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On This Date in Sports June 10, 1996: Avalanche in Overtime

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup by completing a four-game sweep of the Florida Panthers with a 1-0 win in triple overtime. The Avalanche get the game-winner on a goal by Uwe Krupp with 4:31 left in the sixth period, ending what had been a scoreless marathon in Game 4 in Miami. It is the first time in 16 years a Stanley Cup was clinched in overtime, as the Avalanche, in their first season after moving from Quebec win the Stanley Cup. 

The Quebec Nordiques were one of four surviving WHA teams to join the NHL in 1979. They had some early success led by the Stastny brothers, playing in two Wales Conference Finals. However, they had fallen on hard times by 1991. Playing in the Northernmost city in the NHL, the Nordiques had trouble keeping and signing players who did not want to play in Quebec City; this was especially true for players who did not speak French. They had the top pick in the NHL Draft and selected Eric Lindros, who defiantly refused to sign with Quebec. Before the 1992 draft, when his rights would have expired, the Nordiques traded Lindros to the Philadelphia Flyers, receiving Steve Duchesne, Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Kenny Huffman, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, two draft picks and $15 million in return. The Lindros trade was messy, as after agreeing to the deal with Philadelphia, Nordiques President Marcell Aubut tried to accept a better deal with the New York Rangers. An arbitrator eventually ruled the deal with the Flyers was biding and competed. 

While Eric Lindros became a star with the Philadelphia Flyers, the deal was a turning point for the Nordiques as they ended a six-year playoff drought in 1993 and had the best record in the East in 1995. However, struggling financially, Aubut sold the team to an American group of investors who moved the team to Denver. The Colorado Avalanche had a great season in their first year in Denver, finishing 47-25-10 for coach Marc Crawford as they had the second-best record in the Western Conference. The players acquired in the Lindros deal were key, as they either became the core of the Avalanche or moved on for other pieces that helped them win in their first season in Colorado. This included pieces that helped them land, Uwe Krupp, Claude Lemieux, and Patrick Roy in later trades. The Avs reached the Stanley Cup Finals by winning in six games against the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Detroit Red Wings. The series against Detroit began a fierce rivalry that defined the Western Conference for the next decade.

Had the Eric Lindros trade with New York been completed, the Nordiques would have gotten John Vanbiesbrouk. Instead, the longtime Rangers goalie went to the expansion Florida Panthers in 1993. The Panthers were competitive in their first two seasons, before making their first playoff appearance in 1996, with a record of 41-31-10 for coach Doug MacLean. Fans in Miami often took to throwing rubber rats on the ice after goals after a story that captain Scott Mellanby used his stick to get rid of the rat in the locker early in the season. On their way to the Stanley Cup Finals, Florida beat the Boston Bruins in five. They needed six games to bounce Eric Lindros and seven to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, as Vanbiesbrouk led the way with strong goaltending. 

The Colorado Avalanche were the NHL's second attempt at a team in the Mile High City. The Colorado Rockies had called McNichols Arena home from 1976-1982 and never won a playoff game before becoming the New Jersey Devils. Now hosting the Stanley Cup Finals, the Avalanche had a full house for Game 1. Tom Fitzgerlad gave Florida an early lead, but goals by Scott Young, Mike Ricci, and Uwe Krupp in a four-minute stretch of the second period gave the Avalanche a 3-1 win in the opener. Game 2 was an Avalanche of goals for Colorado as they buried the Panthers 8-1, with Peter Forsberg netting a hat trick in the first period. 

Claude Lemieux returning from his suspension, scored early in Game 3 as the series shifted to Miami. The Panthers rallied to take a 2-1 lead on goals by Ray Sheppard and Rob Niedermayer. The Avalanche took the lead back early in the second period with goals by Mike Keane and Joe Sakic 82 seconds apart. The rest was up to Patrick Roy, who shut down Florida the rest of the way in a 3-2 win. Game 4 was a continuation as neither team was able to score. Through five periods, there were no goals as the game went past midnight in Miami. Late in the third overtime, Roy had 63 saves, and Vanbiesbrouk had 55 saves when Uwe Krupp hit a perfect slap shot to win the game and the series. The 1-0 game-winner was the first Stanley Cup winner in overtime since Bobby Nystrom with the New York Islanders. Sakic, Colorado's captain, would be named the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.