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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Brief History

1965-74: The Beginning

The story of the East Cup and the new hockey landscape begins in 1965. That year, the National Hockey League- still a six-team circuit- announced plans to double in size by 1967. The decision was an about face to decades of opposition, since league had become an “old boys’ club” and didn’t want to share their profits with new blood. This was typified by the league changing the rules for expansion whenever a new applicant expressed interest, thus creating new barriers whenever a seventh team was craved.

What led the about face was pressure by the Western Hockey League, which in those days wasn’t a junior league but a “minor” professional league. The WHL started to expand into major markets in the 1960s and attracted a large amount of major league calibre players (since Original Six rosters were static and thus rejected a lot of worthy players) and were primed to gain a U.S. television contract. The NHL, fearing the upstart WHL, needed to figure out how to get the TV contract instead (something the league lost earlier in the ‘60s) and was told it needed to expand, and expand to the West Coast. Thus, six new teams were added, including two in California, to begin play for the 1967-68 campaign.

Expectedly, there were rejected cities and they weren’t happy with the league for the snub. However, some of those cities took the rejection harder than others. Seymour H. Knox, who led a failed bid to land a team in Buffalo, New York, and Craig Lorry, the owner of the WHL Vancouver Canucks (also rejected by the NHL) determined that if they couldn’t join the league, they’d fight them- by creating a league of their own.
Unlike other start-up league magnates at the time, this group knew they couldn’t compete with the NHL right away- they’d have to build slow. They called this league the “East Cup”, after Damon East, a homeless man in Raleigh who Lorry and gave him the inspiration to start the league. He started his league in 1970-71 with a four-team unit, opening with the Buffalo Sabres (Knox’s team), Raleigh Musketeers, Lorry’s Canucks and Halifax Crusaders. Due to the distances the teams didn’t play as frequently as teams in the NHL did which cut into the revenue potential, but the teams soon realized each game was much more important- and played harder. Soon, the league gained a reputation for having the teams that played the hardest, and fans flocked in droves.

With the added attention came added scrutiny, and with it doubts about the East Cup’s talent level. Although the league’s owners did their best to stock the league with the best young players they could find, pouring much of their resources into scouting- they hadn’t been tested against “real” opposition, namely those in the NHL. Furthermore, despite their efforts only one highly touted prospect of the time- Gilbert Perreault- signed in the East Cup, the rest deciding to sign in the NHL.

1975: The Sabres’ Odyssey: Bringing the East Cup to relevancy

Still, the owners were determined to prove their league’s worth. In 1974, angered by repeated claims in the press about the weakness of the league, Knox stated in the press that an East Cup team would win the Stanley Cup in 1975. Since the Stanley Cup trustees had opened up the challenge to European teams in the aftermath of the Summit Series (where Russia’s CSKA Moscow became the first non-North American team to win the Cup in 1973), Knox believed the law couldn’t stop the NHL from accepting a challenge from another North American league. Later that year, he was right, as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the NHL’s ban, noting the agreement signed in 1973 that opened up the Cup competition didn’t have a clause restricting North American participation.

The result was a disaster for the NHL, as not only did it allow the East Cup to challenge for the Cup but the World Hockey Association, the upstart league that positioned itself as the NHL’s rival right from its beginning in 1972, to challenge as well. By 1975, its teams were still collectively weaker than the NHL teams but it did have one team- the Winnipeg Jets- that could rival the NHL’s best. The East Cup champions, Knox’s Sabres, would have their work cut out for them.

Since this was the first iteration of the North American championship, the tournament wasn’t arranged very well. The trustees decided that the only allowable entrants would be professional or semi-professional leagues, and that the NHL and WHA champions would get the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds (respectively), but that was it. A total of 113 teams competed in the first ever North American championship, with the seeding drawn by lots (with the higher seeds gaining home ice advantage). Buffalo was given seed #112, higher than only the Columbia Street Wingers of the Waterloo (Ontario) Regional League. The trustees maintain that the seeding was drawn randomly, but Knox believed it was done on purpose. It meant Buffalo would have to play the most amount of games to win the championship, and play most of those games on the road, though they’d get Columbia Street at home. The trustees did pledge to reseed the teams after the opening round.
Predictably, the Sabres demolished Columbia Street, scoring five times in the opening minute en route to an easy 62-0 win. Perreault- who started off with Lorry’s Canucks only to get traded to the Sabres in 1973 after complaining about the rain in Vancouver- paced the Sabres with 23 of the team’s goals. Right behind him was an unexpected name- Japanese starlet Taro Tsujimoto, who was all of 18 years old. Tsujimoto came during the first East Cup draft, since the league had been dominated by the Crusaders and the rest of the league were tired of seeing them hog all of the league’s best young prospects. Sabres coach George “Punch” Imlach, frustrated at the tedium of the draft, made Tsujimoto’s name on the spot, only to admit right before training camp that he had made him up. A day later, a real Tsujimoto who played in Japan for the Kokudo Keikaku Ice Hockey Club, heard the news and showed up at training camp, to the shock of Sabres officials. Even more shocking was how good he turned out to be, sitting right behind Perrault in both the league and team scoring charts. The Stanley Cup championship would prove to be Tsujimoto’s coming out party.

The Sabres- reseeded #37 after their demolition of Columbia Street- would have an easy time of it through the next few rounds, scoring an astounding 364 goals over the next four rounds, with Tsujimoto- whose size and skill combination would be unparalleled until Mario Lemieux came into the hockey world- leading the way with 52 goals. Still, the consensus was that the team hadn’t really been tested, having beaten teams from leagues like the Nebraska Bus Driver’s League, the British Columbia Salmon League and the Rastafarian League. That would change in the quarterfinal, where their opponent would be the Philadelphia Flyers, the “Broad Street Bullies” of the NHL.

Many of the Flyers publicly proclaimed that the Sabres would be no match for them, with Dave “The Hammer” Schultz going so far as joking “the team’s so bad they can’t spell ‘saber’ right”. Flyers coach Fred Shero did try to be diplomatic, going so far as praising the team’s stars like Tsujimoto and Perreault, but his praise fell on deaf ears- most of the hockey press was prepared for a rout.

