The NHL's 10 Greatest Stanley Cup Championship Teams of the Last 50 Years
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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
However, when it comes to dominance in the National Hockey League, it's all about winning games and Stanley Cup championships.
Some teams have done it with scoring, while others have relied on defense. The best championship teams have done it by combining those two factors with depth and unending motivation.
In the end, it's all about talent. Over the last 50 years, there have been some overwhelming teams that have left indelible memories for hockey fans. Some of those teams are obvious, but there are a few in our top 10 that may surprise you.
One note: For teams that had a streak of multiple championships, we took the one team that we considered the best of that championship run. That's why you will see one New York Islanders team, one Edmonton Oilers team and one team from the great Montreal Canadiens dynasty.
No. 10: 2002-03 New Jersey Devils
The outstanding goaltending of Martin Brodeur keyed the Devils' Stanley Cup run in 2002-03.
Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE
The 2002-03 New Jersey Devils may have been the most balanced of the franchise's three Stanley Cup championship teams.
The Devils finished the regular season with 108 points and were led by their outstanding goalie Martin Brodeur, who registered a 2.02 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. Head coach Pat Burns emphasized defense, and this club played a choking style that prevented opponents from sustaining any kind of attack.
In addition to Brodeur, the Devils had defensemen Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens to punish opponents.
The Devils easily dispatched the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first two rounds. They defeated the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in another seven-game series to win the championship.
No. 9: 1993-94 New York Rangers
The brilliant Mark Messier keyed the end of the Rangers' long Stanley Cup drought.
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"1940 ... 1940 ... 1940."
That was the chant that greeted the Rangers, particularly when they went on the road to play archrivals like the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers.
That year, of course, was the last year that the New York Rangers had won the Stanley Cup. All that changed in the 1993-94 season, when the Rangers dominated the regular season with a 52-24-8 record for 112 points and served notice that they were not going to be denied any longer.
The Rangers were led by Mark Messier and Brian Leetch, along with Mike Richter in the net.
The Rangers started their postseason run with easy wins over the Islanders and Washington Capitals, but they appeared to be in deep trouble when they trailed the Devils three games to two going into Game 6 in New Jersey. Prior to that game, Messier guaranteed that the Rangers would not lose, and he came through with a hat trick in a memorable Rangers win.
In Game 7, role player Stephane Matteau scored the series-winning goal in double overtime that touched off a memorable celebration at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers again got all they could handle from the Vancouver Canucks in the Finals, but when center Craig MacTavish won a last-second faceoff, the Rangers survived another seven-game series and had their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
No longer would the Rangers be dogged by that painful "1940" chant.
No. 8: 1988-89 Calgary Flames
The mustachioed Lanny McDonald was the symbolic hero of an underrated team.
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The 1988-89 Calgary Flames are remembered for winning the only championship in their history by going into Montreal and eliminating the Canadiens on their home ice. That defeat marked the only time the Canadiens lost a Stanley Cup Finals in the Montreal Forum.
What is not remembered about the Flames is that they had one of the greatest teams in memory. While Terry Crisp is not often thought of as one of the best coaches of all-time, he led the Flames to a 54-27-9 record and 117 regular-season points.
The Flames had been a strong team for many years, but they had been bullied by the Edmonton Oilers. But they did not have to take a backseat to the Oilers that season because they finished first in the Smythe Division and were 26 points ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Kings and 34 points ahead of the Oilers.
The Flames had two 51-goal scorers in Joey Mullen and Joe Nieuwendyk. They could score at will and were a defensively sound team with Mike Vernon in goal.
The Flames were pushed to the limit by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round and ultimately won in overtime of the seventh game when Jim Peplinski's shot deflected off Joel Otto's skate for the series-winning goal. The Flames never would have scored that game winner if Vernon had not made an incredible save off of Vancouver's Stan Smyl moments before.
The Flames beat the Kings and Blackhawks easily in the next two rounds and then defeated the Canadiens in six games to win the title. The final game was tied in the third period when veteran Lanny McDonald converted a pass from Nieuwendyk that gave the Flames a lead that they would not relinquish.
No. 7: 1974-75 Philadelphia Flyers
Bobby Clarke's win-at-all-costs philosophy helped turn the Flyers into a sensational team.
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Many hockey purists despise the Philadelphia Flyers teams won back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 1974 and '75.
They hate the Flyers because they used size, strength and physical intimidation to bully their way into elite status. They clearly earned their nickname of the Broad Street Bullies.
While they may not have been pure as the driven snow, the Flyers played sensational hockey and had far more talent than they were given credit for. The 1975 Flyers recorded a 51-18-11 record for 113 points.
Bobby Clarke was their best player and spiritual leader, and he was joined by Bill Barber, Gary Dornhoefer, Moose Dupont and the sensational Bernie Parent in goal.
While the 1974 team scored the more memorable triumph in the Stanley Cup Finals when they defeated Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins in six games in the Finals, the 1975 Flyers were a more confident and accomplished team, as they defeated the high-scoring and talented Buffalo Sabres in six games to win their second straight Stanley Cup.
No. 6: 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche
The 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche are remembered primarily as the team that allowed Ray Bourque to end his legendary career with a Stanley Cup triumph, but they were far more than that. They were a sensational team that finished 52-16-10-4 for 118 points during the regular season and never stopped rolling in the postseason.
