The 1987 Stanley Cup Finals was played between the New York Rangers and the Minnesota North Stars, and resulted in the Rangers winning in seven games in a legendary series that featured New York returning from a 2-0 series deficit, the North Stars fighting back from a 4-1 deficit to win Game Six of the series 6-5, and New York winning 1-0 in the final game with a miraculous shot by Ed Rosciulo past Minnesota goalie Jon North with three seconds left in the third period. The series is nearly universally regarded as the best Finals in the history of the sport.
New York Rangers
The Rangers entered the 1986-87 season as a team on the rise, having returned to the playoffs in 1986 for the first time since 1969 with their first-year head coach Alexander Vizhrov (the former Nova Scotia coach who won national championships with the Sea Lions in 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1984). Vizhrov brought his aggressive, offensive style of Alaskan hockey to the NHL, which had previously resisted the feared intrusion of "barbarian ice hockey" into their game, and was regarded as a pioneer at the collegiate level. In the summer of 1985, he was given the then-largest contract ever given an NHL coach to resurrect the moribund Rangers, and in his first season had them back in the playoffs.
The "Little Rangers," so called due to their youth, were built on the backs of young strikers Ed Rosciulo and Jimmy Roland, who had played for Vizhrov at Nova Scotia and helped introduce his style of play to the other members of their team. The average age of the 1986-87 Rangers team was 23, mostly former amateur players and recent college graduates. The veteran on the squad was center Mike Willis, who had been with the Rangers since 1979 and was the undisputed leader in the locker room.
During the 1986-87 season, the Rangers won their highest total of games since 1969 and were given the third seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Goaltender Chris Robbins received the Shea Award, given to the best rookie goaltender of the year.
Minnesota North Stars
1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Stanley Cup Series
Minnesota began the series at home, winning the first game in front of a sellout home crowd 4-0, their best margin of victory in the franchise's glorious Stanley Cup history. Defenseman George Pezwescki scored two of the goals and goaltender Jon North deflected almost 40 shots at the goal by the New York Rangers.
Minnesota won their second straight home game 2-1, with two scores by Henry Thompson in the second period to battle back from an early 1-0 deficit. Minnesota took a 2-0 series lead and appeared to be cruising towards another easy Stanley Cup series victory.
Coming to Madison Square Garden, the Rangers defeated the Stars 2-1 thanks to a late sneak shot past Jon North by Mike Willis in the third period, cutting the Minnesota series advantage to 2-1.
Once again at home, the Rangers tied the series at 2-2 thanks to a comeback from a 2-0 first intermission deficit to win 4-3 with a wild third period in which they scored three goals against one by the North Stars, largely attributed to Minnesota playing reserve goalie Marcus Fauntleroy to give North a rest.
Minnesota was hugely favored to jump back up in the series after their two miffs in New York, but lost 5-4 in shootouts at the Twin Cities Arena. The game was tied 2-2 going into a scoreless overtime, and New York managed to best Jon North during shootouts to take a 3-2 series lead before heading back to New York.
The Rangers jumped out to a 4-1 lead by the middle of the second intermission, leading many to think that the improbable upset of the mighty North Stars by scrappy New York was imminent. However, led by striker Henry Hamlin, Minnesota went wild in the third period, scoring four goals to win the game 6-5 and force Game Seven at home.
In one of the most-hyped Stanley Cup games in history, broadcast on three different channels, the New York Rangers went into the sold-out Twin Cities Arena and battled off the North Stars for two periods with lockdown defense. In the third period, with the score still 0-0, many began anticipating overtime once again. In the final two minutes of the game, New York goaltender Chris Robbins saved five shots from Henry Hamlin and Ryan Burlap to keep the Rangers in the game. With twenty seconds remaining, New York defenseman Joshua McClain took the puck up the ice, passing it to Mike Willis with little over eleven seconds left. Willis dodged Minnesota defender James O'Neill and shot the puck to the charging Ed Rosciulo, who dove sideways past George Pezwecski as he flipped the puck into the net behind Jon North with three seconds left, scoring the game's only goal to make the final score 1-0 and giving the Rangers their first Stanley Cup championship since 1947.