They would be right, except it wasn’t the Flyers that would administer it. Tsujimoto scored twice in the game’s five minutes en route to what turned out to be an easy 9-2 Buffalo win at the Spectrum, with Tsujimoto ending with four goals and Perreault with two to pace the Buffalo attack. Following the game, the Flyers were much more diplomatic, openly admitting they took their opposition lightly. The Sabres, for their part, refused to gloat, with Tsujimoto himself saying the Flyers “won the NHL championship for a reason”. When asked how his team won so easily, Tsujimoto simply declared that the team were “just a bunch of misfits”. The nickname “misfits” stuck with the Sabres for the rest of their journey.

The next round would see the Sabres play the Jets, who cruised to the WHA championship that season. In this game, it appeared that Buffalo’s magic had run out, as Winnipeg scored opened up a 5-2 lead after two periods of play, with the Jets making it 6-3 halfway through the third period. However, Danny Gare would pull the Sabres to within two with a minute left, prompting what is still considered hockey’s greatest comeback. With Tsujimoto stymied all game- he wouldn’t record a point, the only time in the championship run where he wouldn’t do so- Perreault took the team on his back and scored three times in that final minute, with the game winning goal going in with 0.5 seconds left. A stunned Jets crowd started throwing debris onto the ice, and, although replays clearly show Perrault’s shot crossed the line with time left on the clock, people in Winnipeg still contend the result was rigged, with conspiracy theorists claiming the referee failed to start the clock correctly after a previous stoppage, though the stoppage that is being referred to differed with the theorist.

Buffalo would then handle the AHL champion Peoria Rivermen with ease in the North American championship, setting up a Stanley Cup Final matchup with CSKA Moscow, the Russian champions in Moscow. The game would be played at 6PM local time, or at 11AM Buffalo time. Pundits expected a wide-open affair, instead, what happened was a 1-1 tie after regulation where Gare’s first period opener was cancelled out by Valeri Kharlamov’s equalizer midway through the second.

A goaltending exhibition ensued. CSKA’s Vladislav Tretiak and Buffalo’s Rogier Crozier turned aside shot after shot, dragging the game into one overtime after another. In the third overtime, Perrault thought he’d scored the winner when the puck deflected off his glove- which was still holding his stick- and past Tretiak, but Polish referee George Piotowski ruled Perreault threw the puck in and waived the goal off. “I would have liked to believe that we wouldn’t thrust the Cold War into this game but I guess I was wrong,” Perrault would say years later. Tretiak would say at the time that he believed Piotowski made the right call, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union Tretiak would change his tune, admitting the referee indeed made a mistake. Piotowski would also admit to the mistake years later, contending that although he was from the then Warsaw Pact Poland, politics played no part in his error.

At the 16:31 mark of the sixth overtime, the Sabres and CSKA set a new record for the longest game in hockey history, surpassing the 116:30 the Montreal Maroons and Detroit Red Wings played back in 1936. Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret broadcasted the moment by stating, “Mud Bruneteau (the Red Wing who ended the 1936 game), where are you now?” The period would end uneventfully, the game still deadlocked at one goal apiece, and would do so in the next period as well.

With the game headed to a ninth overtime, Tsujimoto- quiet all game long- took matters into his own hands. Picking off a centering pass deep into his own crease- a pass that would have resulted in a goal had he not gotten in the way- Tsujimoto raced up the ice in what would later be called “The Kamikaze Rush”. The tired CSKA defenders were helpless as Tsujimoto stickhandled around all five of them gracefully, getting to face Tretiak in the slot. Tsujimoto executed a head fake before sliding the puck in between Tretiak’s legs and into the back of the net, with 1:19 left in the ninth overtime period. Jubilation erupted on the Sabres’ bench, though some didn’t believe the puck had actually gone in the net until seeing Piotowski point to the net in rigid authority. The game ended at 5AM local time or 11PM Buffalo time, a full twelve hours after the game had started, though the Cup presentation wouldn’t be shortened. “We didn’t care how tired we were,” said Gare years later. “We won the Cup and we wanted our moment. Nothing was going to stop us.”

1976-1984: The Leagues Take Form

The championship brought instant credibility to not just the Sabres but also the East Cup. In 1976, the New York Islanders (after two years as a NHL team), Barrie Boars, Lethbridge Rockets, Brampton Ravens and London Knights joined the league, expanding membership to nine teams. Later that year, the NHL, seeing all the positive press the tournament generated, signed a “co-operation” agreement with the East Cup and the WHA, allowing those leagues to keep the players they had already signed (previously, since the NHL held rights to all those players they claimed they were “illegally held” and demanded them back. The agreement nullified those claims), as well as a basic revenue sharing plan where the other two leagues would prop up one if it ever went bankrupt. The NHL’s draft would also include the other two leagues, with each league taking a turn selecting first (though the Draft would be quickly cancelled as it became easier for teams to develop their own stars in youth academies). Hockey in North America would be operated under the tutelage of the North American Hockey Association (NAHA), formed by the three leagues to serve as the overseer of the game in North America (of which the other leagues in North America signed on towards), in partnership with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) in Europe.

Lastly, the teams were free to move between the leagues as they saw fit, meaning that beginning in 1977, the hockey world underwent a massive upheaval as the leagues tried to balance the scales. The East Cup added the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, with the Quebec Nordiques coming to the East in 1980, the Toronto Maple Leafs coming a year later, Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins in 1982 and finally the Edmonton Mall Rats (an expansion team) in 1983 to raise membership to 17. The WHA was given a new lease on life and changed its name to the West Cup in 1980, mostly due to membership changes- aside from the Nordiques, the Hartford Whalers shifted to the NHL, while the Calgary (nee Atlanta) Flames and St. Louis Blues moved West from the NHL. The West also added the Montreal Royals, Phoenix Starbirds, Anchorage Aces and Tulsa Wranglers as expansion teams, to bring its membership to eight teams (with the Jets and Edmonton Oilers staying). The NHL, shorn to seven teams, added an expansion team in 1980- the Buffalo Bills, owned by Ralph Wilson, the storied football team’s owner. Wilson would soon make the Bills a formidable hockey team as well, guiding them to the NHL championship just four years into their existence and a Stanley Cup only eleven years after starting. It would be the only bright spot for the NHL, who lost many of their best teams in the 1977 shuffle and would slide down the totem pole of leagues to the point where the Bills’ two Stanley Cup championships- in 1991 and 1997- were the only two the league would get since 1977.

