ESPN

My Favorite Goal: McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final

2 Comments

Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, Sean Leahy remembers Darren McCarty’s highlight-reel goal in Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Final.

Gary Thorne’s voice was clueing us all in that we were in the middle of witnessing something special.

“McCarty draws … McCarty in … McCarty SCORRRRRESSSS! … A magnificent goal … Darren McCarty!”

It was a Detroit Red Wings goal you would expect to see out of someone like Steve Yzerman or Sergei Fedorov. But Darren McCarty? He could score you a goal, sure, but his hands were typically reserved for pummeling the faces of opponents, not dangling rookie defensemen.

The rookie defensmen in question? Janne Niinimaa of the Philadelphia Flyers — the poor soul who is forever on the wrong side of McCarty’s highlight-reel goal during Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Final.

McCarty act of magic put the Red Wings up 2-0 late in the second period, giving them a cushion in what would be the final game of the series. It ended up as the knockout punch as the Detroit would complete a sweep and win its eighth Cup in franchise history and first since 1955.

I watched that goal completely in awe of what McCarty had pulled off. It’s was unexpected and unforgettable. This Red Wings team had Yzerman and Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan and Slava Kozlov and Igor Larionov. Great, smart hockey players with endless skill. McCarty, a future member of the famed “Grind Line,” had his role. But like previous tough guys the franchise had employed — Bob Probert, Joe Kocur — he could put the puck in the back of the net as well as he could use his fists.

That’s why it’s my favorite hockey goal. An unlikely source delivers an unbelievable memory on the biggest stage.

This is the first edition of “My Favorite Goal,” a season-long series where NBC Sports writers and NHL players tell the stories of the goals that mean the most to them. They’re not necessarily the best goals ever seen, but ones that have left a lasting impression.

Today, we start with McCarty and the story behind the move that still resonates 22 years later.

So how did a 25-year-old bottom-six forward pull off that move? You have to travel to Sweden to find the origins of it becoming part of McCarty’s hockey legacy.

***

The Red Wings saw their playoff runs in 1995 and 1996 end in bitter fashion. They were swept in the 1995 Cup Final by the New Jersey Devils and lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Final a year later in an emotional series that featured the infamous Claude Lemieux hit on Kris Draper, which started a rivalry.

McCarty wanted to improve his game in the summer of 1996, so he flew to Sweden to train with stick-handling coach Thomas Storm. His teachings have had an effect on highly-skilled players over the year, with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk among his many pupils. How would it work with a player like McCarty?

“That goal, even though I beat one guy one-on-one in my whole career, that didn’t start that year or in practice or come out of nowhere,” McCarty told NBC Sports. “Because it’s what are you willing to do to get better?”

When McCarty hit the ice with Storm, he wasn’t taking part in training sessions with other professional players. Instead, here was a veteran NHLer working on stick-handling with 11- and 12-year-olds — one of whom was a future teammate of McCarty’s in Kristian Huselius, who was dubbed “Magic” back then by the Red Wings forward.

Each day the players would warm up by doing a 10-minute stick-handling drill with the goal to get their brains and hands working in alignment.

Toe drag, into your feet, pull out. Toe drag, into your feet, pull out. Toe drag, into your feet, pull out.

Over and over again the players would practice it until the movement became second nature. Storm’s goal was repetition, for the motion to become muscle memory. He taught his students to stick-handle north-south, not laterally.

Little did McCarty know this simple exercise would be the reason we’re still talking about a goal from a Cup Final 22 years later.

***

McCarty’s best offensive year came the following season after working with Storm. He hit career highs in goals (19) and points (49). And nearly three months before he scored the goal, he was a key player in kicking off in what’s known as “Fight Night at the Joe” when Detroit and Colorado brawled in late March. Later that game he would net the overtime winner to end an emotional night.

The Red Wings soared through the Western Conference during the 1997 playoffs and put themselves on the verge of sweeping the Flyers heading into Game 4 of the Cup Final. 

Up 1-0 late in the second period of what would be the final game… well, let’s allow McCarty to walk us through it.

“[Vladimir] Konstantinov takes a hit in the corner, gets mucked around. [Tomas] Sandstrom hits me [with the puck] being a responsible ‘Grind Line’ right-winger through the middle. 

“We were at the end of the shift. My idea was to get it to the red line and dump it in. Tried to dump it in, fanned on it. All of a sudden muscle memory comes into play and I remember going, ‘Oh my God, I got [Niinimaa] beat’ and I saw just a flash of orange because [Ron] Hextall was coming out at me and I was able to pull it around him. 

“I was more nervous about missing the net from that close than I ever was on a three-foot putt or anything like that.”

