May 26, 2015

Jussi Markkanen

Jussi Markkanen's long goaltending career included just 128 games in the National Hockey League. But who can forget the fantastic story of journeyman to surprise star in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.

The Oilers were a Cinderella team looking not for silver slippers but a silver Stanley Cup. They clinched a playoff spot on the final weekend of the NHL regular season and then rode the hot goaltending of Dwayne Roloson all the way to the Stanley Cup final where they met the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Oilers unlikely hopes seemed dashed after Roloson injured his right knee late in the third period of Game 1 in a goal-mouth collision with teammate Marc-Andre Bergeron and Carolina Hurricanes winger Andrew Ladd.

But in entered Markkanen, even though he did not even back up game one. Ty Conklin was number two at that point, but the Oilers played a hunch and went with the Finn.

It was a smart move as Markkanen led the Oilers all the way to a decisive game 7 against the Hurricanes, including a 4-0 shutout in game six. But, as seemingly always in this hockey Cinderella stories, the Oilers fell shy in game 7, but to no fault of Markkanen.

"Jussi has found his game and has taken it to another level," Oilers veteran left winger Ryan Smyth said. "We kept saying in the locker room that all we needed was four wins ... and that Jussi has played well enough in stretches for us in the past. He's given us a chance to win every night since he took over for Roli."

"The last week and a half has been a little bit nerve-wracking, but it's been the best time of my hockey life," Markkanen said before Game 6. "I had never played in an NHL playoff game, before and then I wind up getting my first chance in the Stanley Cup Final. Wow! This is so exciting, I can't sleep. You know, all the energy, all the hard work. The mind, the body, won't shut down. But I'm not about to let down, not when I look around and see a lot of great players who have played for a long time without ever winning a Stanley Cup. When you get a chance like this, you have to give it your best."

Jussi did himself proud in those playoffs, and has his own little place in hockey history.  But surprisingly Markkanen played only 22 more games in the NHL and found himself finishing off his career with several more seasons in Europe.

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