November 19, 2008

Remembering 1994 - The Canucks Magic Stanley Cup Run

I remember it all too well.

The 1994 Stanley Cup finals. Kirk McLean's unbeatable play in game one. Greg Adams' shocking overtime goal. Ex-Canuck Doug Lidster's game winner in game two. Pavel Bure's high stick in game three. Brian Leetch's amazing play. Mike Richter's acrobatics. Trevor Linden's heart and desire. Geoff Courtnall's big goal in game six. Nathan Lafeyette's goal post in game 7, followed painfully by Mark Messier's hoisting of the Stanley Cup.

But more than anything I remember the penalty shot.

Game four. With goals by Linden and Cliff Ronning, the Canucks are up 2-1 in the second period, badly needing this win to knot the series at 2 games a piece.

Under immense pressure from the attacking Rangers, Vancouver desperately seeks a third goal to cushion their lead. Pavel Bure has a breakaway from his own blue line, except he his hauled down by Brian Leetch. At 6:31 of the second period the whistle blows, and referee Terry Gregson immediately points to center ice, signalling a penalty shot!

Does it get any better than that? Arguably the most exciting Stanley Cup final ever now provides hockey's most dramatic moment. The most electrifying goal scorer of his generation one-on-one with the hottest goalie of the time, Mike Richter.

The Pacific Coliseum crowd absolutely roared as Bure readied for the penalty shot. They knew what was at stake. If Bure could score here, that would take the wind out of the Rangers' sails, greatly increasing the Canucks chances of victory both in game four and in the series. Everyone stood on their feet, ready to celebrate a sure goal. The Russian Rocket always scores on breakaways.

But on this night Mike Richter was his match. Richter charge out to meet the rushin' Russian before retreating back into his net. Richter almost knew Bure was going to use his patented move, cradling the puck far to the left hoping to slide the puck under his right pad. Memorably Bure used the same memorable move against Calgary earlier in the playoffs. Unlike Mike Vernon, Richter would not be taken by surprise, and took away all of the shooter's room.

Richter's gamble worked, and arguably was the defining moment of his career. In my mind, it was the defining moment of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals.

Energized by the dramatic moment of theatre, the Rangers came back and took game 4 and take a stranglehold on the series. Brian Leetch scored one goal and assisted on goals by Steve Larmer, Sergei Zubov and Alexei Kovalev. The Rangers are now up 3 games to 1 on the dejected Canucks. Broadway prematurely plans it's first Stanley Cup party since 1940.

The Canucks would temporarily spoil the party, staving off elimination in games 5 and 6, before narrowly bowing in game 7.

Like many Canucks fans, I will always wonder what would have happened if Bure scored on that penalty shot.

It is a little bit hard to believe that it has already been 14 years since that great series. Time sure has flown by, because the series is still fresh in my usually poor memory. It is especially in my thoughts today, as the Canucks return to Madison Square Gardens and take on the Rangers tonight.

Here's the Bure penalty shot courtesy of YouTube:

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