The best Stanley Cup Final ever ended with the most controversial goal ever scored but there is so much more to it
With the excitement of the new millennium on the horizon, hockey was beginning to enter its next big era. Led by the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils, the players leading these teams to victory would define the next decade of NHL hockey and find a lot of success along the way.
However, the 1990s was more of a changing of the guard. Wayne Gretzky retired at the end of the decade; the Montreal Canadiens won their 24th Stanley Cup in 1993; the Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s was nothing but a mediocre group of players throughout the 90s; and the big three of the Red Wings, Avalanche, and Devils were beginning to take hold as the elite of the NHL’s best.
In 1999, two teams who had been in the shadows would meet in the Stanley Cup Final. From the west, the first-place Dallas Stars conquered the Gretzky-less Oilers in a sweep, then their midwestern rival St. Louis Blues in six games, and the championship favorite Avalanche in a close seven-game series which saw the Stars crawl back from a 3-2 series deficit. This was their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1991, when they were known as the Minnesota North Stars.
From the east, an underdog found its way into the Final. The seventh-seeded Buffalo Sabres, who had finished the regular season with just 37 wins compared to Dallas’ 51, were a scrappy group who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer throughout the playoffs. The Sabres swept the second-seed Ottawa Senators in the first round in a huge upset, then defeated the Boston Bruins in six games, and finally the habitually disappointing Toronto Maple Leafs in five games to reach their third Stanley Cup Final.
It is important to note that from 1995 to 2003, this Stanley Cup Final was the only one to not feature any one of the big three teams. It was also just the third time since 1934 that both franchises would compete for their first Stanley Cup championship. Considering this and many other factors, there was a great deal of anticipation heading into the matchup.
Going into Game 1 in Dallas, the Stars boasted a 7-2 home record during the playoffs. Reunion Arena was not the most comfortable place for visiting teams to play and the Sabres found this out early on in the series. The Sabres led 2-1 with a minute to go, but Jere Lehtinen found the back of the net in the final seconds of the game to tie it 2-2. Going into overtime, the Sabres found their hero in Jason Woolley, who scored the overtime winner. Just like that, the Sabres had a 1-0 lead in the series.
Game 2 would be much different since the Stars were not about to let two wins slip away on home ice. They took it to the Sabres, winning 4-2. Splitting the first homestand, it was time to go to Buffalo. Dallas won a tight Game 3 and Buffalo won an even tighter Game 4, both with identical scores of 2-1 as the series found itself tied 2-2 headed back to Dallas for a pivotal Game 5.
In Game 5, Stars goaltender Ed Belfour came up huge, recording a 23-save shutout, his third of the postseason, and the Stars grabbed the win 2-0. Only needing one more win to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Stars had to do it on hostile ground.
Game 6 was the most renowned game of the series and of the entire playoffs. It all came down to just one goal. In the first period, the Stars got out to a quick 1-0 lead, but the Sabres would tie the game up in the second at 1-1. The third period saw a lot of reserved play as no one on the ice wanted to be the guy to make the fatal mistake.
The final horn sounded and just as how the series began, it ended in overtime. The energy in the building during overtime playoff hockey is like no other. It’s even more intense when the possibility of the Stanley Cup being awarded to the visiting team in the home team’s building looms over the crowd.
The reserved play continued for three, yes three, overtime periods until just under 15 minutes had elapsed in the third overtime session. The Dallas Stars had Mike Madono, the future all-time leading scorer for all American-born players, and Brett Hull, a future hall of famer and son of the great Bobby Hull, on the ice at the same time. Madono found himself with the puck at the left circle and in an act of desperation to get a scoring chance, he threw it at Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek. Hasek made the save but the rebound was around there somewhere.
Brett Hull managed to storm the net beating a defender to find the puck buried in a scrum of Hasek’s arms and a defender’s skates. With one of his skates in the crease, Hull knocked the puck lying in the crease into the net and the Cup was officially won. This game was the longest Cup-winning game ever and the second-longest Stanley Cup Final game ever.
However, this goal was the most controversial goal in NHL history.
The NHL rulebook at the time stated, “Unless the puck is in the goal crease area, a player of the attacking side may not stand in the goal crease. If a player has entered the crease prior to the puck, and subsequently the puck should enter the net while such conditions prevail, the apparent goal shall not be allowed.”
It is one of the great debates of hockey whether or not Hull’s right skate was in the goalie crease prior to the shot entering the crease area. Hockey analysts, players and fans alike discussed it all summer long and well into the next season. You can decide for yourself here.
Lindy Ruff, the head coach of the Sabres, made a bold statement at the team’s end of season parade to celebrate their Eastern Conference Championship, saying, “I’m going to leave you with two words and they’ll be the final two words for this summer; no goal.” Clearly the Buffalo faithful were not going to let this one go.
The Sabres have not been back to the Stanley Cup Final since ‘99 and have not been back to the playoffs since 2011, the longest playoff drought in the NHL.
The Stars went back to the Final in 2000 as the defending champion, but lost in six games to the Devils, so the Sabres got some kind of payback … sort of. The Stars have not been back to the Final since.
No matter who thinks it’s a goal or not, the 1999 Stanley Cup Final was the best Final ever considering the stories of the teams, their urge for the spotlight, the rarity of this matchup, the new era of the NHL and of course, the “no goal” goal. For a more in-depth analysis, check out SB Nation’s video on this Stanley Cup Final and all of the juicy details found within.