This was a brilliant team that was led by Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg on offense, while Bourque was among the key players on the defensive end. They also had Patrick Roy in net, and he was simply sensational during a playoff run that saw them defeat the Vancouver Canucks, the Los Angeles Kings, the St. Louis Blues and the New Jersey Devils.
The triumph over the Devils came in a hard-earned seven games. The Avs trailed three games to two and were in danger of getting beaten by a strong New Jersey team. However, they went on the road and played a near-perfect game in a 4-0 victory to tie the series before returning home and closing out the series in a 3-1 victory.
That win gave Bourque the Stanley Cup that he had been denied for so long.
No. 5: 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings
The 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings won their second straight Stanley Cup championship when they swept an overmatched Washington Capitals team in four straight games.
The Red Wings had actually been pushed by the Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars in six-game series prior to the Finals. However, once the Wings found their rhythm in the Stanley Cup Finals, it was no contest.
The Wings were led by Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brendan Shanahan, and head coach Scotty Bowman had given this team the confidence that allowed them to look any opponent in the eye and defeat them whenever they were challenged.
Chris Osgood may not have been one of the all-time greats in net, but he was good enough and came up with big saves in key moments.
No. 4: 1971-72 Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins of the early 1970s were a juggernaut. They won two Stanley Cup titles in 1970 and 1972, and it's quite shocking that they did not win any others.
The Bruins were one of the most explosive teams of all-time, and they were led by Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Orr is considered the greatest defenseman in the history of the game and may have been the greatest player in league history. Wayne Gretzky is considered his only competition.
The 1970 championship is considered Boston's more famous title, since it concluded with Orr's famous flying goal in overtime that gave the Bruins the title over the St. Louis Blues. However, the Bruins were a more mature and determined team in 1972. They had been upset the year before by the Montreal Canadiens, and they played the 1971-72 season with an edge. They were 54-13-11 during the regular season and finished the year with 119 points.
They rolled by the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues in the first two rounds before defeating a powerful New York Rangers team in six games to win their second Stanley Cup in three years.
No. 3: 1981-82 New York Islanders
The Islanders followed the Montreal Canadiens dynasty with one of their own. The 1981-82 team may have been the best of that championship run.
The Islanders were 54-16-10 under head coach Al Arbour for 118 points. The Islanders were led by Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith in goal.
The Islanders were extended to five games by the Pittsburgh Penguins in their opening round best-of-five series and beat the neighboring New York Rangers in six games in the second round. They followed with four-game sweeps over the Quebec Nordiques and Vancouver Canucks to clinch their third straight title.
Bossy was sensational that season, recording 64 goals and 83 assists, and was basically unstoppable any time he had the puck in the offensive zone.
No. 2: 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers
Wayne Gretzky's incredible skills led the Oilers to a spectacular run in 1983-84.
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The Edmonton Oilers were punished in the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals by the New York Islanders.
They dropped that series in four straight games and the sting of that defeat stayed with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri for a full season. The Oilers took their anger out on the rest of the league in 1983-84, rolling to a 57-18-5 record, good for 119 points.
This time, there would be no missteps in the postseason. They swept the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round before outlasting the Calgary Flames in seven games. After that, it was smooth sailing. They punished the Minnesota North Stars in four straight and got revenge on the four-time champion Islanders by beating them in five games.
As a team, the Oilers rolled up a league-record 446 goals during the season and scored whenever they pleased. Gretzky was the peak of his powers. He scored 87 goals and added 118 assists for 205 points. Defenseman Paul Coffey was Orr-like with 40 goals and 87 assists. Kurri and Messier each exceeded the 100-point mark, while Glenn Anderson ended the season with 99 points.
No. 1: 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cup titles, but it's difficult to believe that any of their great championship teams were better than the 1976-77 titlists that dominated the league from start to finish.
This was the second of four straight titles. They were a remarkable 60-8-12 during the regular season. They led the league in scoring with 387 goals and were also first in the league in fewest goals allowed with 171.
Following their dominant regular season, they defeated the St. Louis Blues in four straight games in the first round of the playoffs. The New York Islanders provided some opposition, pushing the Canadiens to six games before bowing out. The Canadiens then earned the 20th of their Stanley Cup titles by sweeping a strong Boston Bruins team. Jacques Lemaire closed out the series by scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime on a sweet pass from Guy Lafleur.
Lafleur had a remarkable 56-goal, 80-assist season to lead the team in scoring. Sharp shooting left wing Steve Shutt benefited from playing opposite Lafleur, scoring 60 goals and adding 45 assists. Larry Robinson added 85 points from the blue line. If that wasn't enough, goalie Ken Dryden was 41-6-8 in the net with a 2.14 goals against average while registering 10 shutouts.
NBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury was a defenseman for the Bruins and played in the 1977 Stanley Cup Finals against the Canadiens. He told The Sporting News that Lafleur and his teammates were virtually unstoppable that year.
“The Canadiens were a different animal. They could beat you in so many different ways,” Milbury said. “My admiration for that team is nailed to the fact that they were so consistently good. It’s hard to do that. It’s hard to be that good for that long. ... They deserved their status.”
The 1976-77 Canadiens have no peers in hockey. They deserve to be ranked with the 1961 New York Yankees, the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the greatest pro sports franchises of all-time.