they represent, this one is all about symbolism.
The New York Islanders were a dynasty in the early 1980s. With Al Arbour leading the way behind the bench and Mike Bossy doing so on the ice, they won the Stanley Cup four consecutive times in 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983. Then in 1984, they met the Oilers in a rematch of 1983’s final. This time, it would be the Oilers getting the best of the Islanders and ending the Islanders’ run as hockey’s dynasty.
The changing of the guard that took place that night was one of the most symbolic moments in hockey history. The image above of Gretzky hoisting the Cup for the first time is one of the more iconic pictures in Stanley Cup history. Gretzky would go on to lead the Oilers to more championships in 1985, 1987, and 1988, but everybody remembers their first time, and for good reason.
Gretzky’s debut as a Stanley Cup winning captain was what validated and cemented The Great One as The Great One. While he was clearly hockey’s best player even without a Cup, winning four consecutive Hart Trophies before he ever lifted Lord Stanley, the kids of the 1990s didn’t see pictures of Hart Trophy winners holding that award plastered all over their favorite hockey books and magazines. Right or wrong, they saw the Stanley Cup being hoisted by whomever was good enough to win it. Gretzky’s legacy was made certain by the fact that he won it four times in five years, and it wouldn’t have been possible without his first in 1984.
“You’ve never won a Trophy until you’ve won this.” Well said, Wayne.
2. Vladimir’s Victory Lap
For my money the most touching moment of all on this list is Vladimir Konstantinov’s victory lap with the Stanley Cup after the Detroit Red Wings’ 1998 victory.
Konstantinov was a defenseman with the team during their run in 1997 that culminated with their first Stanley Cup in 42 years, but to say Konstantinov “was a defenseman” on that team really doesn’t do him justice. “Vlad the Impaler” as he was sometimes known actually finished second in the league in Norris Trophy voting in 1997.
Tragically, just a few days after the Cup was won, Konstantinov was involved in a limousine accident that left him partially paralyzed and caused him to suffer significant cognitive damage. His career was one that showed unrivaled promise. Had he never stepped into that limousine that night, it is entirely possible that Konstantinov would have been as highly regarded as Nicklas Lidstrom was throughout his career. Konstantinov’s hard-nosed, physical style was the perfect foil to the beauty of Lidstrom’s cerebral game.
Part of the fabled, legendary Russian Five, it’s nothing short of tragic that such a promising career was cut short by such a devastating accident.
But Konstantinov would have his moment a year later when Detroit repeated as Stanley Cup champions in 1998. Wearing a jersey and rolled out in a wheel chair, Konstantinov was handed the Cup by captain Steve Yzerman before Yzerman even lifted it himself. Konstantinov was then led around the rink by Yzerman, his Russian brothers, and the rest of his teammates in a beautiful moment that was practically made for TV.
1. “And After Twenty-Two Years…”
This was inarguably one of the greatest moments in the history of sport. It was almost certainly the greatest moment in the history of the NHL. In terms of hockey history, it probably lags only behind the Miracle on Ice.
Bourque had loyally spent each of the 21 years of his career in the same city playing for the same team. As a Boston Bruin, Bourque had established himself as one of the greatest players in the history of hockey. Bourque and the Bruins had reached the Stanley Cup Final twice during his tenure there, but both runs ended in defeat.
The Bruins were realistic with themselves. They knew that either they could keep Bourque for the remainder of his career, meaning he would retire a Bruin but without a Stanley Cup, or they could move him to a legitimate contender and hope that it would work out for him in the end.
So in the middle of his 21st season, Bourque was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche were loaded. Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Chris Drury, Adam Deadmarsh, Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay, Claude Lemieux, Adam Foote, Sandis Ozolinsh, and the iconic Patrick Roy made up a core that is up there with the best ever assembled. By adding Bourque, it appeared to be a virtual guarantee that the Avalanche would claim the 2000 Stanley Cup.
But it was not to be. The Avalanche fell in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final to the Dallas Stars, who would go on to fall to the New Jersey Devils in that year’s Final.
Crushed by the defeat, Bourque decided to return for one more run at the Cup in the 2000-2001 season. His decision proved to be one of brilliance. The 2000-2001 Colorado Avalanche were a machine. Their 52-16-10-4 regular season record proved that. Bourque was as magnificent as ever despite his advanced age, as he put up 59 points in 80 regular season games.
The Avalanche went on to knock off the defending champion Devils in the 2001 Stanley Cup Final, and what happened when Gary Bettman handed the Cup to captain Joe Sakic is forever etched in the minds of those who witnessed the moment either live or on television:
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Kimmo Timonen’s inspiring and courage-filled storyline appears to be the closest possible thing to a moment that could feasibly crack a list like this that we could see this year. Timonen is a wonderful player and even better man, and watching him skate with the Cup would be a heartwarming moment for the ages. That does not, however, downplay the significance of winning the Stanley Cup to each and every one of these individual players.
Every single player on the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning has dreamed of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup for their entire lives. They’ve put in countless hours, days, weeks, months, and years of tireless work to get themselves to this point. Tonight, every player on the Blackhawks has a chance to realize this dream. Some would be doing so for the second and even third time. If Tampa Bay holds off elimination and wins Game 7 on home ice, every single player on that team with the lone exception of Val Filpulla would be winning the Stanley Cup for the first time.
The winning of the Stanley Cup is something that happens every year, but it never gets old. It always feels new and fresh for hockey fans to watch a group of players accomplish what they’ve been working toward their whole lives, and we get to see it again at some point over the next few days. What a trophy, and what a sport.