Top 10 Stanley Cup Final games of all time
The pursuit of the greatest trophy in North American sports takes competitive hockey to its highest level. Ranking the 10 greatest Stanley Cup Final games of all time.
Every hockey player who dreams of playing in the NHL also dreams of one day lifting the Stanley Cup over his head to skate a victory lap with the greatest trophy in North American sports. The Cup is worth fighting for – literally and figuratively – and it’s no surprise that some of the greatest hockey games of all time have been played in the NHL playoffs’ final round.
With so many great playoff matchups to choose from, compiling a list of the 10 greatest individual Stanley Cup Finals games is no easy task. After all, exciting championship-round games come in all shapes and sizes. Some games are extremely close, some go to extended overtimes, some feature individual player heroics, and some showcase rivalries where both teams refuse to lose.
The list we put together here includes a bit of everything mentioned above and will hopefully stir fond memories for hockey fans as they go through it. In the end, what really makes a great game in the Cup Final is not just its place in NHL history, but also how long it endures in fans’ memory.
When is Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final?
The 2023 Stanley Cup Final is set to open on Saturday, June 3. The Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers, making their first appearance in a Final since losing to Colorado in 1996, will face the Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights. The 2023 Stanley Cup Final will feature two teams seeking the first championship in their franchise’s history. That has not happened since 2018, when Vegas faced Washington in the Final.
How many games are there in Stanley Cup Final? The Stanley Cup Final has been a best-of-7 series since 1939. The first team to win four games wins the series. While four-game series sweeps were once common, no team has managed to sweep the Cup Final since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings. A total of 17 Cup Finals series have gone the full distance of seven games to determine a champion. The most recent seven-game series came in 2019, when St. Louis edged Boston for the Cup.
Ranking the 10 Greatest Stanley Cup Final Games of all time
- 1990 Stanley Cup Final Game 1: Edmonton Oilers vs. Boston Bruins Final score: Edmonton 3, Boston 2 (3OT)
The longest game in Stanley Cup Final history certainly deserves a place on this list, and it will forever be associated with the late Petr Klima, who scored the winner at 15:13 of the third overtime after seeing very little ice time during the game. The Oilers, who had won the Stanley Cup four times over the previous six seasons, were playing in their first Cup Final game without Wayne Gretzky, who had been traded to Los Angeles two years earlier.
Edmonton jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a first-period goal from Adam Graves and a second-period tally by Glenn Anderson. The Bruins, who had finished with the NHL’s best regular-season record, came back to force OT on a pair of third-period goals by Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque. The game-tying goal came with only 1:29 left in regulation. Klima scored his winner from the right circle off a pass from Jari Kurri.
The game is also memorable for a power failure in Boston Garden that delayed play for 25 minutes during the final overtime period. Their epic 3OT win inspired the Oilers to go on and upset the Bruins in five games for their fifth Stanley Cup title.
- 2009 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings Final score: Pittsburgh 2, Detroit 1
This was such an emotional series because it was a rematch of the previous year’s Stanley Cup Final, when a veteran Detroit team won the Cup at the young Penguins’ expense. This time around it would be different, thanks to Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s performance in Game 7.
Detroit had led the series 3-2 after winning Game 5 in a 5-0 rout at home, but the Penguins pulled out a 2-1 win in Pittsburgh to force Game 7 back at Joe Louis Arena. After a scoreless first period, the Penguins went ahead 2-0 when unlikely hero Maxime Talbot scored at 1:13 and 10:07 of the second period.
The Red Wings pulled to within a goal when Jonathan Ericsson scored at 13:53 of the third period, and the game’s final 6:07 was about as intense as any stretch in Stanley Cup Final history. Pittsburgh had the greatest weapon, however, as Fleury came through with an astounding save to hold off Detroit in a game where the Wings outshot the Penguins 25-18.
- 1996 Stanley Cup Final Game 4: Colorado Avalanche vs. Florida Panthers Final score: Colorado 1, Florida 0 (3OT)
It’s fitting that this game should make our top 10 list in a year when the Panthers are just as surprising a Stanley Cup finalist as they were in 1996. Normally, a series that ended in a sweep would not be particularly memorable, but the final game of the Panthers’ 1996 unexpected playoff run was something to behold.
You need incredible goaltending for a Cup Final game to be scoreless after 60 minutes, and that’s exactly what happened here. In fact, no goals were scored for another 44 minutes after regulation before Avalanche defenseman Uwe Krupp ended matters with a blast from the right point at 4:31 of the third overtime.
On Colorado’s end of the ice, Hall of Famer Patrick Roy completed his shutout with an incredible 63 saves, which remains a record for Cup Finals. Meanwhile, Florida’s John Vanbiesbrouck, who allowed the game’s only goal through traffic, stopped 55 saves. The 119 total shots on goal in this game are also a Stanley Cup Final record, although Boston and Chicago came within two shots of it in the epic Game 1 of their 2013 Final, a thriller that would have made this list had it come later in that series.
