The NHL playoffs are notorious for their unpredictability, so the chance to watch a true showdown in the Finals between the two best teams doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it’s only happened once in the last 24 years. Fortunately, that one time–the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals between the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche–was all it was billed to be, going the full seven games.
Colorado had the best team in hockey, with center Joe Sakic winning the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league MVP. Sakic was second in the league in goals and fifth in assists.
The Avalanche got scoring help from Milan Hejduk, while Peter Forsberg and Alex Tangua were both excellent passers.
The big new addition was 40-year-old defenseman Ray Borque. One of the greatest to ever play the sport, Borque had played more games than any player who hadn’t won a Stanley Cup. His lifelong team, the Boston Bruins, traded him, so he could get a chance to erase that distinction.
New Jersey was led on the scoring front by Patrik Elias, who scored 40 goals and had 56 assists, and he got help from Alexander Mogilny. The skilled passers on the Devils were Petr Sykora and Scott Gomez.
Both teams had goalies that were among the best of their era. Patrick Roy was in net for the Avalanche and Martin Brodeur for the Devils. Each team had a championship pedigree. The Devils were the defending champion and had also hoisted the Cup in 1995. Colorado won it all in 1996, and had been to the conference finals three of the previous four years.
The Avalanche and Devils had similar playoff runs, each pushed to the brink in a seven-game second-round series before surviving and each closing out their conference finals in five games. The final showdown was set to begin in the Rocky Mountains.
Sakic and Colorado came out firing immediately. The MVP scored two goals and had an assist, as the Avalanche routed the Devils 5-0. New Jersey came back and made Game 2 a tough, grinding affair, where each team got just 20 shots on goal. The Devils squeaked out a 2-1 win and sent the series back east tied up.
The great goaltenders each had poor moments in the middle two games. Brodeur played poorly, allowing three goals in spite of his defense limiting shots in front of him. Borque broke a 1-1 tie early in the third period with a power play goal.
Then in Game 4, in spite of New Jersey dominating shots to the tune of 35-12, the game was still tied with 2:37 left. Then Roy mishandled a puck behind the net and created a gimme goal that gave the Devils a series-tying 3-2 win.
New Jersey played its best game of the Finals back in Denver for Game 5. Mogilny scored and dished an assist, and role player Sergei Brynlin did the same. The 4-1 win gave the Devils a chance to repeat on home ice. But Brodeur came up small in a big moment, allowing four goals in spite of facing just 18 shots and Roy spun a shutout.
It set the stage for Game 7 back in the Rockies. It was Tangua, normally a passer, who lit the lamp, scoring twice. Sakic added another goal and Colorado won the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals with a 3-1 win. Roy, after taking heat for his Game 4 mess-up and then being beaten the following game, ended the postseason with a 93.4% save rate and a 1.70 goals-against average, a full half-goal better than his regular season numbers. He was named winner of the Conn Smythe Award, as postseason MVP.
The Colorado Avalanche had won of the NHL’s great Stanley Cup showdowns in recent memory and at long last, Ray Borque was finally a champion.