It's do-or-die time for the Vegas Golden Knights tonight at T-Mobile Arena in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The expansion darlings are just one loss away from seeing their magical season come to end, so they will need to be at their best to defeat the Washington Capitals three times in a row now to win the National Hockey League championship and a year's ownership of Lord Stanley's silver chalice.
Of course, this got us thinking about the best Finals in NHL history, in terms of excitement, tension, and eventual incredulity we associate with hockey's ultimate accomplishment. It's about more than just the beards, of course: It's about crazy moments on the ice, quality hockey, and the ultimate cluelessness of which team was going to emerge victorious in the end. After all, you never know ... until you know.
So here's our list of the ten best Stanley Cup Finals in NHL history. Enjoy!
10. Colorado Avalanche vs. New Jersey Devils, 2001: The Devils were the defending champions, and this series also featured an amazing battle between all-time great goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. Prior to this, Brodeur had won two Cups and Roy had captured three. Roy was the all-time wins leader, and Brodeur eventually would supplant him. The first four games were split, each winning once on the opponent's ice. In Game 5 at Colorado, the Devils won, 4-1, setting up a chance to clinch back home in Game 6. But in the last hurrah of his career, Roy gave up just one goal in the final two games as the Avalanche came from behind to defeat the Devils and win the series in seven games. This matchup also is remembered for defenseman Ray Bourque finally winning the Cup after 22 seasons, although he had to leave Boston and come to Denver to do it.
9. New York Rangers vs. Vancouver Canucks, 1994: This was the Rangers' only Stanley Cup-winning season since 1940, and it was a dramatic final that went seven games. After taking a 3-1 lead, New York let Vancouver back in the series by losing Game 5 at home and Game 6 on the road, while getting hammered by three goals in each game. While team leader Mark Messier had guaranteed a win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey, he did not do the same for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. However, he could have as he scored the title-clinching goal in the second period of a 3-2 win for the Rangers.
8. New Jersey Devils vs. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, 2003: Yes, that was actually the team name at the time for the Ducks, and they received a historic performance from their goaltender, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, on the way to Game 7 of the Finals against Brodeur and the Devils. Home ice meant everything in this series, as New Jersey shutout Anaheim in both Game 1 and Game 2 at home, before the Ducks returned the favor by winning both Game 3 and Game 4 at home in overtime. The Devils won Game 5, and the Ducks won Game 6 to set up the ultimate event in sports. Anaheim finally ran out of gas as Brodeur delivered his third shutout of the Finals and clinched New Jersey's third Cup in nine seasons. The Ducks' consolation was Giguere's Conn Smythe recognition, but the Devils got Lord Stanley.
7. Edmonton Oilers vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 1987: For the second time in three seasons, the Oilers and the Flyers went at it in the Finals, and this was the only time in his four Cup-winning seasons that Wayne Gretzky was pushed to a seventh game in the championship round. The Great One had 11 points in seven games as Edmonton won its third Cup, but it wasn't easy. After the Oilers took a 3-1 series lead, the Flyers fought back in Game 5 on the road and Game 6 at home with narrow, one-goal victories to even the series and force a Game 7 in Edmonton. The gritty Oilers took care of business, winning 3-1, and Gretzky would win a fourth Cup the following year.
6. Boston Bruins vs. Vancouver Canucks, 2011: The most recent entry on our list, this one stands out for the sheer competitiveness. The Canucks won three one-goal games to take a 3-2 series lead, including two 1-0 games and an overtime victory as well. The Bruins would not be denied, however, winning Game 6 at home in blowout fashion and then going back to Vancouver for Game 7 poised for the kill. And that's what Boston did to the Canucks: A 4-0 win in Game 7 for the Bruins left no doubt which team was the best one on the ice in this series, despite Vancouver's regular-season dominance that earned it the Presidents' Trophy. You'll notice the Canucks appear twice on this list, losing two very memorable Stanley Cup Finals, and they've yet to win the Cup themselves. Sometimes, history is cruel.
5. Montreal Canadiens vs. Chicago Black Hawks, 1971: The Chicago franchise didn't change its team nickname to one word until 1986, so these were the old-school Chicago boys from the Original Six era. And they ran into the most amazing goalkeeping wunderkind ever in rookie Ken Dryden. He won the Conn Smythe before he won the Calder Trophy (given to the best rookie); think about that for a moment. Dryden had just six regular-season starts under his belt when he led his Montreal teammates to the first of six Stanley Cups they would win in the 1970s, and he did it by winning Game 7 on the road in Chicago after the home team had won every game of the series up to that point.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings, 2009: The Wings were the defending champions, having beaten the Pens in six games the previous year in the Finals. It was another series where the home team won every game ... until Game 7, when Pittsburgh stuck it to Hockeytown, winning 2-1, thanks to one of the most famous, last-second saves in Cup Finals history by Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Pittsburgh won Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road by identical 2-1 scores, as Fleury came up huge against a Detroit team gunning for its fifth Cup in 12 seasons. The Red Wings have not been back to the Finals since this postseason. Meanwhile, Fleury won two more Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017 before leading the Golden Knights to the Finals this season. If he can pull off a miracle in the next week, he'll merely be cementing his already huge playoff legendary status.
3. Detroit Red Wings vs. Montreal Canadiens, 1954: This is the most recent time that the Finals went to a Game 7 overtime scenario, the single-greatest moment in all of professional sports. It's a shame it hasn't happened more often, in truth. The Wings took a 3-1 series lead only to watch the Canadiens fight back with impressive defensive performances in both Game 5 and Game 6. That set up Game 7 in Hockeytown. Detroit had legendary goalie Terry Sawchuk in net, and perhaps that was all they needed in a winner-take-all situation like this. Fittingly, it was a somewhat fluky goal that handed Detroit the Cup, as left wing Tony Leswick centered the puck in the Red Wings offensive zone before Montreal defenseman Doug Harvey ended up deflecting it into his own net. Sometimes, you'd rather be lucky than good.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings, 1942: A few things stand out about this series. First, Detroit had posted a terrible 19-25-4 record in the regular season, but the Red Wings found themselves on the verge of winning the Cup anyway. Second, for decades, this was the only North American professional sports playoff series that saw a team overcome a 3-0 deficit to win four straight times. That's what the Leafs did here to deny the Wings a championship. Detroit won the first three games of the series, holding Toronto to just six goals combined in those three victories. Then, the Leafs woke up, scoring 19 times in the final four matchups to win the Cup. Toronto's 3-1 victory in Game 7 sealed the deal. Ironically, just three years later, the Maple Leafs would almost blow a 3-0 lead in the Cup Finals to Detroit ... but they won Game 7 to deny the Red Wings their own piece of history.
1. Detroit Red Wings vs. New York Rangers, 1950: You can see why they call it Hockeytown, as the Red Wings took part in our four most memorable Stanley Cup Finals in history. This series tops the list because Game 7 went to double overtime. Imagine being a fan of a team that goes to double OT today in Game 7 of the Finals. You'd be an insane wreck, knowing either heaven or hell could be just seconds away. In this one, Detroit took a 2-1 series lead before underdog New York won both Game 4 and Game 5 in overtime. That forced the Red Wings to win Game 6, which they did by a 5-4 score. Bring on Game 7. It was tied 3-3 at the end of regulation and the first 20-minute extra session, and then 8:31 into the second OT, Detroit left wing Pete Babando backhanded a shot past Hall of Fame goalie Chuck Rayner to win the Cup for the Red Wings. It just doesn't get any better than that, hockey fans, win or lose.