Moving on to the final five closest post-expansion finals, we get some real nail-biters from a variety of different eras.
5. 1971 Finals, 4-3, Montreal Canadiens [W] vs Chicago Black Hawks [L]
This seven-game series was very close. The Black Hawks had the best record of any team in the West Division whereas the Canadiens were a team in transition from one dynasty to another. Chicago broke out of the gate by taking the first two games off the Canadiens before Montreal won two back. Overtime was the solution for the first game where Jim Pappin scored to give Chicago the victory. After winning game five, Chicago lost to Montreal by just one goal in both game six and seven. Montreal scored 20 goals over the series and Chicago was just barely behind at 18 goals.
4. 1994 Finals, 4-3, New York Rangers [W] vs Vancouver Canucks [L]
Often cited as one of the most exciting finals in NHL history, it was as close as it was exciting. Heading into overtime, game one was tied up at 2-2. Despite heavily out-shooting the Canucks, the Rangers were unable to beat Kirk McLean and Greg Adams scored the game winner near the end of the first overtime period. Over the course of the seven-game series, the two teams were separated by only two goals, with the Rangers scoring 21 goals to the Canucks’ 19 goals. Game seven came down to a crossbar shot from Canuck Nathan Lafayette, a sound that still haunts many Canuck fans to this day.
3. 2013 Finals, 4-2, Chicago Blackhawks [W] vs Boston Bruins [L]
Despite being a six-game series, this series was amazingly close. Game one came down to a marathon triple overtime game in which Blackhawk Andrew Shaw scored 112 minutes and eight seconds into the game, finally giving the players some rest. Game two looked to be similar, but Boston’s Daniel Paille scored in the first overtime to even the series up. Game three was a 2-0 win for Boston, but game four entered overtime for the third time in the series. Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook scored about halfway into the first overtime to even the series up again at 2-2. Chicago won the next two games to win the Cup, but game seven was only won by one goal in a 3-2 victory.
2. 1980 Stanley Cup Finals, 4-2, New York Islanders [W] vs Philadelphia Flyers [L]
The 1980 Finals were an interesting case. Only two of the games were decided by one goal and the rest were quite lopsided; however, the Islanders and Flyers seemed to take turns dominating. The Flyers had dominant games of 8-3 and 6-3 whereas the Islanders had dominant victories by winning 6-2 and 5-2. The difference maker was that the Islanders also won both of the one-goal games, winning them the Cup. Game one needed overtime and Denis Potvin was the hero scoring the first overtime power-play goal in Finals history. Game six would also require overtime and Bobby Nystrom would score a historic goal for the Islanders, kicking off a new dynasty in style. When all was said and done, the Islanders outscored the Flyers by just one goal in an astoundingly close series of 26 to 25 goals.
1. 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, 4-3, Tampa Bay Lightning [W] vs Calgary Flames [L]
The 2004 Stanley Cup finals began with the two teams trading 4-1 wins in game one and two. Game three featured a 3-0 shutout for Miikka Kiprusoff, but game four showed off Nikolai Khabibulin’s prowess with a 1-0 shutout victory. Game five headed into overtime and Flames youngster Oleg Saprykin scored to give the Flames a 3-2 series lead. In game six, the Lightning returned the favour with a 3-2 victory in overtime, but one-upped their opponents by doing it in double overtime, thanks to the heroics of Martin St. Louis. Game seven featured two goals by Ruslan Fedotenko in the first and second period, followed by a valiant effort from the Flames, who were bolstered by Craig Conroy’s goal halfway through the third to half the lead. Khabibulin held strong, and the Lightning came away with their first Stanley Cup.
Honourable Mention: 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, 4-1, Los Angeles Kings [W] vs New York Rangers [L]
In what was undoubtedly one of the closest 4-1 Finals in NHL history, the teams battled through one single overtime and two double overtime games, including the series-winning game five.
Honourable Mention: 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, 4-2, Dallas Stars [W] vs Buffalo Sabres [L]
The primary highlight of this series was the overtimes. There were no blowout games either. Game one was won by Jason Wooley’s goal in the first overtime goal and the Cup was won in game six by Brett Hull’s controversial “No goal” in triple overtime.
Extra – NHL Finals Facts
Closest Sweep and Most Defensive Finals – The 1968 Finals featured arguably the closest four-game finals sweep in the post-expansion era. All four games between Montreal and St. Louis were won by just won goal. It was also the most defensive finals in the post-expansion era, with an average of only 3.5 goals scored in each game.
Most Dominant Finals – The 1983 series featured an up and coming Edmonton Oilers facing the experience veteran team of the New York Islanders. Unfortunately for the Oilers, they were absolutely demolished by the Islanders in 4-0 clean sweep. Not only was it a sweep, but the Islanders outscored the Oilers by a score of 17-6.
Most Dominant 7-game Series – Most of the time, seven games is a sign of a close series, but some aren’t as close as they seem. As a Canucks fan, this one hurts, but the 2011 Finals wasn’t very close as far as seven-game series go. The Bruins heavily outscored Vancouver and the Canucks only ever won games by one goal.
Least Goals Against in Finals – The Montreal Canadiens had outstanding goaltending by Rogie Vachon in the 1969 Finals, allowing only three goals in four games as the Canadiens swept the Blues.
Most Goals For and Most Offensive Finals – The 1973 Finals between the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Black Hawks were explosive to say the least. Montreal scored the most goals-per-game of any team in the post-expansion era with 5.5 goals scored over the six-game series, including an eight goal and seven goal game. The series was also the most offensive overall, as the Black Hawks were also able to score well, with 8 and 7 goal performances themselves. The series averaged 9.33 goals per game for an average of 4.67 goals per team per game.