After the first chaotic year, the trustees set firmer rules for the Stanley Cup tournament for 1976. They determined that the tournament would be best done as an eight-team affair, held at a different city every year. The participants would be the winners of three “major” leagues in North America, plus the winners of the Swedish Elitserien, Finland’s SM-Liiga and Russia’s Superleague, plus a qualifier each from a tournament amongst the winners of the rest of the North American and European leagues (one winner from each continent). The trustees considered this format would be better for the game, since it ensured a high level of competition for the tournament and, with the host city format, would give the opportunity to spread the game to different parts of the world. The host would alternate between North America and Europe, with the venerable Montreal Forum being the first host venue.

The Sabres were the immediate benefactors of the new rules, adding stars Rene Robert and Rick Martin from the NHL to form “The French Connection Line” with Perreault. With Tsujimoto and the Connection, the Sabres repeated their Cup successes in 1977 and 1978, defeating the Canadiens (still with the NHL at the time) and New York Rangers respectively. They would make a third straight trip to the Finals against the same Canadiens, but this time Montreal got the better of the Sabres, though they needed a late goal by Guy Lafleur and overtime to do it.

After Montreal won the Cup again in 1980 (beating a game Djurgardens IF from Sweden), it was the Islanders who stole the show. Despite only being a franchise for seven years, the Islanders started a streak of four straight Stanley Cup championships, spearheaded by forwards Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and goaltender Billy Smith. Their last two Stanley Cup championships were the most memorable, defeating the cross-town Rangers 6-5 in overtime (off a Clark Gillies goal) in 1983 and the high scoring Edmonton Oilers in 1984, getting a 42-save shutout from Smith to make an early Bossy goal stand up for the 1-0 win. However, the Oilers (led by local legend Mark Messier) and the Winnipeg Jets (led by Wayne Gretzky and Dale Hawerchuck) were serving notice that hockey prominence would soon shift West.

1985-92: Gretzky, the Scoring Explosion and West vs. Europe

Despite the Islanders’ high scoring totals, their league gained a reputation for defensive hockey and the consensus after the 1984 Final was that the East was falling behind the times. The European style of free-flowing, criss-crossing hockey slowly gained a foothold on North American rinks, so that by the mid-1980s it meshed with the North American positional game to create an unstoppable hockey machine. The playing style- dubbed the “Soccer Style” because it featured a controlled free-flowing style- was perfected by the Jets and Gretzky, who would set numerous scoring records during the rest of the 1980s.

The Oilers would be the first to take advantage of the shift of hockey prominence to the West, defeating the Islanders in a lopsided Cup Final affair in 1985 by a 6-1 count. The Isles looked tired and slow on that day, upon which afterward head coach Al Arbour commented “hockey wins today” since he believed hockey should be exciting and his team no longer was. Messier concurred, saying that he was “relieved” that scoring hockey had returned.

However, the Oilers could not repeat their success. Gretzky- who signed in Winnipeg during the WHA’s final year after spurning the Oilers’ offer- would form a dangerous partnership with the Jets’ Thomas Steen that literally made the Jets “high flying”. His 104 goals and 234 points in all competitions in 1983 still remains a record to this day, as would be his 200-assist performance two years later. Steen would also post consecutive 70-goal campaigns in 1986 and 1987, the years where the Jets broke through and won the Stanley Cup. Hawerchuck would also prove to be a Hall of Famer in his own right, going five straight years with 50 or more goals in all competitions. The dynasty would be short-lived, however, since goaltending was an issue in the Manitoba capital, leaving the team vulnerable to a defensive approach. This was the recipe for success when the East Coast Hockey League’s Augusta Lynx surprised the hockey world during their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1988, as Jets goalie Daniel Berthiaume allowed two questionable goals early in their quarterfinal encounter en route to what would be a 3-1 Augusta victory.

The Lynx, though capturing the hockey world’s collective hearts, would be schooled by a team with offence and a goaltender. The Espoo Blues- themselves a surprise outfit for the Cup Final- rode on the coattails of young defenceman Peter Ahola and goaltender Teemu Pakislaavi to the Cup. The Lynx did get a surprise 1-0 lead, but it was the closest they got, as Pakislaavi closed the door the rest of the way and Espoo scored a rather easy 5-1 victory. Espoo coach Kimmo Lehtonen wouldn’t scoff at his opponents, telling people that he felt Augusta were worthy Finals opponents. “We were just better,” Lehtonen would explain. “They may not have won today but on another day, they may have been the victors. I expect them back in the Finals next year”.

Despite Lehtonen’s kind words, they were no substitute for talent, and Augusta slumped poorly the following year. So did Lehtonen’s team. Espoo finished last in the Finnish league in 1989, giving way in Europe to Sweden’s Djurgardens IF. Djurgardens, led by veteran Peter Nilsson and the young Johan Garpenlov, would continue the West’s Euro-style puck possession offence, but made it quicker. Much quicker. They would take their offence to three straight Stanley Cup Finals, though they would only win it once, losing in 1989 to the Calgary Flames and in 1991 to the Buffalo Bills. Their lone breakthrough was in 1990, when they defeated a Canucks team that was on its way up. Their system was described as “mesmerizing” by legendary coach Scotty Bowman (who piloted the Bills’ Cup run), who marvelled at how they never lost the puck despite playing at such high speeds. “Usually players are slower when they have the puck,” noted Bowman, “but not Djurgardens. They can fly down the ice and yet find a way to keep the puck on their sticks. It’s incredible.” Their Achilles Heel was their lack of size, so when the Flames and Bills laid the body on them, Djurgardens wore down. Vancouver also tried a similar tactic but couldn’t score to keep up with Djurgardens, unlike the Flames and Bills.

The physicality used against Djurgardens would foreshadow the 1990s, when the high tempo offences of the West and Europe gave way to physical play. It wouldn’t take hold a year later, though, as 1992 featured an all-European Final when Slavia Praha faced off against Jokerit Helsinki. In what would be the highest scoring final ever, Jokerit bested Slavia by a 15-13 count when it scored six straight third period goals to erase a 13-9 deficit. Slavia, for their part, overcame two three-goal leads during the game, including one in 30 seconds. After the game, Jokerit head coach Juha Ahonen remarked that “goaltending won us the game”. The assembled press let out a roar of laughter until they realized that Ahonen said it with a straight face. “I mean it. We had more saves than they did. That’s why we won.” Hard to argue that logic; and with that, the “Goal-den Era” (as it came to be called) came to an end.

