The most revered and recognizable trophy in sports comes at a price. The never duplicated, 84 year old, three foot, 35 pound tower of silver elicits all the instincts of dedication and passion from hockey players who deserve to be champions. The following 10 moments have been the most memorable for fans of the game.
A four-game sweep isn't usually considered dramatic. However, as much as we sports fans frequently claim that we're "sick of" the current dynastic leaders of certain sports, it's the dynasties and all time champions we really adore.
Wayne Gretzky scored the cup-clinching goal in game four of the 1988 Finals, and earned his last Stanley Cup ring, giving the Oilers four championships in five seasons. With the stringent salary cap that regulates today's NHL GMs, chances are hockey fans will never witness one franchise make another run like this ever again.
Occasionally, we lovers of sport are blessed with a moment that strokes the deepest keys of masculinity, lighting the primal chest-pounding fire that is begging to be released, and reminds us that competition is a part of human nature. Add mathematical significance to the equation, and there comes a "big play" that we'll never forget.
In game six of the 2003 finals, legendary New Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens laid a thunderous hit on Anaheim center Paul Kariya, who appeared to briefly lose consciousness while laying on his back in the middle of the ice.
Then, with a cough that clouded his visor, Kariya "came back to life" in a way similar to an intimidating "cybernetic organism" rebooting in a popular action-sci-fi saga.
Kariya returned to the ice minutes later, and scored a rocket of a goal, terminating New Jersey's chance at clinching the championship on Anaheim's ice.
In Game Seven, Martin Brodeur turned in one of his all-time leading shutout performances, giving New Jersey their third championship in eight seasons.
What followed was an unusual postgame sequence, featuring Bon Jovi music for the East Rutherford crowd to celebrate with, the "Star Wars" theme as Stevens lifted the cup, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere becoming the first losing player to be awarded the Conn Smythe trophy since 1976.
It's been 21 years since two Canadian teams battled for the Stanley Cup. The Flames were the first re-located franchise to win a championship. The first team to win a cup on Montreal's home ice.
A golden generation of Canadian players like Gilmour, Nieuwendyk, Roberts, Fleury, Conn Smythe winner Al MacInnis, and captain Lanny MacDonald led Calgary to their only Stanley Cup title. MacDonald would retire following the series, and Calgary would not return to the finals until 2004.
Ironically, the modern age of NHL team-building began the season prior to the 2004-2005 lockout when the late Bill Davidson saw his Tampa Bay Lightning win a Stanley Cup with a star-studded roster, eight days before his Detroit Pistons also won the NBA Finals.
Vincent Levacalier, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Cory Stillman, Nikolai Khabibulin, all in their prime, led by the stoic Dave Andreychuk. Khabibulin turned in one of the best postseason goaltending performances of all time, St. Louis took home the Hart Trophy in the offseason, and Ruslan Fedotenko came up huge in Game Seven with Tampa's only two goals of the decisive contest.
Tampa fought back after being down 3-2 in the series, and became the first team from the Southeast division to win a championship.
In a postseason that will be remembered for marathon games, Jason Arnott scored in the second overtime session of Game Six, beating Ed Belfour for the cup-clinching goal.
New Jersey's win followed a triple overtime game five, won by Dallas when Mike Modano tipped in a Brett Hull pass through the legs of Martin Brodeur.
The 2000 post-season also included a five-overtime game between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals, ended by a goal from Keith Primeau. The 2000 season would mark the first of three appearances in the finals in four years for New Jersey.
To summarize in one name: Bourque. The 22-year veteran played all but one season with the Boston Bruins before being traded away to Colorado, in what was clearly a gesture of generosity; a chance to finally be called a champion.
With a stellar roster and fantastic leadership, the Avalanche won their second Stanley Cup in 2001, defeating defending champion New Jersey in seven games. During the 2000-2001 season, teammate Dave Reid said, "We don't want to win the cup for Ray, we want to win the cup with Ray."
As the gray-bearded, visibly emotional Ray Bourque skated around the mile-high ice, trophy lifted above his head, hockey fans didn't cry for Ray, they cried with him in a truly rewarding moment.
Explanations have been given, excuses have been made, rationalizations have been concocted, and the sports misery for the town of Buffalo has one of its most well-read chapters.
In the third overtime of Game Six, Brett Hull scored the most infamous goal in finals history, his left foot in the crease of the sprawling Dominik Hasek. The NHL's rulebook has been modified numerous times concerning attacking players in the goaltender's crease, but at the time this goal was scored, the rule by definition would have nullified it.
Dallas went on to win their first championship, and the people of Buffalo were again left to wonder "What if?".
What can be said about New York's 1994 Stanley Cup run that hasn't already been said or discussed? Messier's guarantee, Richter's save on Bure's penalty shot, the end of a 54-year drought, a Game Seven winner-take-all from the world's most famous arena.
Indeed, Messier turned in the greatest example of postseason captaining when he pulled his teammates to a higher level of determination, continually succeeding in the face adversity throughout the playoffs. The indelible image of the only man to captain two separate cup champions has become one of the most often marketed moments in NHL history.
After guaranteeing a win against New Jersey in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals, Messier recorded a hat trick, propelling the Rangers to a championship of destiny. To make a promise of this magnitude takes immense courage, to deliver requires a hero.