On this holiest of Sundays I would like to extend my wishes for a happy and healthy Easter and Passover (which is still in progress) to all who are celebrating. This time of year conjures up thoughts of colored eggs and bunnies. The smell of matzoh ball soup and brisket fills Jewish kitchens, matzoh and kosher wine are on display at the local supermarket along side the spiral ham.
To the hockey fan, holiday week in April coincides with the battle for hockey’s holy grail! The fight for the Stanley Cup began this week.
What is unique about the sport of hockey is the slight change in the rules once the post-season begins. During the regular season tie games are decided by a five-minute overtime period in which each team is only allowed to field three skaters and a goaltender. The first team to score wins the game. If the game is still tied after the five minute session the game is settled via a tie breaking shootout. Each team takes turns having a skater go one on one with the opposing goaltender for a minimum of 3 rounds with the winner scroring one more time than the other team.
So here is the slight but powerful change in the rules. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs there is no 3 on 3 for five minutes, and shootouts go out the window too. What the system is replaced with is one simple rule, next goal wins. Teams continue the game the way it was meant to be played, the overtime rules are the same as regulation. Five skaters an a goaltender for each team just like the first three periods.
Unique to the rules in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the fact that the game can end in ten seconds or half the night!
During game 2 of the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals, Brian Skrudland scored nine seconds into overtime as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Calgary Flames 3-2. To date this is the shortest playoff overtime in NHL history.
There have been many long overtime games in NHL history. Two Cup winners that come to mind took place in 1996 and 1999.
Game 4 of the 1996 Finals, in my opinion, was the greatest display of goaltending I have ever seen. Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche and John Vanbiesbrouck of the Florida Panthers went toe to toe. At the end of regulation the game was in a scoreless tie. At 4:31 of the third overtime, Vanbiesbrouck would flinch. Uwe Krupp beat the Florida goaltender to clinch a four game sweep and win the Stanley Cup.
Game 6 of the 1999 Finals was tied at one at the end of regulation. The Dallas Stars had a 3-2 series lead over the Buffalo Sabres. Dominik Hasek (Buffalo) and Ed Belfour (Dallas) put on a similar clinic as Roy and Vanbiesbrouck did in 1996. The Sabres tied the game with 1:31 remaining in the second period. The game winning (and Cup winning) goal remains one of the most controversial goals in Stanley Cup Finals history.
Stars’ Brett Hull scored the winning goal at 14:51 of the third overtime period. What was questionable about the goal was the fact that Hull had a skate in the goal crease when he shot the puck past a sprawling Hasek. It was ruled that Hull had control of the puck, but not posession of the puck, when he entered the crease. Following the 1999 Finals the league sent out a memo clarifying the rule.
Brett Hull scores the game winning goal in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals.
With today being Easter Sunday, I have to talk about the game known as the Easter Epic. This coming Tuesday and Wednesday marks its 30th anniversary.
The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals were paired in the first round of the 1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The series went to a seventh game, and what a seventh game it was!
Pat LaFontaine is mobbed by his Islander teammates after ending the longest Game 7 in playoff history.
Game 7 was played at the old Capital Centre in Landover Md. The game began on Saturday April 18, 1987 and concluded just before 2:00 am on Easter Sunday.
After two periods of play the Capitals held a 2-1 lead. As an Islanders fan I wasn’t feeling too good about things at that point. The score remained the same well into the third period and it appeared Washington was headed to the next round. That all changed with just over five minutes left in regulation! Bryan Trottier’s backhand shot beat Capitals goaltender Bob Mason to tie the score. What happened after that was legendary!
Islanders goaltender Kelly Hrudy made 73 saves, Mason made 54. Pat LaFontaine’s slapshot at 8:47 of the fourth overtime beat the Capital’s goaltender to win the game and the series for New York. Mason was screened and never saw the shot. The puck hit the post and caromed into the Washington net.
There have been so many dramatic moments over the years during these extra sessions. The mystique of not knowing when the game will end is clearly one of the biggest drama in all of sports.