1993-1999: The East Cup Golden Age

As the 1980s became the 1990s, coaching staffs began to notice the high scoring offences tended to wilt when they were placed under intense physical pressure. Previously, at the height of the ‘80s, general managers acquired as many skill players as they could, believing that the key to success was simply outscoring your opposition. It wasn’t until Bowman successfully shepherded the Bills past Djurgardens did teams start to realize that physicality could win the day, and the main beneficiaries would be the East Cup, who would appear in six of the next seven Cup Finals, winning four of them.

Part of the East resurgence would be planted in 1989 with a landmark court ruling. For years, the East had been dominated by four teams- the Sabres, Islanders, Maple Leafs and Nordiques- with the rest of the league, especially the rest in Canada, struggling to keep up. In 1987, Lorry- one of the East’s founding fathers- decided he had enough and began soliciting other teams with the interest of forming a breakaway league, just as he had done in 1970. Later in 1987, Edmonton, Lethbridge, London, and Vancouver all announced intentions to form the “Canadian Professional Hockey League” to begin play in 1988. The East sued, taking the matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the 1976 agreement that allowed the East Cup to pilfer teams from the NHL also allowed teams to break away and form their own leagues. The court process meant that the CPHL couldn’t begin play until 1990, but it would still start, buoyed from big money paid by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and by adding the revived Ottawa Senators in 1992. Following the change, the NAHA and IIHF both approved rules regarding league shifts- which also included rules about franchise relocation- in an effort to maintain stability. The rules faced their first test when the Raleigh Musketeers sought a move to Peterborough due to lacklustre attendance in Carolina, which was studied and eventually approved for 1990 as the NAHA determined that the market, at the time, could not have long term success.

Though experts believed that such a massive shakeup of talent would be a detriment to the East (which added a few teams to make up for the loss), it turned out to be the opposite. With less teams to play, they played each other more often, and this led to an intensification of league rivalries. The biggest of these rivalries was the one between Buffalo and Quebec, a rivalry that began on December 8, 1981 when the two teams met at the Memorial Auditorium. Early in the first period, Buffalo’s Jim Schoenfeld high-sticked Quebec’s Peter Stastny, leading to the first of the game’s three bench-clearing brawls. There was debate then- as there is now- about whether or not Schoenfeld’s stick even hit Stastny, but it mattered little as the years progressed and the rivalry intensified. Though the East brass were worried of the brutality of the games, Sabres-Nordiques games became the league’s biggest draw, so there was little the league could do about it.

The Nords-Sabres rivalry reached a zenith when the two teams met in the East Cup Final for the first time in 1993. The best-of-seven final went the full seven games, with the teams trading wins and body blows through the first six games that had more twists and turns than an entire season. There was Buffalo’s Pat Lafontaine’s 11-point performance in Game 2 at Le Colisee du Quebec that spearheaded an emphatic 12-3 demolition that tied the series at one, Quebec super sophomore Mats Sundin scoring twice in the last five minutes of Game 5 to erase a Buffalo lead before Owen Nolan later won it for Quebec in overtime, with similar heroics by Buffalo’s Alexander Mogilny in the following game. In an episode that mirrored the Sabres’ victory over the Jets in 1975, Quebec was 3.4 seconds away from an East Cup victory before Mogilny sent a seeing-eye slapshot past Ron Hextall to send the game spectacularly to overtime. As the game wandered into the third overtime period, Mario Lemieux- who had a quiet series for the Sabres until that point- would find a spark of inspiration, going coast to coast and deking all five Quebec defenders before potting the winner past Hextall, evening the series with what would later be described as one of the “Top 10 Goals of the Century” by The Hockey News. Game 7 wouldn’t disappoint either, with both Lemieux and Quebec’s Joe Sakic literally trading goals all game long. This one would go to overtime as well, tied at 4, but this time Buffalo would prevail, as Mogilny potted the overtime winner during a controversial power play. With ten minutes to go in the first overtime period, Buffalo speedster Randy Moller stepped on the stick of Quebec’s Alexei Gusarov which stopped an attempt at a two-on-one break. Referee Andy Van Hellemond believed Gusarov intentionally swiped at Moller’s skates thus necessitating the penalty call, but it is still a major talking point to this day.

The victory in the East Cup Finals would eventually set up a Stanley Cup Final showdown with Gretzky and the Jets. The game would be a rematch of the contentious Jets-Sabres game from 1975, and the press couldn’t stop noting all the subplots present in the game. It would be the first game that Gretzky and Lemieux- two of hockey’s biggest stars for the past decade and a half- would play against each other in a meaningful way. It would be the first time two of the game’s “super youngsters”- Mogilny and the Jets’ Teemu Selanne (“The Finnish Flash”), both of whom would enjoy long, prosperous careers- would play against each other in a meaningful contest. It pitted the top team from both of the top leagues- the East and the West- against each other, as both the Sabres and Jets led their leagues in championship titles. It would, lastly, be viewed as a “Clash of Styles”, with the physical but mobile Sabres pairing off with the high-scoring Jets. The 1993 Final was seen as “The First Real Stanley Cup Final” and it didn’t disappoint.
Unlike the 1975 game, it was the Sabres who would open with the lead, as Mogilny and Yuri Khmylev scored in the game’s first ten minutes to stake Buffalo a 2-0 lead. Gretzky responded for the Jets later in the first to cut into the lead but Hawerchuck- now a Sabre- scored with 2.5 seconds to go in first- to restore the two-goal advantage. The Sabres looked like they were in control of the game after the first, but that would change in the second. Winnipeg’s Darrin Shannon converted on an early power play in the second that shifted momentum back to the Jets, with Alexei Zhamnov (on a great feed by Keith Tkachuck) and Phil Housley converting later to give the Jets a 4-3 lead at the intermission. Buffalo’s Pat LaFontaine would tie the game in the first minute of the third, but Selanne would reply two minutes later giving the Jets a 5-4 advantage. Petr Svoboda converted a power play for the Sabres with nine minutes to go in the third, before Moller came to the forefront again.

With three minutes to go in the third, Tkachuck and the Jets seemed to pin the Sabres deep in their zone with relentless pressure, with only Sabres goaltender Grant Fuhr keeping the game tied. Buffalo only got out of the jam when Moller intercepted an intended pass by Housley (ironically traded by the Sabres for Hawerchuck) to defensive partner Fredrik Olausson across the blueline, allowing Moller to gain a clear break at the Jets’ net. Moller’s speed meant none of the Jets could hope to catch him, and, after executing a perfect deke that Jets goalie Bob Essensa bit on, Moller had a wide open net to slot the puck home. Buffalo now had the lead, 6-5, and would hold on until the end of the game, surviving a Gretzky shot off the post to gain the team’s fourth Stanley Cup. The Sabres’ bruising effort set the tone for the rest of the decade, as the offences of the West would be slowed by the brawn of the East.

