As the NHL Playoffs have kicked off, I wanted to do something that I have been planning on doing for a while now. The Playoffs are a special kind of event, not seen in any other sport. The teams that have made it have battled through a gruelling 82 game regular season and now they have the opportunity of their lives to play for the Stanley Cup, a second season if you will, where you have to give even more than you already have during the regular season.
I could wax poetic about what an absolute war the NHL playoffs are and how the guys going through them are absolute warriors. As hockey fans we all know what it takes to play in the playoffs and the insurmountable amount physical sacrifices the guys make to reach the cup.
However, with the playoffs, I wanted to list some of my favourite moments and memories from the Stanley Cup playoffs and finals. Please note that these are moments that have really hit home with me and have made a grown man well up.
For me it is moments like these that make the Playoffs so special and the place where legends are born. These are in no particular order of favouritism or what would be my standout memory.
1. Teemu Selanne lifts the cup:
Maybe it is because I am looking at it through blue and white eyes, but Teemu Selanne lifting the cup is one of the best memories I have from the recent history with the cup. When Selanne got the cup on his arms you could visibly see the emotion and the relief of his quest to finally ‘win something great’, as Selanne said after the interviews.
Selanne’s story is remarkable. Many, including Selanne himself, thought he was done after knee injuries had slowed him down, but Selanne has been spectacular since the lock out and despite his age, he is still the same Finnish Flash. Additionally what made Selanne winning the Cup more special for me was this video, where you can see just how much it means to him and to his family: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAXEoypd87Y
2. Ray Bourque finally gets the cup:
It is customary in the NHL that the Captain gets to hoist the cup first, but when the Avalanche won the cup in 2001 after game seven, it was clear that it would not be Joe Sakic who would hoist the cup as the first player on the Avalanche roster. Sakic one of the classiest moves by allowing the veteran to hoist the cup as the first player after receiving it from commissioner Bettman.
Bourque’s Mission W16 was closely followed. The aging veteran knew that this would probably be his last go at the Cup and boy what a moment it was when Bourque lifted the cup above his shoulders. It was one of the few moments in sports when a players’ old fans from his old team truly felt happy for a player. Bourque had given a lot to Bruins and the Bruins fans were only too happy to see their hero finally hoist the cup: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-adnOYdqJg
3. Tim Thomas and Martin St.Louis hand shake 2011 playoffs
The Eastern Conference finals offered a lot of heart stopping moments and perhaps most people did not see the Tampa Bay Lightning make it that far. However, to me there was one heart stopping moment in the series and that was the handshake between Bruins’ Tim Thomas and Lightning Martin St.Louis.
Teammates in college hockey, both players have travelled different, but long roads to the NHL and have both carved their names among some of the greats in the game. St.Louis already has a cup with the Lightning from 2004, but the visible pain of not making it to the finals was evident on his face. However, when it came to the handshake, you could see how much it meant for both players. Thomas on his way to his first Stanley Cup Final and Stanley Cup victory, being greeted by his old friend and team mate.
True class: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHtovJieHGI
4. Tim Thomas hits Henrik Sedin, Stanley Cup Finals 2011:
For some reason the Tim Thomas hit on Henrik Sedin is sort of the moment where I knew that Bruins would win the Cup last year. To me it was a message to the Canucks team that they had no business getting in Thomas’ crease and that he would put up a wall in net. Though the final series went the stretch to the 7th game, to me it was obvious from that moment that Bruins would be claiming the Cup and would not accept any crap from anyone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txBVdz6UO3U&feature=related
5. 1994 New York Rangers
The Rangers’ Cup run is a classic. From Mark Messier promising a win to the media, to then beat Canucks in the 7th Game in MSG sent the whole of New York into a frenzy. There was Messier’s little hop behind the net in Game 7 when he scored. The joy and excitement on his face when he received the Cup. As a Finn it was a special series to follow as both the teams had a Finn in their rosters. Canucks had Jyrki Lumme and Rangers had Esa Tikkanen. For me personally, it was special as I won my first ever bet on placing a wager on the Rangers winning the series.
6. Oilers 1990 Stanley Cup
Growing up I was a big Oliers fan, mainly because my childhood idol Jari Kurri played for the Oilers. It wasn’t until I grew up that I learned the significance of the Cup win in 1990. Oilers had traded away Gretzky and Kurri was in a big role on the team and one of the teams’ Alternate Captains. I wasn’t able to follow the game on TV in Finland as it would’ve been WAAAAY past my bed time (what I was like 9 years old then). However, it is a special Cup memory for me because it would be the last one that Kurri won during his career.
7. Chicago Blackhawks vs Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers vs Blackhawks series, has probably become more known for the game winning puck that went missing after the game. There were also other underlying stories that made me chuckle during the series, like Chris Pronger stealing the Blackhawks’ game winning pucks in a couple of games, or the bizarre end to Game 6 that won Blackhawks the cup, where it seemed like only one man knew where the puck was.
However, it was a picture of Flyers’ Kimmo Timonen I saw on a Finnish news paper just ahead of the Finals series, that made it memorable for me. The picture showed Timonen with a blackened eye, a bushy playoff beard and a face that screamed tiredness. However, the picture showed this burning desire in Timonen’s eyes that meant that he was ready for anything in the final series. Just that one extra push no matter how beat up his body was.
8. Montreal Canadiens Cup run 2010
As a Canadiens fan I haven’t had much to cheer for in the last two years. Dismal seasons and early playoff exits have left a bit of a sour taste in fans’ mouths, but the Cup run of 2010 was nothing short of spectacular. Going in as the underdog team to the Eastern Conference final after dropping the Capitals and Penguins on the way to meet the Flyers, was great fun to watch.
I was recovering from a knee operation at the time and I remember fighting the anaesthetic and the painkillers’ drowsing side effects to stay awake to cheer the Canadiens on from my living room and jumping up and down on 1 leg after the Penguins were eliminated. Seeing the pictures from Montreal after the game was something that left a smile on my face for days to come.
These are just some of the fond memories that I have from the Stanley Cup playoffs and the great legends that have been born during the 8 weeks that are also known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I could add others such as the Bobby Orr goal, but I wanted to focus on series’ that I have seen and witnessed with my own eyes.
If you want, feel free to share your own memories of the Stanley Cup playoffs.