Sunday, May 25, 2008

Greatest Hockey Team Ever: foot in the crease edition

Using the technology at What If Sports, The first Sweet 16 match-up of the Greatest Hockey Team Ever tournament features the only Stanley Cup winning team not to have actually won the cup, along with what was likely the dullest championship team of all-time.

The 1999 Stars were a solid, if uninspiring bunch that are best remembered for winning the Cup on an overtime goal that was undoubtedly illegal by the rules of the day. The NHL, in all its wisdom, decided to call goaltender interference by the letter of the law all season—regardless of whether the skater was actually interfering with the play. Despite near constant complaint from, well, everyone, the league remained remarkably consistent in its enforcement of the rule. Until the Stanley Cup winning OT goal that is. Brett Hull’s foot was an inch inside the crease when he scored. There was plenty of photographic evidence to back it up. But, the goal stood—likely because it would have been hard to get all the celebrating players and international media off the ice to re-start the game.

Shockingly, the rule was changed back within seconds of the final.

There was no such controversy surrounding the 2003 Devils. However, the team was painfully dull—likely the perfect trapping team and the poster boy for the NHL’s dead puck era. That Scott Stevens sure could hit though—he nearly decapitated Paul Kariya in the final’s only memorable moment.

How they got here

Dallas caught a break by drawing the 1998 Caps in the first round of the GHTE tournament before knocking of the previous year’s champion Red Wings side in the second round. Finally, the Stars got by an younger version of the Devils—the strike shortened ’95 Cup winners—to advance to the Sweet 16.

The Devils also had an easy touch in the first-round, drawing the ’02 Hurricanes before proving their worth (and afflicting some revenge) against Ray Bourque and the ’01 Avs. Lastly, the 2006 champions from Carolina were sent packing to set-up this Sweet 16 match-up.

The series

Game 1 Lead by Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur the Devils did what the did best in shutting down the Stars in game 1, winning 5-0 in Dallas. After a scoreless first, New Jersey broke it open with three second period markers, while holding the Stars to just six shots. Elias was a monster in the face-off circle, winning 11 of 12 draws and using that puck possession to pepper eight shots on net. Brodeur faced 23 shots for the shut-out.

Game 2 Jiri Bicek’s goal in double overtime gave the Devils a 2-1 win and a commanding 2-0 series lead, after they swept both games in Dallas. This was a heartbreaker for the Stars, who forced the Devils out of their typical defense first posture. But, Brodeur had an answer for all but one shot and New Jersey goes home looking to finish off Brett Hull and the boys.

Game 3 Despite only getting 18 shots, the Stars used a third period power-play goal by Jeff Friesen to get back in the series with a 3-2 win. In a series that features an all-time goaltender battle, Eddie Belfour had the upper hand in game three, stopping 30 shots.

Game 4 Home cooking continues to be bad news, as the Dallas Stars tied the series with a 2-1 overtime win. This time, they fired even fewer shots at Brodeur, who only managed 14 saves. Belfour made 28, allowing Mike Modano to take a feed from Hull just three minutes into the extra frame to send the series back to Dallas tied.
Game 5 Brett Hull broke a tie game midway through the second period to give the home side its first win of the series. Dalls won 5-2, and can finish things off with a win in game 6 in Jersey. The Devils came out flying, firing 20 shots in the first period, scoring twice. However, Dallas would only allow four shots the rest of the way to run away with things.

Game 6 It took three overtimes, but Brian Rafalski’s overtime goal helped the Devils avoid elimination and send the series to a deciding game on neutral ice. It was an extremely tight checking affair, with no team getting more than 10 shots off in any single period.

Game 7 Scott Niedermayer’s first period goal nearly held up, but the defense-first Devils couldn’t hold it. After Joe Nieuwendyk tied things up with less than seven minutes left, Pat Verbeek scored the OT winner three minutes into the extra period to give the Stars a 2-1 win at Toronto’a ACC. Replays shoed that Hull’s skate was in the crease, but it mattered little. With the win, Dallas advances to the Elite 8 of the GHTE tournament, where it will face the winner of the 1986-87 Edmonton and the 1980-81 Islanders.

That series goes next.

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