“I just reacted,” said Moller about his breakaway goal. “I didn’t have much time to think of a move to pull off so I just took what Essensa gave me. He made the first move and I just ran with it.”

The next year, Essensa and the Jets would be surprised by another Eastern-style team, though this time it was the two-year-old Phoenix Starbirds. The Starbirds qualified for the West Cup playoffs in the eighth and final spot with a dismal 23-30-3 record, but achieved success in the first round, with the talent-starved ‘Birds using defence and physicality- like the Sabres had done- defeating the Jets in five games. “We really wanted to go back to the Cup Final and even the score with the Sabres, but we got ahead of ourselves,” said Gretzky after the deciding Game 5. The Starbirds, however, would prove they were more than just upset specialists, going on a Cinderella run in 1994 that saw them shock the Oilers in the West Cup Final and got them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Nordiques, who atoned for their defeat against the Sabres by sweeping them in the East Cup semi-finals en route to the East Cup win.

Like the Lynx in 1988, the Starbirds weren’t given much of a chance against the Nords. Though the Starbirds played a system similar to those in the East, critics didn’t believe the Starbirds had the talent to keep up with the Nordiques, who had the skill to “beat them at their own game”. Instead, Phoenix goalie Nikolai Khabibulin- who would later star for the Jets- outdueled Hextall in the Final, allowing his team to post a 2-0 shutout on a shell-shocked Nordiques team. “It was a complete team game by them,” said Nordiques head coach Pierre Page. “They’ll call this an upset for years to come, but Phoenix deserved to be here. They played better than us.”

However, the ‘Birds couldn’t keep their momentum a season later, losing in the Western semi-finals to the Flames, who showed that talent was still needed in the West. The Starbirds did continue the trend of physical dominance in the hockey world, and it suited a Nordiques team that finally broke through in 1995. Spearheaded by the acquisition of forward Claude Lemieux and local product Patrick Roy (who left Montreal that offseason after being offended when Canadiens president Ronald Corey stepped on his foot during the exit interview), Quebec posted 50 wins during the East Cup season en route to a romp during the East Cup Playoffs (including another memorable defeat of the Sabres, this time in six games) and an emphatic 4-1 win over the Bills in the Stanley Cup Final. Sakic and rookie Peter Forsberg, who would have a storied career with Quebec, led the charge with 25 goals during the playoff run, with Sakic getting 14 of them. “We’ve been on the rise for years,” said Sakic after the Cup Final, “so it’s good to finally complete the surge and cash in on all this potential.”

The next year, the Islanders would serve notice that they were back on the upswing. Having acquired Martin Brodeur during the 1995 offseason, the Isles won an East Cup playoff series for the first time since 1986 en route to the East Cup crown. This Islander team served as the punctuation mark for the East’s physical dominance, employing just one “skill” player on its top lines (Zigmund Palffy) around a trio of forwards- Marty McInnis, Wendel Clark and a young Todd Bertuzzi- known more for their physicality and toughness than their skill, in stark contrast to teams like the Nords and Sabres which had a mix of skill and speed. The players would later be called “power forwards” after Allen Iverson- then a member of the New York Knicks- noted the players’ similarities with basketball players of the same makeup. New York’s inexperience would catch up with them when a veteran Jokerit Helsinki team defeated them in the Stanley Cup Final 5-3 in 1996, but it was a sign they were a team on the rise.

The Isles wouldn’t reach the zenith until 1998, when they acquired Eric Lindros to play with Palffy. After the Bills defeated them in the Cup semi-finals with an elite power forward of their own in Aaron Ward, the Isles realized they needed one of their own if they wanted to be competitive, hence the deal for Lindros getting done. Lindros would deliver, creating the space Palffy needed to operate his magic. With Lindros, Palffy, Brodeur and their young cast of power forwards, the Islanders muscled their way to a 2-1 victory over Eisbaren Berlin for the franchise’s first Cup since the 1980s dynasty.

Lindros couldn’t keep the Islanders at the top, being replaced by the resurgent Sabres. After years of disappointment, Buffalo largely revamped their team, trading away stars like Hawerchuck, Mogilny and LaFontaine for a more balanced, two-way team spearheaded by Lemieux and rising star Miroslav Satan, with the unorthodox Domonik Hasek in net. The new Sabres were smaller than the Islanders but they were swifter and, under new head coach Lindy Ruff, were adept at creating turnovers because of the pressure their speed created. It was so persistent that then St. Louis Blues coach Joel Quenneville commented that the Sabres were “like little gnats”.

Those gnats weren’t quite as dominant as previous Sabres teams, but they were good enough to finish 25-21-10, good enough for sixth in the East Cup. The playoffs was where the team would truly shine, because the pervasiveness of their checking game and the brilliance of Hasek in net meant there wasn’t a lead the Sabres could relinquish; and with Satan and Lemieux, there was hardly a game where they couldn’t get a lead. Buffalo would breeze through the East Cup playoffs, and then made quick work of the Stanley Cup tournament as well, dusting off Jokerit 2-0 for the team’s fifth Cup. Not surprisingly, Hasek was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and with Buffalo’s victory came the end of the East Cup’s dominance in the Stanley Cup tournament.

2000-2007: The Game Opens Up

When the Sabres lifted the Cup above their heads in 1999, there was little reason to believe the East Cup’s dominance of the hockey world could end. Six of the seven Cup Finals featured an East Cup team, with four of them winning the trophy. Not only that, but with the retirement of Gretzky in 1999, most of the game’s well-known stars- Lemieux, Sakic, Forsberg, Satan, Hasek, Lindros, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mats Sundin, Philadelphia Flyers forward John Leclair, Montreal Canadiens forward Mark Recchi and San Jose Sharks forward Owen Nolan- all played in the East. However, the changing world landscape would mean the influx of ideas across the globe, meaning hockey dominance would no longer be confined to North America.

