1998-99 Season Recap
Things were going so well. Finally, after four consecutive years of Stanley Cup Finals sweeps, the NHL got what it wanted - a competitive championship series. But of course, something had to go wrong.
It was an all-out war between two tough, hard-hitting clubs, the Dallas Stars and the Buffalo Sabres, and each team was shooting for its first-ever Stanley Cup. Oh sure, the NHL might have rather had teams from larger television markets, but at least these two had star power. Dallas was led by offensive snipers Brett Hull, Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk, while the Sabres countered with the best goalie in the world, Dominik Hasek.
Despite a nagging groin pull that plagued him throughout the playoffs, Hasek managed to keep the underdog Sabres within striking distance. After the first four games of the Finals, the two teams found themselves knotted at two games apiece. In Game 5, Dallas goaltender Ed Belfour recorded his third shutout of the playoffs, blanking the Sabres 2-0 to give the Stars the 3-2 edge. But it was Game 6 that left an indelible mark on the series and left a black mark on the game.
Dallas' Jere Lehtinen gave his team an early 1-0 lead in the first period but Stu Barnes tied it for Buffalo with less than two minutes to go in the second. And it stayed through the third. Then through the first overtime. And then another. Belfour and Hasek were locked in a classic goaltending battle. In all, Belfour stopped 53 shots, while Hasek turned away 48. But at 14:51 of the third overtime, Hull collected his own rebound and squeezed one past Hasek for the Cup clinching goal. Or did he?
Replays clearly showed Hull's left skate in the goal crease before the puck went in, making it an illegal goal. The referees should have given way to the replay judges and disallowed the goal. But amidst the chaos on the ice and the jubilant Stars already celebrating their first Cup win, they decided against it. As expected, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, their players and fans were livid. Officials later claimed that Hull had control of the puck when it was within the crease and then kept control of it when it bounced out, which would make it a legal goal.
The controversy spawned a new relaxed crease rule for the 1999-2000 season, which takes more responsibility away from the video judge and gives it back to the on-ice refs. Too little, too late for the Sabres.