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Top 10 finals from the past 20 years

Think the Kings-Rangers Cup series is a doozy? Well, you ain't seen nothing

Updated: June 9, 2014, 1:12 AM ET
By Craig Custance | ESPN The Magazine

Canadian hockey player Mark MessierJohn Giamundo/Getty ImagesMark Messier was a driving force for the 1994 Stanley Cup-champion Rangers.

LOS ANGELES -- Two games and three overtime sessions. That's a pretty good indication that the 2014 Stanley Cup finals could be one of the classics. Especially if the New York Rangers can do what the Los Angeles Kings did and take care of their first two home games as this series shifts to New York.

It has been 20 years since Madison Square Garden hosted a Stanley Cup finals game, in a 1994 series that was an all-timer. So in honor of those 20 years, we asked 19 veteran media members -- one for each final (never forget the lockout) -- to rank their top five Stanley Cup finals series. Some of the panel had covered every single one of those finals, including ESPN's Barry Melrose and Steve Levy. Most had covered a majority of them, and a few are even in the Hall of Fame. We gave five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place vote, right on down to one for a fifth-place vote. Here's the final tally for the top 10 Stanley Cup finals over the past two decades:

1. 1994: New York Rangers over Vancouver Canucks in 7
(75 points, 10 first-place votes)

This was the No. 1 pick for Barry Melrose, who along with Steve Levy has covered the past 20 Stanley Cup finals. Why this one?
 "19-40!" Melrose answered, imitating the chant that used to taunt the Rangers. "It just meant so much to the city." This was the playoff run for the Rangers that included Mark Messier's legendary guarantee and "Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!" There were also Mike Richter's heroics, including his save on Pavel Bure's penalty shot in Game 4. One panelist recalled just how electric the atmosphere was in Madison Square Garden for Game 7, when the Rangers clinched their first Stanley Cup since 1940. The image of Messier jumping up and down remains one of the most memorable of any Stanley Cup winner.

2. 2009: Pittsburgh Penguins over Detroit Red Wings in 7
(53 points, 2 first-place votes)

It was the first Stanley Cup for Sidney Crosby, who looked like he was ready to collect a few of them with a powerful young Penguins team. Each team took care of its first two games at home and the Red Wings appeared to seize the series with a crushing 5-0 win in Game 5, but a pair of 2-1 wins in the final two games prevented a repeat for Detroit. Marc Andre-Fleury's save on Nicklas Lidstrom in the final moments of Game 7 will go down in Penguins history as one of the best.

3. 2011: Boston Bruins over Vancouver Canucks in 7
(44 points, 3 first-place votes)

The storylines in this series were nearly as interesting as the games themselves. Villain Raffi Torres scored a goal with 18.5 seconds left in Game 1 to give the Canucks an early lead. Aaron Rome's hit on Nathan Horton raised the hatred between the two cities to new levels. Tim Thomas famously responded it wasn't his job to pump Roberto Luongo's tires. Alex Burrows bit a man. It was high theater. In the end, the Canucks' inability to put together any respectable result in Boston crushed their hopes.

4. 2013: Chicago Blackhawks over Boston Bruins in 6
(25 points, 1 first-place vote)

The Bruins entered this series on a high after a convincing beatdown of the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals but met their match against a talented, experienced Blackhawks team. In winning this Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks became the first team in the salary cap era to win two championships. There was drama -- such as Patrice Bergeron playing with a collapsed lung and Corey Crawford bouncing back when it looked like the Bruins found his kryptonite by scoring five goals high on the glove side in Game 4. But the most dramatic came when the Blackhawks pulled Crawford late in Game 6, then tied the game on a Bryan Bickell goal. When overtime seemed inevitable, Dave Bolland shocked the TD Garden crowd with the Cup winner 17 seconds later.

[+] EnlargeDominik Hasek
Joe Traver/Getty Images)Sabres fans won't soon forget this moment.

5. 1999: Dallas Stars over Buffalo Sabres in 6
(20 points, 1 first-place vote)

Sabres fans are still mad about this one. Just the phrase "skate in the crease" gets their blood boiling. This one has a special spot in Levy's heart because he was the one who told Hull that his skate was in the crease for the overtime winner. It became such a big story that Levy did a national appearance on World News Tonight about it. "I broke the news to Brett Hull," Levy said. "He said, 'No way my foot is in the crease.'" So the two watched a replay on a nearby monitor. "Then he goes, 'Oh, yeah, my foot is in the crease,'" Levy said, laughing. This win was also historic in that it was the first time an American-born captain raised the Stanley Cup when Sterling Heights, Michigan, native Derian Hatcher won it.

6. 2001: Colorado Avalanche over New Jersey Devils in 7
(16 points, 1 first-place vote)

One of the great all-time moments in the Stanley Cup presentation came in this one. Joe Sakic didn't even raise the trophy in the air after grabbing it from commissioner Gary Bettman following Colorado's Game 7 win at home. The Avalanche captain immediately handed it to Ray Bourque, who played 22 years for that moment. Bourque held it high, then gave it a long-awaited kiss in a moment Boston and Colorado fans won't forget.

7. 2004: Tampa Bay Lightning over Calgary Flames in 7
(13 points)

These were the last Stanley Cup finals before the lockout and the implementation of new rules, ending an era. Calgary had a chance to win the Stanley Cup at home in Game 6, in a game that extended to double-overtime, but Martin St. Louis pounced on a rebound 33 seconds into the second overtime to send the series back to Tampa. Ruslan Fedotenko was the Game 7 hero, scoring twice to give the young Lightning franchise its first and so far only Stanley Cup championship.

8. 2006: Carolina Hurricanes over Edmonton Oilers in 7
(11 points)

The Oilers were making a bid to win the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed, upsetting the Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks before taking on Carolina. In a bit of a quirk, the Hurricanes and Oilers both missed the playoffs the previous season and the following season. This series featured Carolina's comeback from a three-goal deficit in Game 1, a series-altering injury to Dwayne Roloson, a penalty shot by Chris Pronger, and Erik Cole's return to the ice from a broken neck for the final two games of the series. This series also began the legend of Justin Williams, who put the Oilers away in Game 7 with an empty-net goal that clinched the championship for Carolina.

9. 2010: Chicago Blackhawks over Philadelphia Flyers in 6
(6 points, 1 second-place vote)

One voter picked this as his second-favorite Stanley Cup finals to cover simply because of the wild, unpredictable nature of the series. It was historic for the Blackhawks, giving them their first Stanley Cup since 1961 and kicking off what could be a dynasty for the Jonathan Toews- and Patrick Kane-led Blackhawks. It also featured one of the strangest Cup-clinching goals when Kane beat Michael Leighton in overtime of Game 6, celebrating immediately, launching his gloves wildly into the air, when nearly everyone else in the building lost sight of the puck, which is missing to this day.

10. 2008: Detroit Red Wings over Pittsburgh Penguins in 6
(6 points)

This finals was the end of an era for a Red Wings team featuring Detroit favorites and multiple Cup winners Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Kirk Maltby, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, Darren McCarty and Tomas Holmstrom. It was Crosby's first trip to the Stanley Cup finals and the start of Marian Hossa's incredible streak of reaching the finals three consecutive years with three different teams. It was also historic in that Lidstrom became the first European-born captain to win the Stanley Cup.

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