- 1994 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: New York Rangers vs. Vancouver Canucks Final score: New York Rangers 3, Vancouver 2
This one was 54 years in the making, and in the words of Rangers play-by-play man Sam Rosen, it will “last a lifetime.” The date of June 14, 1994, will always be special to New York sports fans who finally saw the Rangers lift the Cup after beating the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 at Madison Square Garden.
The home team struck first in this game, as defenseman Brian Leetch, the eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, scored at 11:02 of the opening period for a 1-0 lead. Just over three minutes later, at 14:45, Blueshirts sniper Adam Graves made it 2-0 with a power-play goal. The Rangers were on their way to an easy win, or so it seemed.
Vancouver had other ideas. Canucks captain Trevor Linden scored a shorthanded goal that cut the lead to 2-1 at 5:21 of the second period. Rangers captain Mark Messier responded on a power play at 13:29 of the second with what would prove to be the Cup-clinching goal.
All the Rangers needed to do was hold off Vancouver for the final 20 minutes, which they managed to do despite yielding an early power-play goal to Linden. Goaltender Mike Richter otherwise held the fort with eight saves over an incredibly tense third period that finally ended with one of the most emotional Stanley Cup celebrations of all time.
- 1950 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: New York Rangers vs. Detroit Red Wings Final score: Detroit 4, New York Rangers 3 (2OT)
This series was legendary because it almost saw the Rangers pull off an incredible upset. In fact, the series was so good that it came in at No. 3 on Betway’s all-time top 10 NHL playoff series list. New York took heavily favored Detroit all the way to a seventh game in 1950 and came within one goal of making sports history.
The Cinderella Rangers led 2-0 after the first period, thanks to scoring two power-play goals during the same Detroit penalty. The game was played at a time when NHL teams remained shorthanded for the entire length of two-minute minors regardless of how many goals the opposing team scored.
Detroit rallied for two goals in a 21-second span of a second period to tie the game, but Rangers forward Buddy O’Connor made it 3-2 with 8:18 remaining in the second. Just when it looked like the Rangers would take a lead into the third, Detroit’s Jim McFadden tied it for the Wings at the 15:57 mark.
Two more scoreless period would pass before Detroit’s Pete Babando got the winning goal at 8:21 of the second overtime. The Babando goal ended a 52:44 run of scoreless hockey and broke the hearts of New York Rangers fans, who would have to wait 44 more years to see their team win the Stanley Cup.
- 1971 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Montreal Canadiens vs. Chicago Black Hawks Final score: Montreal 3, Chicago 2
The 1971 Stanley Cup Final between Montreal and Chicago will always be remembered as Hall of Famer Ken Dryden’s NHL coming-out party. Dryden was only three years out Cornell University and still an NHL rookie when the Habs made him their No. 1 goalie for the 1971 playoff run. Needless to say, he did not disappoint
Dryden started all seven games of the 1971 Stanley Cup Final in a showdown with Chicago’s Tony Esposito. After losing the series opener in double-overtime and then going down 2-0 after the first two games in Chicago, Dryden took his play up a notch, allowing only two goals in each of Montreal’s back-to-back home wins that evened the series. Esposito authored a 2-0 shutout in Game 5, but Dryden stopped 27 shots in helping the Habs force Game 7 with a 4-3 win at home.
Back in Chicago with everything on the line, Dryden got off to a rocky start -- giving up the game’s first two goals. Dennis Hull scored late in the first period, and Danny O’Shea put the Hawks up 2-0 in the second. Montreal rallied down the stretch, however, getting goals from Jacques Lemaire and Henri Richard to tie the score at 2-2 heading into the third period.
Although Richard would deliver the Cup-winning goal with a full 17:26 left in regulation, Dryden was the game’s real hero, stopping all 12 of Chicago’s third-period shots. He finished Game 7 with 31 saves and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league’s postseason MVP.
- 1987 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Edmonton Oilers Final score: Edmonton 3, Philadelphia 1
Just as 1971 is remembered for the heroics of a Conn Smythe-winning rookie goalie in Ken Dryden, the 1987 Stanley Cup Final provided another remarkable MVP effort from an NHL rookie netminder. The difference, however, is that while Dryden earned his Conn Smythe Trophy in a winning effort, Philadelphia’s Ron Hextall did it as a member of the losing team.
Then just 23, Hextall was coming off an incredible rookie year in 1986-87. Not only was he the playoff MVP, he was also the Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s best goalie in the regular season. He probably should have been the Calder Trophy winner as Rookie of the Year, but that honor went to Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille, who had scored 45 goals.
Hextall’s 1987 playoff stats are remarkable. He went 15-11 with a 2.77 goals-against average, which was very low in that era of firewagon hockey. He did not allow Wayne Gretzky and the high-flying Oilers to score more than four goals in any Stanley Cup Final game, and he led his team to wins in both Games 5 and 6, forcing a seventh game in Edmonton.
In Game 7, Hextall did all he could for the Flyers, making 40 saves. The game was tied 1-1 until late in the second period, when Jari Kurri netted the eventual Cup-winning goal. Glenn Anderson later closed out the scoring with 2:24 remaining in regulation. Despite all the great players on the Oilers’ championship roster, Hextall was too good to ignore for MVP honors and became the fourth player to win the Conn Smythe without winning the Stanley Cup.
