|Continued: Langenbrunner First Tasted Stanley Cup Success as a Member of the 1999 Stars|
|Awaiting the Stars was the high-powered Colorado Avalanche who dispatched the mighty Detroit Red Wings in six games. Colorado had gained an early stranglehold over the Stars as they were up 3-2 in the series and looked to close the door on any hope of a comeback. Dallas found themselves with their backs against the wall as they entered a pivotal Game 6.
The Avalanche and the hostile Pepsi Center crowd were looking for blood as they knew that Colorado was just a period away from reaching the finals. As the third period began, the score was knotted at 1-1 after Lehtinen had cancelled out Claude Lemieux's first period opener. The Stars summoned their fighting spirit as Langenbrunner provided two unanswered goals and Richard Matvichuk added another late in the game to secure a 4-1 victory. Hitchcock later revealed he considered the game to be "the defining moment of the franchise."
Dallas returned home for a deciding Game 7 as the pendulum swung back in their favor. Their dominance in the closing act of Game 6 had given the Stars new life as their blue-liners shutdown the Avalanche superstars by holding them to just 19 shots all game. The Stars outgunned Colorado 4-1 as Keane twice found the net before Langenbrunner and Lehtinen again beat Roy.
The Reunion Center was in frenzy as Dallas marched on to the Stanley Cup finals. Nieuwendyk remembered the crucial victory, "Getting past a powerhouse team in Colorado with guys like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Theo Fleury and Chris Drury… it meant a lot. Down in the series going into Game 6, Colorado got out in front that game and we showed a lot of fight to come back. We were able to beat a real elite team."
The final challenge that stood in the way of the Stars and lifting the Stanley Cup was the Buffalo Sabres and their back-to-back Hart trophy-winning goalie Dominik Hasek. The Sabres were coming off an impressive elimination of the Toronto Maple Leafs and superstar Mats Sundin in five games.
In the opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals, Buffalo drew first blood in a back-and-forth affair thanks to Jason Wooley's 3-2 overtime winner. In Game 2 at Reunion Arena, Dallas tried everything in the book to get Hasek off his game. Hull's go-ahead goal late in the third period proved to be the winner. Their constant pressure on Hasek worked as they came away 4-2 winners.
The series shifted to Buffalo for Game 3 as Modano persevered through the pain resulting from a wrist injury but it was Hull who was forced to leave the game due to a groin injury. Nieuwendyk rose to the occasion by scoring the tying and game-winning goals as the Stars won 2-1. Despite Lehtinen's power play goal, Dallas were downed in Game 4 2-1 as Dixon Ward scored the winner for Buffalo.
The Stars returned home for Game 5 and a statement was needed for Dallas to regain the momentum. Darryl Sydor struck on the power play before Verbeek's goal sealed the win. Belfour had an outstanding game in net as he shutout the pesky Sabres 2-0.
Game 6 would go on to be an all-time classic and typified the style of hockey that was played during the era. In the first period, Lehtinen threw a puck on net that somehow fooled Hasek to score the opening goal. Stu Barnes countered in the second period with a wrister that beat Belfour as the game turned into an all-out grudge match.
Like a heavyweight prize fight, the two teams kept exchanging physical blows until only one was standing. As the game entered overtime, legs became weary as the players were playing on pure adrenaline.
Along with millions of hockey fanatics across America and Canada's east coast, I was on the edge of my seat swaying back and forth in an effort to keep my eyes open. I knew that history could be made as the Stars hadn't won the Stanley Cup in their history going back to their Minnesotan expansion in 1967. No matter what it took, I had to see the game live. Settling for SportsCenter highlights the next morning wouldn't suffice and I was proved right as the classic encounter stretched into triple-overtime.
After 1:30 AM EST and into the sixth period of play, Mike Modano and Brett Hull crashed the Buffalo net as the latter scored the famous or infamous goal that would forever go down in history as "The Crease Goal." Although the NHL rulebook was modified shortly after the 1999 finals, some fans still consider the goal to be illegal despite both NHL Director of Officiating Bryan Lewis and Wayne Gretzky deeming the goal legitimate. Lewis later explained that even with ruling enforced, the goal did not violate the "crease rule" because Hull already had control of the puck when his skate entered the crease.
Nieuwendyk gave his own verdict, "The league changed the rule right away but I could understand where the fans were coming from. We'd go back to their building and hear it all the time. The important thing was that we won it and I immediately went to celebrate with my teammates."
Ed Belfour's stellar play in net was a big reason why the Stars were able to become champions as he saved 53 of 54 shots in Game 6. He had out-dueled both Roy and Hasek along the way and Nieuwendyk spoke of Belfour's importance, "Eddie is the best 'big game' goalie I've ever played with and I've been on a lot of teams with top goalies. He did a great job for us and raised his game during the Cup run. He's a definite Hall-of-Famer in my book."
It was especially sweet for Nieuwendyk who was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as a year earlier he missed almost the entirety of the playoffs due to injury. "It was really special. I couldn't be a part of it the year before because of my knee but everything happens for a reason. Individual awards are always nice but it was the team's accomplishment that mattered most," he said.
At the age of just 23, Langenbrunner was fortunate enough to accomplish what many all-time NHL greats have missed out on by winning the Stanley Cup as a member of the 1999 Dallas Stars. Hall-of-Famers such as Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perrault, Peter Stansy, Mike Gartner, Dale Hawerchuk, Brad Park, Jean Ratelle, and Pat LaFontaine were never able to etch their names on the elusive trophy.
Langenbrunner's play was crucial to the Stars winning the 1999 Stanley Cup as he led the team with 4 power play goals during the playoffs and contributed 3 game-winning goals. He only trailed Nieuwendyk with 10 total playoff goals and was only behind Modano and Nieuwendyk in postseason points at 17. It was a sign of things to come for Jamie as he again lifted Lord Stanley as a member of the 2003 New Jersey Devils.
"It was a good run for Jamie. He raised his game when we needed someone to step up. Being part of that team paved the way for the rest of his career. He learned a lot of valuable lessons that he passes on to his teammates today. Jamie's a great captain now for the Devils and did terrific leading the USA during the Olympics," Nieuwendyk reflected.
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