The Dallas Stars and the Buffalo Sabres were two different types of teams who had taken two different paths when they met in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals.
Dallas came into the postseason as the best team in hockey, and were well-balanced. The key offensive players were Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk, and the Stars had spent the past couple seasons augmenting them, acquiring former MVP Brett Hull from the St. Louis Blues, and goalie Ed Belfour from the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Stars had won division titles in 1997 and 1998, but in both years saw the rival Detroit Red Wings put it together at playoff time for a Cup run. 1999 was looking like it was finally Dallas’ year.
Dallas churned through the first two rounds, sweeping the Edmonton Oilers and beating St. Louis in six games. Dallas faced the Colorado Avalanche in a great conference finals battle. Trailing 3 games to 2, Dallas won consecutive 4-1 games, as team defense and Belfour took over.
Buffalo was much more a one-man show, but what a show it was from goaltender Dominic Hasek. He’d already been the league MVP the previous two seasons, one of only two goalies since 1962 so honored. The team in front of him wasn’t much, but Hasek dragged this group into the playoffs as a #7 seed. Then they upset the Ottawa Senators, caught a break when the top-seeded New Jersey Devils also lost, and finished off the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs to win the East.
The fan bases of Dallas and Buffalo were already familiar with each other, with the Cowboys and Bills having met in both the 1992 and 1993 Super Bowls. Buffalo was on the losing end of both of those championship bouts and hoped the outcome might finally be different for their tea when Hasek stopped 35 shots in a 3-2 overtime win to open the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals.
Dallas came back with a 4-2 win in Game 2, as four different players scored. Then Nieuwendyk took a game into his own hands, scoring twice in a 2-1 victory. In spite of being outplayed and outshot 31-18 in Game 4, Buffalo relied on Hasek to deliver them a 2-1 win of their own that evened the series.
A 2-0 win for the Stars in Game 5 gave them a chance to clinch when the Finals returned to Buffalo for Game 6. It would prove to be an epic battle, staying tied 1-1 into the third overtime. Belfour had 53 saves, with Hasek stopping 48.
It was a controversial goal from Hull off a rebound that gave Dallas the Cup. Hull’s skate was in the crease, but officials ruled he had possession of the puck prior, thus making it a legal goal and a championship for Dallas.
It was a shaky call, but perhaps unsurprising it happened to the city of Buffalo in a championship battle with the city of Dallas. And in fairness to the Stars’ fans, they might have won that game or Game 7 in any event. The 1999 Stanley Cup Finals were won by the best team in hockey, although a better ending would have been preferred.