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Drop the gloves during the playoffs with SI.com's writers in the NHL Cup Blog, a daily journal of hockey commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
1:52 AM ET, 6/18/06

A triumph for the NHL

Posted by Allan Muir
I can't be certain, but as I got into my car tonight after the game, I think I heard the Brass Bonanza, playing softly in the distance.

Might have been my mind playing tricks on me but, hey, whose head wasn't swirling after the 60-minute sprint of end-to-end drama that was Game 7? Give me a few more like this and I'll stop complaining about the overly long 82-game regular season. Promise.

What a triumph for the league. This was the New NHL at its finest: low scoring but plenty of scoring chances, speed through the middle and brutal collisions in the trenches, bright young stars and twilight-year veterans, all playing with the skill and heart that the heroes of our youth employed, no matter when that was.

It was one of those games that'll cause the converted to say, "If American audiences had tuned in tonight, they'd fall in love with hockey." That's crazy, of course -- as a whole, Americans are more likely to trade in their SUVs for Yugos with cloth seats and no A/C than give this sport the respect it deserves -- but, yes, the game was that good. And, to a lesser degree, so was the series.

The best moment of the night? Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour's unwillingness to let Gary Bettman's pandering speech to the locals delay his 17-year wait to touch the Cup even one second longer. (And didn't Bettman use a variation on that same speech in 2003 in Tampa and 1999 in Dallas?) This wasn't just some kid on Christmas morning -- Brind'Amour was the guy who Santa bypassed for all those years finally getting to taste the joy of waking up and finding presents under the tree.

The look on his face when he finally hoisted it over his head? Someone else will have to find the words. No matter which team you were cheering for, you've got to get caught up in emotion as raw as that. Guys who win the Cup over and over always say "this one" is sweeter than the first, but compare the faces of previous winners Mark Recchi and Aaron Ward to first timers like Brind'Amour and Glen Wesley and Peter Laviolette and you know that can't possibly be true.

Other moments from this series that I'll remember? How about Cam Ward's miraculous glove save late in the lost cause of Game 6? A perfectly executed three-on-one is as rare as a Don Cherry sighting at The Men's Wearhouse, but execute one the Oilers did, finishing it off with a tight snapper labeled for the yawning cage.

If Ward's concentration had slipped by that point and he had waved as it went by, no one would have thought anything of it. But there he was, snapping out that glove hand like Patrick Roy, another rookie who led his team to the Cup back in the day. And though the stop itself meant nothing in the scheme of the game, it was one of those defining plays that probably helped him capture the Conn Smythe.

And what of his counterpart, Jussi Markkanen? Eight weeks ago, the guy wasn't deemed dependable enough to dress as a backup to Dwayne Roloson. Tonight, after winning three games in the Stanley Cup Finals, he kept his team within a goal of capturing a fourth until the dying seconds. In the long line of unlikely Cup heroes, few can match this mutt's "pedigree."

How about the relentless physical play of Raffi Torres and Chris Pronger, culminating in the elimination of key forward Doug Weight in Game 5? Speaking of Pronger, what of his cool customer approach to the first successful penalty shot ever taken in the Finals in Game 1? And what about the Game 5 short-handed OT goal by Fernando Pisani, the surprising sniper who authored five winners over the course of the playoffs and was Edmonton's most consistent offensive threat throughout?

And then there was the shocking return of Erik Cole in Game 6. To see a man come back less than four months after suffering a broken neck, and not only contribute to the cause, but shrug off a couple of massive hits -- well, that gives you all the ammo you need for your next "which sport has the toughest athletes" debate.

Given time to reflect, I'm sure other moments will come to mind, but I'm happy with these off the top of my head for now. How about sharing some of yours?

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