After World War II decimated the economies of Europe, precipitating the decline of France from major power status and a massive loss of territory by the British Empire, the world came to be ruled by three superpowers- the Roman Empire, the ancient powerhouse that maintained a foothold in the Mediterranean (though not on to all its old territories, and it did hold on to almost all of Central and South America), the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Rome was largely an isolationist power, leaving the U.S. and the Soviets to fight for supremacy across the world, though the Romans didn’t always remain behind the scenes. As the world’s third superpower, they served a largely peacekeeping role, brokering numerous agreements that defused nuclear war on a number of occasions, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

However, the armament races of the Americans and Soviets and their zeal for war would prove to be unstable, resulting in the collapse of both nations dramatically in 1991. The result was many new nations, in Europe, Asia and North America and the expansion of Rome and Britain into new territories, particularly Rome into West Germany and western Czechoslovakia and Britain back into Northern Ontario and Baffin Island. To keep order, Rome and Britain teamed up to form the "North American Union" with the new states in North America to serve as an economic bloc, with "subregions" in Canada (which gained Ohio and Minnesota) and the former American territories. With all the new countries and the new world order came mass immigrations to other countries, leading to the influx of ideas to different areas of the globe. One of those was hockey, which started to take off in Rome in 1993 when Dave King, then only recently removed from his job with the Calgary Flames, built the Roman Hockey Federation from the ground up, with Rome’s hockey league, the Premium, soon becoming one of hockey’s best.

Hockey had been played in Rome since the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until King arrived when the Romans realized how much they would like the game. Promoting the game’s more “barbaric” qualities- such as fighting and hard bodychecks- King won over a crowd that still lusted for its gladiators, as the Romans grew to realize that hockey could be just as violent. Within a year of arriving, hockey registration in Rome rose by 12000%, all thanks to King’s efforts.

It was no surprise that by 2000, the Romans would have a formidable team to call their own in the form of Team Italy, formed by King after he merged all of the old Italian club teams together so they could be competitive in the new Imperial league. However, Italy wouldn’t win the Cup right away, giving way to another Roman innovator to influence hockey on another side of the globe- in the city of Victoria, in the old province of British Columbia that became “Roman Columbia” when the Romans took over the West Coast and the old Southwest U.S. in 1991.

Victoria’s team was The Crash Test Dummies, a team named for the rock band of the same name that was granted the team as an expansion team for the 1999-2000 season in the CPHL. Their coach was the up-and-coming Jose Mourinho, who hailed from the Roman city of Setubal in southern Lusitania. Mourinho was, at the time, an aspiring soccer manager whose ambitions were blocked by veteran coaches who refused to give up their post, and, as a result, Mourinho looked elsewhere to establish a name for himself and turned to hockey. Despite not knowing anything about the game- reportedly it wasn’t until he held his first practice did Mourinho figure out what the puck was- Mourinho learned the game quickly and soon became one of the game’s better coaches.

Unlike other coaches that used elements of soccer in their approach to hockey in the 1970s, Mourinho stressed the importance of playing “without the puck” and thus preached a more defensive style of play. The Dummies were not worried about obtaining the puck, keeping all of their players behind centre ice and letting their opponents come to them. They would also prove to be very conservative in their approach, mostly deciding to pass the puck back into its defensive zone instead of insisting on pushing it forward unless there was a clear chance. The Dummies relied solely on their power play for offence, meaning they played a lot of low scoring games. Victoria would set a record in 1999-2000 for the most amount of games that ended 1-0 with 32 in the CPHL season. The games got so bad that opposing broadcasters proposed segments of the game to be “nap time” and the Dummies themselves paid for recliner-type seats in case their own fans wanted to doze off.

Despite the uproar their games caused, Mourinho refused to budge and his plan worked, leading Victoria all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season. Not surprisingly, the Dummies would force overtime with the game scoreless against the Jets, who acquired Jaromir Jagr when Gretzky retired, meaning the game would have to end 1-0. However, the lack of offensive talent would come back to hurt the Dummies, as, despite their ability to prevent scoring, they weren’t able to convert the few chances they did get. Deep into the fifth overtime, the Jets- on their first real chance of the game- scored to win the Cup on Keith Tkachuck’s goal, Tkachuck doing it deflecting a puck home from his familiar spot in front of the net.
The next year, the Dummies got it right, though it wasn’t by acquiring more forwards. Acquiring goaltender Arturs Irbe, big defenceman Dan McGillis to patrol the front of the net better and defenceman Al MacInnis for the power play, Victoria’s defence improved from a year before, bettering its record of 1-0 games by recording 40 of them in the 2000-01 season, with the Dummies winning 32 of them. The Dummies also became the first team to finish above .500, with a 34-18-4 record, to not average a goal per game, scoring just 43 times (39 of them on the power play), with MacInnis leading the way with ten of them. Irbe also posted a professional hockey record of 27 shutouts, with the Dummies as a team allowing only 35 goals all season long. Despite the strong defensive performance there was scepticism since Victoria posted their numbers in the CPHL which wasn’t quite at the level of the East or West Cups, but they would prove themselves in the Stanley Cup tournament.

At the tournament in Milan, Victoria became the first team in the history of the Cup tournament to not allow a single goal for the whole tournament, shutting out both the West and East Cup champion Jets and Sabres respectively along the way. In the final, the Dummies met Finnish champion Espoo Blues, with the championship game playing like the one the year before. This time, at the 10:06 mark of the fifth overtime period- around the same time Tkachuck ended the championship game a year before- MacInnis drilled a shot from the point with his trademark slapshot to end the game for Victoria, giving Mourinho and the Dummies a Stanley Cup in only their second season. Irbe would be named the tournament MVP, as well as winning the Hart and Vezina Trophies (awarded now by The World Hockey Writers’ Association to award excellence across the hockey world).

Predictably, the Dummies’ two seasons of excellence set off alarm bells in the hockey universe, with many fearing that Mourinho would promote the proliferation of a more defensive game. Mourinho scoffed at the notion, pointing out that “the business of sports means that it cannot be about entertainment” and that he is simply a product of the business. His comments were derided by Bowman as “against the spirit of the game” though others, like Quenneville, defended his comments by saying “winning and entertainment are at odds with each other. You cannot be an exclusively scoring team and expect to win- you have to play defence.” Rule changes were sought by the NAHA and the IIHF to promote offence but nothing could be agreed upon that wouldn’t compromise the game’s integrity. Writers speculated that the Dummies’ run of dominance couldn’t be sustainable in the long term since eventually someone would be able to figure out Victoria’s defensive system, and it was that hope that provided optimism that offence could again rule the day.

