In honor of Conor Sheary and Joonas Donskoi, let’s look back on five little-known names who came through with the biggest goals of their lives in the final.
This year’s Stanley Cup final between the Sharks and Penguins has been a tight one, with two games going into overtime. And in a series packed with superstars and future Hall of Famers, it was two relatively unknown rookies who got to play hero, as Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary and San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi found the net.
The two players joined a relatively exclusive club. According to the archives at hockey-reference.com and NHL.com, Donskoi’s goal was the 86th overtime winner in nearly a century of Stanley Cup final history. Some of those have been scored by legends, including Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy and Maurice Richard (three times). But others, like Sheary and Donskoi’s, have been scored by more obscure names. So today, let’s look back on five little-known names at the time who found themselves with the game on their stick in sudden death, and came through with the biggest goals of their lives.
2006: Fernando Pisani, Oilers
Before: Pisani was in his third NHL season, and was coming off a career best 18 goals. It’s probably fair to say that, prior to the playoffs, not many fans outside Edmonton knew his name. But that was before Pisani went on one of history’s great postseason hot streaks, scoring five goals in an opening round upset of the Red Wings and then twice more in each of the next two rounds. He’d already added two more in the final against the Hurricanes by the time the Oilers found themselves facing elimination in overtime in Game 5.
The goal: With the Hurricanes on the powerplay and the Carolina crowd on its feet in anticipation of the Cup-winning goal, Pisani picked off a pass at the blueline and went in alone to score the first shorthanded overtime goal in Cup final history.
“They have time to kill now, folks. Time. To. Kill. Now.” Bob Cole is the best.
After: Pisani’s hot streak continued with goals in Games 6 and 7, giving him 14 total in 24 games. He never topped that number in five more regular seasons, and the 2006 run ended up including the last playoff goals of his NHL career, which ended in 2011.
2004: Oleg Saprykin, Flames
Before: Like Pisani, Saprykin was in his third full season and coming off a career best in goals; in his case, that was 12. Unlike Pisani, he hadn’t exactly heated up for the playoffs, managing just three goals over 26 games.
The goal: With the series between the Flames and Lightning tied heading into Game 5 in Tampa, Saprykin found himself at the right place at the right time. Jarome Iginla hammered a puck at the Lightning net, and Saprykin was there to scoop home the rebound to leave the Flames one win away from the Stanley Cup.
After: Back-to-back losses spelled the end of the Flames’ Cup dreams (OR DID THEY?). They also ended Saprykin’s stint with the team, as he was traded to Phoenix in the offseason for Daymond Langkow. He managed a career-best 14 goals with the Coyotes in 2006-07 before being traded to the Senators at the deadline. After a disappointing playoff run in Ottawa, his NHL career was over.
1986: Brian Skrudland, Canadiens
Before: Skrudland was an undrafted rookie who made the Canadiens as a 22-year-old rookie in 1985-86 season. He managed nine goals while taking on a mostly defensive role. He’d yet to add to the total through three playoff rounds as the Canadiens advanced to the 1986 final against the Flames.
The goal: Skrudland drew the assignment on overtime’s first shift, and he didn’t need long to take advantage. He converted Mike McPhee’s pass to end the game just nine seconds in, the fastest overtime goal in final history.
The goal tied the series and, more importantly, made his mom happy.
After: While he wasn’t well known at the time of the goal, Skrudland went on to a long and reasonably successful career, retiring after the 1999-2000 season. While he never scored more than 15 goals in a season, he earned Selke votes several times and was the first captain in Florida Panthers history. He was also named to the all-star team in 1991 as part of Mike Milbury’s controversial selections that also included enforcer Chris Nilan, but missed the game due to injury.
Until Sheary and Donskoi, Skrudland had stood as the last rookie to score an OT winner in the final.
1964: Larry Jeffrey, Red Wings
Before: Jeffrey broke into the NHL in 1962, playing a handful of games for the Red Wings that included a memorable debut. By the 1964 playoffs, he was coming off a career-high 10 goals. He only added one more during the Red Wings’ playoff run, but it was a big one.
The goal: The Red Wings faced the two-time defending champion Maple Leafs in the final, and dropped the opening game at Maple Leaf Gardens. A Toronto third-period comeback from down 3-1 sent them to overtime with the momentum, but Jeffrey converted a centering pass from Gordie Howe to end the game and knot the series.
After: Today, the 1964 final is remembered for another overtime goal: Bobby Baun’s Game 6 winner in Detroit, one famously scored on a broken leg. Jeffrey’s OT winner was the last postseason goal of his career; he played five more NHL seasons and retired in 1969 with 39 career goals. That included his first and only Cup, as a member of the Maple Leafs in 1967.
1940: Murray “Muzz” Patrick, Rangers
Before: This one might be cheating a bit, since you certainly couldn’t say that Muzz Patrick was an obscure name; after all, the Patrick family is practically hockey royalty. But the bruising defenseman wasn’t much of a goal-scorer over the course of a five-year career, one that was interrupted in his prime by military service in World War II. He scored a grand total of just nine NHL goals in regular season and postseason play combined.
The goal: Three of Patrick’s career goals came during the 1940 playoffs, including one in overtime of Game 5 of the final against the Maple Leafs. That winner came midway through the second extra period; there wouldn’t be a longer game in the final until 1989. Patrick’s winner gave the Rangers a 3-2 series lead, and another OT win in Game 6 gave the franchise its last Stanley Cup for 54 years.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.