It was a goal more than two years in the making. And sure, it took a bit of a friendly bounce for the puck to find twine — it travelled off of Vegas Golden Knights winger Alex Tuch before clanking off of both posts and crossing the goal line — but when Washington Capitals defender Brooks Orpik scored in Wednesday’s Game 2, it snapped the NHL’s longest goal drought.
Orpik’s drought has been mammoth, to be sure. Prior to his Game 2 tally, Orpik hadn’t scored since Feb. 26, 2016, on a night where the Capitals roster iced nine skaters on an 18-skater roster who are no longer with the organization. Put another way, Orpik went without a goal for 824 days. All told, Orpik played in 220 games between his last tally, which came in a comeback 3-2 win against the Minnesota Wild, and Wednesday’s marker. But the length of the drought or the games between goals aren’t the most impressive thing about Orpik’s goal. Rather, it’s that he became the 10th-oldest player, and probably least likely player of such an advanced age, to score a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup final.
At the time of Orpik’s goal, it was an insurance tally that gave Washington some much needed breathing room and its first two-goal lead of the series. But after a T.J. Oshie interference penalty sent the Capitals to the penalty kill, Shea Theodore scored for Vegas to bring the Golden Knights within one with an entire period-plus remaining in the contest. But when Washington held on — in no small part thanks to goaltender Braden Holtby, it’s worth adding — Orpik’s marker stood as the one that clinched Game 2 and drew the Stanley Cup final level at one win apiece. Thus, at 37 years old and 246 days, Orpik joined a select group of veterans to score game winners in the final.
However, if Orpik ranks 10th on the list of oldest game-winning goal scorers in Stanley Cup final history, which nine players sit ahead of him?
Brett Hull, Detroit Red Wings (37 years, 305 days) — 2002 Stanley Cup final
Hull was no stranger to tickling twine even in the late stages of his career. During the regular season, and at the height of the dead-puck era, Hull scored 30 goals for the Red Wings as a 37-year-old and then proceeded to lead the post-season with 10 goals en route to Detroit’s 2002 Stanley Cup victory. His final goal that post-season was a game-winner against the Carolina Hurricanes, a goal which helped the Red Wings take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Mark Recchi, Carolina Hurricanes (38 years, 131 days) — 2006 Stanley Cup final
The 2006 Stanley Cup final between the Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers was a hard-fought affair that went the distance, but it looked as though it wouldn’t go much more than five or six games after Recchi came through in Game 4 of the final. With the score tied at one in the second frame, Recchi fired home his seventh of the playoffs in the second to lift Carolina to a 2-1 victory and 3-1 series lead. The Hurricanes would go on to win the Cup in seven games.
Martin St-Louis, New York Rangers (38 years, 358 days) — 2014 Stanley Cup final
During his career, St-Louis was no stranger to coming up with a big goal at a big moment in the post-season. In fact, in 107 career playoff games, St-Louis had 11 game-winning goals. That’s good for one every 10 games or so, and more than a quarter of his post-season tallies were of the game-winning variety. The last time he scored a game-winner, though, was in the 2014 final when his second period marker gave the Rangers their only win of the series against the Los Angeles Kings.
Ron Francis, Carolina Hurricanes (39 years, 95 days) — 2002 Stanley Cup final
When Hull scored his game winner in Game 4, he wasn’t the only longtime veteran who came up big in the 2002 final. In Game 1 of the series, the Hurricanes and Red Wings had battled to a two-all draw through regulation, meaning the series-opening contest needed overtime. And just 58 seconds into the extra frame, Francis came up with the game-winning goal. Unfortunately for Carolina, it was the only game they’d win all series.
Steve Thomas, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (39 years, 322 days) — 2003 Stanley Cup final
Thomas must have drawn some inspiration from Francis the year prior, or maybe there’s something to the old guys wanting to end overtime as quickly as possible to heal up for the next game of the final. Whatever it is, Thomas outdid Francis in Game 4 of the 2003 final against the New Jersey Devils by scoring the game’s only goal 39 seconds into overtime of what was to that point a scoreless game.
Steve Thomas, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (39 years, 327 days) — 2003 Stanley Cup final
Don’t scroll on by! This isn’t an error or typo or anything like that. Thomas actually scored two game-winners in one Stanley Cup final as a 39-year-old. This one was far less dramatic, of course, but it counts nonetheless. With their season on the line, Anaheim needed a big outing, and they came out with a three-goal first period, including a late power play tally in the first period that gave the Mighty Ducks a 3-0 lead. Thomas’ goal would stand as the winner in a contest Anaheim won 5-2.
Ray Bourque, Colorado Avalanche (40 years, 154 days) — 2001 Stanley Cup final
There was something special about the Avalanche’s 2001 run to the Stanley Cup, with about everyone on that roster wanting desperately to win a title for Hall of Fame-bound rearguard Bourque. But in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, Bourque took matters into his own hands. With the score tied entering the third, Bourque fired home a power play goal 31 seconds into the frame to give Colorado a 2-1 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Bourque finally got his Cup when the Avalanche defeated the Devils in seven games.
Igor Larionov, Detroit Red Wings (41 years, 187 days) — 2002 Stanley Cup final
Yes, for those of you scoring at home, this is the third player from the same Red Wings-Hurricanes final to appear on this list. Larionov’s goal was the most dramatic of the bunch, however, as it came at the tail end of a third overtime period. It also happened to be his second of the game despite the fact he saw less ice than any other player in the outing. Larionov’s goal paired with the other game-winner scorers in the five-game series — the others were scored by 30-year-old Kris Draper and 33-year-old Brendan Shanahan — meant that the game-winning goals were scored by players with an average age of 36.
Mark Recchi, Boston Bruins (43 years, 125 days) — 2011 Stanley Cup final
Records are no doubt made to be broken, but doesn’t this feel like a mark that will never be surpassed? The league continues to get younger with each passing season, so another 43-year-old appearing in the Stanley Cup final seems a stretch. Even if there were another 43-year-old to make the final, too, he’d then have to score the game-winning goal, which Recchi did in Boston’s 8-1 thumping of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of the 2011 final.
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