It didn’t happen in 2001-02, at least not at first. Victoria topped the CPHL with a 52-3-1 record, bettering its defensive marks with 47 1-0 games, winning 45 of them, allowing just ten goals all season. Irbe himself recorded 50 shutouts to better his record from the previous season. However, the Canucks, relegated to that of a doormat for most of the ‘90s, snuck into the CPHL playoffs in eighth led by the “West Coast Express” line of Markus Naslund, local product Brendan Morrison and Bertuzzi, acquired in 2000 from the Islanders, matched up against the Dummies in the “Battle of Roman Columbia”. The series seemed to go according to plan when Victoria took a 2-0 series lead (on back to back 1-0 shutouts, no less), but the Canucks exploded in Game 3, routing Victoria 9-0. Vancouver kept the momentum going over the next three games, shocking the Dummies in six games by outscoring them 29-4 in the final four games. Asked what their secret was for unlocking the stingy Dummies defence, Canucks head coach Marc Crawford simply said, “Score”. By putting pressure on their opponents from the outset, the Canucks were able to break down the Victoria defence which forced them to scramble in their zone, allowing for the scoring chances the Canucks needed to win. Vancouver carried that momentum all the way to the 2002 Stanley Cup, which touched off a week’s worth of rioting that burned down the whole city. The inaction of Roman authorities- apparently because they secretly wanted to rebuild the city- caused the Vancouver Sun to quip it was “the second time Nero fiddled while Rome burned”.

After another disappointing playoff exit, Mourinho would resign as coach of the Dummies to go back into soccer, leading FC Porto to the World Championship a year later in 2004. Roman influence would continue on the hockey world in 2003 however, as Team Italy broke through and finally won their Stanley Cup title. Led by veteran Stefan Figliuzzi, Italy broke through from simply dominating the Premium to romp its way to the Cup title, scoring an average of a whopping five goals per game en route to the Cup title. Key to the Italians’ success was the gelling Figliuzzi with young players such as Alberto Banzi, Luigi Gentile and Alberto Cacciaguerra. “We all came up at the same time through the academies and learned to play and win together,” said Gentile, “so to win like this is a testament to our combined efforts as a group.”

The next year, the continued resurgence of European hockey saw the two best historical teams of rival nations Finland and Sweden- Jokerit and Djurgardens respectively- face off in a spirited Cup Final. After years of the low-scoring Dummies and the relative blowout of Team Italy, the 2004 Final at Le Colisee in Quebec City saw a wide open, topsy-turvy affair. Djurgardens staked an early 3-0 lead after five minutes which appeared to take the wind out of the Jokerit sails, only for Valteri Filppula to record a hat trick in 30 seconds before the period was closed to even the score. The second was surprisingly scoreless, but Richard Lintner scored early in the third to give Djurgardens the lead. However, instead of settling the game back down again, Jokerit struck right back with Glen Metropolit scoring barely half a minute after Lintner. Four minutes later, Kristofer Ottoson would score to give Djurgardens the lead again, only for Jokerit to reply again through P.C. Drouin a minute later. Three minutes later, Drouin would score again to give Jokerit the lead for good, topped off by an empty net goal for the 7-5 win, a game described as one of the best Cup Final games ever by The Hockey News shortly after it concluded.

2005 saw the Cup Final return to an all-North American affair and an all-East Final (due to a one-time change in the qualification that gave the East and West two berths in the tournament, a move abandoned the next year), but it featured two new names- the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Predators joined the East Cup in 1997-98 as an expansion team, and built their team mostly through their award-winning youth academy, with stars Kimmo Timonen, Shea Weber, Tomas Vokoun, Ryan Suter, David Legwand and Scott Hartnell all coming from the academy. The Lightning, meanwhile, had been floundering in the East since coming into the league in 1992-93 before finally hitting their stride in 2004-05 through a mixture of shrewd moves (such as acquiring former Flame castaway Martin St. Louis) and academy products in the form of Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards. They both were surprise runaways in their respective leagues, and both put up a spirited fight in the Cup Final. Aided by goals by Weber and Legwand in the third period, the Predators erased a 2-1 Tampa lead set up by St. Louis to eventually win the game 4-2. Vokoun was key in the victory, stopping 32 shots including a glove save with ten seconds left on Lecavalier that allowed for Hartnell’s empty-net goal to clinch the game with two seconds left.

2006 saw the return of a familiar face to the Cup Final in the form of the Sabres, who set up an “old guard vs. new guard” championship game with Italy. Just like the 1999 Sabres team, this was a completely different Buffalo team than the last one that contested the Cup Final. Going back to its offensive roots in 1993, the 2006 Sabres were a young unit led by players like Riku Salo, Derek Roy, Patrice Bergeron, Duncan Keith and Brenden Morrow, though they were still captained by Lemieux. The Italians, though, featured many of the same players from the 2003 championship team, with Figliuzzi, Gentile and Cacciaguerra still leading the way, with their modus operandi still being outscore the opposition. The Final at the Montreal Forum didn’t disappoint, with Buffalo winning a spirited 6-4 affair on the heels of a hat trick by Roy, with Lemieux scoring the winning goal with five minutes left. The Final proved to be Lemieux’s swan song, as he announced on the ice after accepting the Cup that after 22 years- all spent with the Sabres- it was time to call it a career. Lemieux would retire with many of hockey’s professional scoring records, including most career points, goals and assists, as well as the marks for season and game play.

After Buffalo, the trend of unlikely champions continued, with the Halifax Crusaders rising to the top in the most unlikely of circumstances. After floundering to an abysmal 1-26-2 start in the East, the Crusaders caught fire. Following what was then a routine 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks, Halifax proceeded to run the table, winning 27 straight games to finish improbably at 28-26-2. The streak didn’t finish in the playoffs, as the Crusaders swept through the East playoffs, defeating the Barrie Boars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo to claim the Canadian title; nor did it stop at the Cup tournament, as the Crusaders didn’t lose in the group stage and got to the Cup Final against Rome’s HC Davos having won an unprecedented 45 straight games.