- 1987 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Islanders Final score: New York Islanders 5, Philadelphia 4 (OT)
The New York Islanders’ run of four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980 to 1983 began with a bang in this epic game between two of the most exciting teams ever to face each other in a Cup Final.
Philadelphia had dominated the NHL’s regular season in 1979-80, going undefeated (25-0-10) over a record 35 consecutive games from Oct. 14, 1979, to Jan. 6, 1980. Everyone expected the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup. The Islanders, on the other hand, had been unsuccessfully knocking on the championship door for two years but finished 25 points behind the Flyers in the Patrick Division standings.
The Islanders won the series opener in overtime, and the teams traded victories through the first three games. With a 5-2 home win in Game 4, the Isles took a 3-1 series lead, but the Flyers came back with a Game 5 rout to push the series to what proved to be a nail-biter in Game 6.
Flyers winger Reggie Leach opened the Game 6 scoring at 7:21 of the first period, but the Islanders came back on rapid-fire goals from Denis Potvin and Duane Sutter to take a 2-1 lead before Brian Propp tied matters with just 1:02 left in the first.
The Islanders took control in the second period, getting goals from Mike Bossy and Bob Nystrom for a 4-2 lead. Refusing to lose, Philadelphia came out firing and quickly tied the game when Bob Dailey and John Paddock both scored within the third period’s first seven minutes.
That set the stage for overtime, where Nystrom notched what is arguably the most famous goal in Islanders history. Getting perfect passes from linemates John Tonelli and Lorne Henning, Nystrom scored his Cup-winner at 7:11 of overtime. Nystrom became the 12th player in NHL history to win the Cup with an OT goal. Five others have done it since then, with the most recent being Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings in 2014.
- 1964 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings Final score: Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Detroit Red Wings 3 (OT)
If you’re looking for the most courageous individual performance in Stanley Cup playoff history, look no further than this game. Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bobby Baun delivered heroics against the Red Wings that will probably never be matched unless someone else is crazy enough to play on a broken leg.
The story is legendary in hockey circles. In one of the final Original Six era playoff years, Detroit led the series 3-2 going into Game 6 at Detroit. Their stunning 2-1 win in Game 5 at Maple Leaf Gardens had given the Wings a chance to claim the Cup in Detroit. The Leafs, inspired by Baun, would end up taking Game 6 and then clinching the series with a 4-0 shutout at home.
Game 6 started well for Toronto, which led 1-0 after the first period. Detroit went up 2-1 midway through the second, but the Leafs came back to tie it at 2-2. Goals traded by Detroit’s Gordie Howe and Toronto’s Billy Harris late in the second period made it a 3-3 game, and it would remain that way through regulation time.
During the third period, Baun blocked a slap shot that hit him square in the ankle and left him sprawling in pain on the ice. He was carried off on a stretcher, and it appeared his season was over. Instead, Baun went into the locker room thinking he only had a pinched nerve and insisted on playing in the overtime.
After receiving treatment from the Toronto trainer, which included freezing the leg, Baun skated out for overtime and delivered the game winning goal just 163 seconds into the OT. Baun then played in Game 7 with his ankle taped and shots of novocaine every 10 minutes. After the Leafs won the Cup, an X-ray revealed a fracture in Baun’s right fibula.
- 1999 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Dallas Stars vs. Buffalo Sabres Final score: Dallas Stars 2, Buffalo Sabres 1 (3OT)
The eternal question for any hockey fan who saw the 1999 Stanley Cup Final: Was Brett Hull’s skate in the crease illegally when he scored the Cup-winning triple-overtime goal against Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek.
That’s the question, but maybe 24 years later it’s time to forget the controversy and recognize that if it weren’t for this game, we wouldn’t have the truly conclusive video review system that exists in the NHL today.
During the 1999 Stanley Cup playoffs, video review was used only to determine if a puck completely crossed the goal line. Today, thanks largely to controversies like the Hull incident, just about everything involved in scoring a goal is reviewable. By today’s standards, it’s likely Hull’s goal would have been overruled, but even that isn’t certain.
The real tragedy of the skate-in-the-crease dispute was that it overshadowed an amazing hockey game that was among the best fans will ever witness in a Stanley Cup Final. Only three goals were scored in this goaltending duel between Hasek and Dallas’ Ed Belfour, who had once been teammates in Chicago.
The game at Buffalo saw Dallas take an early lead on a Jere Lehtinen goal at 8:09 of the first period. Stu Barnes tied it late in the second, and a full 56:30 of game time would elapse before Hull got the infamous winner at 14:51 of the third overtime. Belfour finished with 53 saves, while Hasek had 48.
It was the longest Cup-clincher in history and one of those rare hockey games that NHL fans hate to see end because it was so much fun to watch. Somehow its forever debated ending only adds to the game’s special place in history.
Parameters of Rankings Several factors were considered when compiling this list of the 10 greatest games in Stanley Cup Final history. Among the most important were the level of competitiveness, the strength of the rivalry, and how late each game came in the series. Games that decided championships or swung the momentum of a series had the most weight in these rankings.
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