The 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, which the Colorado Avalanche won, culminated an historic playoffs.
The Colorado Avalanche brought the first professional sports championship to Colorado. You can talk all you want about how that was then, and what have you done for me lately — not to mention 48 points. However, the boys in burgundy and blue brought the first pro sports championship to sports-loving Colorado.
Colorado won the Pacific Division with 104 points, behind only the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference (131 points, Presidents’ Trophy). They faced the Vancouver Canucks in the first round.
Now, pause for a second because this was momentous in itself. No team had represented Colorado in the NHL playoffs since 1978 — 18 years prior when the Colorado Rockies lost in the Preliminary Round.
Colorado not only represented, they obviously won. They beat the Canucks in six games. Here’s how the series went:
- April 16, 1996: Vancouver at Colorado, W 5-2
- April 18, 1996: Vancouver at Colorado, L 5-4
- April 20, 1996: Colorado at Vancouver, W 4-0
- April 22, 1996: Colorado at Vancouver, L 4-3
- April 25, 1996: Vancouver at Colorado, OT W 5-4
- April 27, 1996: Colorado at Vancouver, W 3-2
The action in Colorado took place at the old McNichol’s Sports Arena, which was torn down in 1999.
For the Conference Semifinals, the Colorado Avalanche faced the Chicago Blackhawks. They won this series in six games, too.
- May 2, 1996: Chicago at Colorado, OT L 3-2
- May 5, 1996: Chicago at Colorado, W 5-1
- May 6, 1996: Colorado at Chicago, OT L 4-3
- May 8, 1996: Colorado at Chicago, 3OT W 3-2
- May 11, 1996: Chicago at Colorado, W 4-1
- May 13, 1996: Colorado at Chicago, 2OT W 4-3
This is the series that led to one of the most famous Patrick Roy — or even hockey — quotes of all time:
Jeremy Roenick had the audacity to say Roy was up in the rafters “looking for his jock” in Game 3 — which was just an OT loss. So, of course, Roy returned with the following:
“I can’t really hear what Jeremy says because I got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.”
For those of you keeping track at home, Patrick Roy, of course, went on to win two more with Colorado. Roenick won none.
More from Mile High Sticking
On to the Conference Finals, which sparked one of the most celebrated hockey — or sports — rivalries. Colorado faced the Detroit Red Wings.
A quick bit of background because it’s relevant to both the rivalry and the Stanley Cup win. Patrick Roy left the Montreal Canadiens after a nasty game against the Detroit Red Wings in which he allowed nine goals, but then-coach Mario Tremblay refused to pull him. He demanded a trade, and he got dealt to the Colorado Avalanche.
Now, it doesn’t take a stretch to think Patrick Roy would have no love for the Red Wings. And it’s no secret that Colorado doesn’t win that first Stanley Cup without Roy’s brilliant goal tending — as he pointed out to Roenick, he’d been there twice before.
The series itself exploded. On paper, it looks similar to the other two:
- May 19, 1996: Colorado at Detroit, OT W 3-2
- May 21, 1996: Colorado at Detroit, W 3-0
- May 23, 1996: Detroit at Colorado, L 6-4
- May 25, 1996: Detroit at Colorado, W 4-2
- May 27, 1996: Colorado at Detroit, L 5-2
- May 29, 1996: Detroit at Colorado, W 4-1
Game 6 was the catalyst. That was the game of The Hit — Claude Lemieux checking Kris Draper from behind. Draper’s head hit the edge of the bench, resulting in a broken jaw, shattered cheekbone and shattered orbital bone.
It was a fantastic game nonetheless. Check out the highlights:
Ok, now on to the actual Stanley Cup Finals, against the Florida Panthers.
This was the first time since the formation of the NHL in 1917 that the two teams competing for the Stanley Cup were making their first appearance in the Finals. It’s the only time Colorado and Florida have faced each other in the playoffs.
This series is also the reason commentators remark that the Avalanche won the Cup because of Patrick Roy. Colorado swept the series largely because of his insane goal tending. He allowed only four goals in the entire Stanley Cup Finals, throwing a shutout in triple overtime play to win Game 4.
Here’s how the series went:
- June 4, 1996: Florida at Colorado, W 3-1
- June 6, 1996: Florida at Colorado, W 8-1
- June 8, 1996: Colorado at Florida, W 3-2
- June 10, 1996: Colorado at Florida, 3OT W 1-0
Game 3 was the infamous one in which, after allowing the second goal and getting pelted with rubber rats, Roy declared, “No more rats.” Florida fans threw rats onto the ice whenever their team scored, and that was Patrick’s way of letting his teammates know he wasn’t letting in any more goals.
Victory in that game — and the series — ultimately belonged to the Colorado Avalanche:
Let’s look at some pictures from that series.
Here’s that dastardly Claude Lemieux, who wrecked such havoc against the Wings, just jockeying for position:
Remember Mike Keane? He played four seasons for the Colorado Avalanche:
Here’s Patrick doing Patrick — ie., stopping shots. This one was in Game 1:
Patrick gearing himself up to face shots in Game 2:
With all the firepower the Colorado Avalanche had on the team — specifically Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg — it was a defenseman who got the Cup-winning goal in the third overtime. And it wasn’t even offensive defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh — it was stay-at-home d-man Uwe Krupp. At 4:31 into the third overtime, he scored:
Here he is celebrating:
Well, maybe if Peter Forsberg hadn’t been lying around on the job:
Poor Foppa — he was ever the victim of the Clutch and Grab era of hockey.
Here’s another example from that series — Forsberg having to wear a Panther like a cape.
The players celebrated their Stanley Cup victory on the ice first:
Here’s the captain, Joe Sakic, hoisting the Stanley Cup:
Here’s the classic on-ice group pose:
They then took their celebrations into the Florida visiting locker room:
Keane again, with some rando:
Dastardly Claude Lemieux again:
Sandis Ozolinsh and Valeri Kamenski:
One of my very favorite images of all time, Patrick Roy hoisting the Stanley Cup during the parade:
The parade itself was something amazing:
We fans were over the moon.
By the way, the 1996 Stanley Cup is my favorite.
So, here we are 21 years later. The Colorado Avalanche and Avs Nation seem so far away from that glory. But we’ve been there, and that’s more than a lot of other teams can say.
So, as we watch the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals winding down, remember your Avalanche pride. Love or hate what they’re doing and where they’re going, we all still bleed burgundy and blue.