The 2007 Final was a chance for Halifax to make hockey history. Having already topped the Flyers’ record of 33 straight undefeated games from 1980 and the Sabres’ streak of 22 straight victories in 1993, the Crusaders would become the first team to literally go from last to first in a single season. Davos was on a Cinderella run of their own, having won their first Premium title in their history after a string of last place finishes, but the Final belonged to Halifax. Led by journeymen players Jason Podollan, Harold Druken and Jason Botterill, the Crusaders dominated right from the face off, scoring a 4-3 win that only came about when Davos’ Reto von Arx scored twice in the game’s final six minutes to give the Roman team a glimmer of hope. Upon accepting the Cup, Podollan proudly announced that “the season is never over- we are living proof of that. If we can come back from an unsalvageable situation, then anyone can.” A commemorative copy of the Cup was made for The Hockey Hall of Fame to preserve the Crusaders’ historic achievement, with information added on for when the Crusaders’ streak finally concluded, on October 5, 2008 against the Montreal Canadiens- 61 games later.

2008-Present: Introducing the Stanley Cup League

The increase in competitiveness by the European teams as well as by clubs outside of the major leagues led to calls to change the Stanley Cup tournament structure to get more teams involved in the tournament. Noting that were several teams, especially in the East and West, that could have had a reasonable chance for the Cup but never had the chance to compete for one since they had to navigate through arduous league playoffs, the Cup trustees agreed that a change was needed and negotiated with the NAHA and the IIHF to set up an in-season league to award the Cup. Inspired by European soccer’s highly successful Champions’ League, the newly minted Stanley Cup League would start each March with its participants drawn from the highest ranked teams from each league after their seasons, which now end in March, with the amount of teams from each league determined by a special formula. This formula would take into account how each league’s teams cumulatively fared in the League, with the most successful leagues being able to ice more teams. A special playoff would take place before the start of the SCL season to give more teams a chance to qualify for the tournament. How each league determined how to send teams to the SCL was left to the leagues themselves to determine- some would use a playoff whereas others, like the East and West who could send up to six teams each to the SCL, just decided to run a season. The SCL was finalized in the summer of 2007, slated to begin play in 2008 from the final standings of 2007-08.

As a result of the SCL's formation, the leagues underwent transformation, in a bit to increase their competitiveness. The West Cup and NHL merged under the Western banner and added expansion teams, while the Canadian league simply added more teams. In Europe, the runaway success of the Roman Premium led to other European teams joining the circuit, including the top teams from Sweden and Finland. The result left the West as a 48-team behemoth, with CPHL and the Premium also getting bigger. Meanwhile, despite pressure to do so, the East Cup decided against expansion, citing a need for stability and determining that a smaller size is better for fans of their league, so the East underwent no changes. It proved to be a shrewd move, as the East's revenues continued to improve whereas the rest of the leagues' revenue growth was relatively stagnant.

The first season of the SCL saw another Cinderella emerged from the pack. The San Jose Sharks, who started off as doormats before becoming reasonably competitive as the 2000s wore on, caught fire in 2007-08 with a second place finish in the East Cup, good enough to qualify for an automatic place in the inaugural SCL. Led by veteran forwards Vincent Damphousse and Patrick Marleau, defenceman Kristian Kudroc and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, none of whom were big names except for Damphousse, the Sharks got to where they were by acing the chemistry test. Their prize was drawing Djurgardens IF in the Cup Final, the Swedish team looking to win their first Cup in 18 years. The teams put forth a spirited contest that wasn’t decided until late in the third, when Djurgardens’ superior depth overcame the plucky Sharks in scoring twice in the final five minutes en route to a 5-2 victory. Djurgardens’ Marian Hossa was named the Conn Smythe winner as Stanley Cup tournament MVP after scoring twice in the Final for eight goals in the tournament.

2009 and 2010 saw the return of the Premium to the summit. In 2008, the Vitkovice Steel of Bohemia won their third Premium title of the decade and finally broke through for the Cup. Led by young forward Vojtech Polak and reborn veteran Tim Connolly, the Steel won the Cup in a defensive battle against MODO Ornskoldsvik in Davos. Polak broke a 1-1 tie late in the second before Connolly drilled home the insurance marker midway through the third for a 3-1 win. In 2010, Italy dominated a resurgent Quebec Nordiques team at the Final in Calgary, with Stefan Figliuzzi scoring a spirited hat trick for all of the game’s goals in what would prove to be his final game.

The 2011 Final featured the Battle of Buffalo, with the Sabres and Bills facing off at the venerable Flavian Amphitheatre in one of the Final’s all-time best games. Bills legend Aaron Ward opened the scoring before the Sabres staked a 2-1 lead on goals by Salo and Morrow, the new captain of the team. The back and forth affair continued, with the Bills taking a 4-2 lead into the second intermission after Steve Moore, Olli Jokinen and Jason King made the Sabres pay for penalty trouble with quick power play markers. The Sabres made it a game to remember, however, as Paul Gaustad provided two goals in the third from the third line to send the game to overtime. In the overtime session, Ward had a shot ring off the post and picked away by Sabres goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, allowing Randy Robitaille to later score in the period via a seeing-eye slapshot to give the Sabres their seventh Stanley Cup.

The Bills and Sabres again played for the Cup in 2012, and it appeared at first that the Bills would exact revenge on the Sabres. The Bills stormed to a 4-0 lead halfway through the second period, but a Riku Salo goal towards the end of the second revitalized the Sabres, who scored three more times in the third to tie the game and send it to overtime. As soon as overtime started, the Sabres stormed the Bills net and scored the winner, with Brenden Morrow tapping in a rebound after a mad scramble.

In 2013 in Dallas, the Sabres again appeared in the Cup Final, though this time it was against league rivals the Islanders. The Sabres' appearance was (almost) a shock given the team's youthful overhaul the previous summer, but the formula worked as it allowed the Sabres to coast through the SCL and the knockout round, until the semi-finals where Buffalo needed super youngster Wallace Robinson's heroics at the 171:23 mark of overtime to rescue them from the resilient Edmonton Oilers. The Islanders, for their part, hardly broke a sweat, winning their knockout stage games by a combined seven goals over three games. The Final, thus, was a back-and-forth affair, with the game tied at 2 after two periods and at 4 midway through the third. However, late penalties by the Islanders (which head coach Ted Nolan later questioned) gave the Sabres the power plays they needed to break it open, with the game eventually ending in a 7-4 Buffalo win.

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I don't know what to say here...I was never very good at these things...

What can I say? I'm not a complex guy but I enjoy a complex discussion. I can talk about just anything because  I'm a quick learner and just like learning, but I'm a sports (watcher) person at heart. I've got a History Degree (with Honours) from York and I have the Research Analyst certificate from Georgian. I'm also a writer- I've provided the links in my profile for you to see if you wish.

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