No. 1: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings (2009)
You may have bitten your fingers to the bone watching the waning seconds of Game 7 in this series. Detroit just kept hammering the puck away at Fleury as time ticked off the clock, and when it had actually hit 0:00, it almost seemed like someone had to remind the Penguins they’d actually won the Stanley Cup.
If these teams’ 2008 series was the old guard staving off the new, the 2009 event was the young guns overcoming the odds and starting a new look to the NHL. Indeed, the Pens were down 2-0 and 3-2 in this series but survived and won Game 7 on the road.
Games 1-2 were matching 3-1 victories for the Wings, with the latter contest seeing a surprising fight between Malkin and Henrik Zetterberg. Game 3 saw the Pens overcome an early 2-1 deficit to win 4-2 before doing the exact same thing in Game 4.
That sent the series back to Detroit, where the great Pavel Datsyuk was waiting to return from a foot injury. Clearly inspired by this, the Wings throttled the Pens 5-0, with Datsyuk tallying two assists.
But this Pens team was out to prove it was the team of the present and future. Oddly enough, it was a key play by Rob Scuderi that helped preserve a 2-1 home win for the Pens in Game 6, as he stopped multiple shots from Johan Franzen with less than a minute remaining and Fleury out of his crease.
That set up a winner-take-all Game 7, and boy was it a doozy. Talbot netted a pair of goals in the second period to put Pittsburgh up 2-0 before Detroit threw the kitchen sink at Pittsburgh in the third period. While the third-period shot ledger read just 8-1 in favor of the Wings, they scored with about six minutes to play before Niklas Kronwall hit the crossbar later and the Wings engaged in the last-second goal-mouth scramble I mentioned above.
Ultimately, this was the most thrilling non-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final since the salary cap era began, in my estimation. It had everything you’d want in a championship series, and it kept rooters and casual fans interested from Game 1 to Game 7.