McCarty’s overwhelming thought as he was in the middle of pulling off the move was “don’t lose the puck.” It could have happened during the toe drag or as he shifted from his backhand to forehead while finding space between Niinimaa’s stick and Hextall, who was playing it as you’d expect — aggressively.

The goal was stunning, but also a meaningful one for the Red Wings, who were all in disbelief. 

“What the f—- was that?,” McCarty recalls Yzerman, his boyhood hero, asking him during the celebration. “I don’t know, but who gives a f—-!,” he replied laughing.

“It’s almost like in football: if you don’t know if it’s a catch you better hurry up and get the play off before they take it back because you’re not supposed to do that,” McCarty joked.

McCarty loves to say that the first person on his Christmas card list every year is Eric Lindros. The Flyers’ captain’s goal with 15 seconds left in the third period cut the Red Wings’ lead to 2-1. That ended up as the final score and McCarty can forever say he scored a Stanley Cup game-winning goal.

The move, which doesn’t have a name, wasn’t tried much, if at all, during the rest of McCarty’s career. He was the type of player in the type of role that didn’t afford many one-on-one opportunities like he had against Niinimaa. He would try it in practice, but when you attempt it against a Hall of Famer like Nicklas Lidstrom every day, you’re going to fail just about every time.

But for one night, and one moment, all McCarty needed was one chance, and he capitalized.

“If you’re going to use that moment then you might as well make it a good one.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Elvis, Ovechkin, and others who rocked

Elvis Ovechkin three stars pht buzzer
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Stars beyond Elvis and Ovechkin

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago blowing out Toronto will lead to some hand-wringing, no doubt. Yet, as much as that was on a tough night for Frederik Andersen, give the Blackhawks some credit. Toews topped all in that game with an outstanding four-point performance (two goals and two assists).

Saturday continued what’s been one heck of a month for Toews. The Blackhawks captained pushed his January total to 15 points (5G, 10A). Toews reached that total in just eight games, scoring at least one point in seven contests.

Scratch that. Toews has been on fire for a while now. He started off ice-cold with only two points in 11 October games. Toews took off after that, and has generated an impressive 41 points in his past 28 contests.

Underrated rookie Dominik Kubalik contributed to Chicago’s win, too, with three points (2G, 1A).

2. Riley Sheahan, Edmonton Oilers

Sheahan scoffs at Toews’ slow start. The journeyman forward failed to score a point in 12 October games, and managed one in 11 November contests. Sheahan went and matched his December points total (four in 14 GP) in one contest on Saturday.

That’s right, he generated four points, scoring an empty-netter plus three assists. Connor McDavid dominated in his own right with two goals, but Sheahan helped the Oilers rout the Coyotes. Josh Archibald generated three points (1G, 2A) as well.

This just in: the Oilers have a lot of “that guy’s still around?” forwards. It’s honestly cool to see some of them have such a strong day, and maybe take a bit of the pressure off McDavid here and there.

3. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s as though Atkinson never missed any time. After scoring a goal and an assist in his first game in almost one month on Thursday, Atkinson generated three points (2G, 1A) on Saturday. This gives Atkinson seven points (4G, 3A) in his past four contests.

Others give Atkinson a run for his money, even beyond the next section. Jason Zucker (1G, 2A) and James van Riemsdyk (1G, 2A) both contributed to their respective teams’ blowouts. Atkinson’s extra goal gives him the edge.

OK, now let’s consider Elvis and Ovechkin

Saturday featured enough strong performances that it feels better to give these two a mention. After all, they already received their own posts. Yes, these two probably rank as the “real” third and fourth stars of Saturday, or higher, depending upon your personal taste.

Highlight of the Night

Marc-Andre Fleury is suffering through a tough season, big-picture wise. “The Flower” keeps adding to his resume of breathtaking saves, though:

Comic relief

Jamie Benn provides us with a reason to laugh. At least those of us who aren’t immediately transported to our own memories of hilarious blunders.

That video summarizes the Stars’ night succinctly, as the Wild beat them 7-0.

Factoids

  • Ovechkin nabbed consecutive hat tricks to push his career goals total to 692. He passed Mario Lemieux (11th all-time, 690) and tied Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time (692). Mark Messier sits just two goals away at eighth with 694. Ovechkin also generated consecutive hat tricks for the third time in his career. In doing so, Ovechkin joined Joe Malone (four times) and Wayne Gretzky (three) as the only players to generate consecutive hat tricks three or more times, according to NHL PR. Again, this post delves deeper into Ovechkin’s latest accomplishments.
  • Ovechkin’s teammate John Carlson reached 60 points. Carlson managed the feat in just 49 games, getting to 60 faster than any Capitals defenseman; Mike Green held the previous mark with 60 by game 57. Opinion: Green deserved better treatment from hockey folks during his peak years.
  • Merzlikins authored the 18th instance of a rookie goalie getting a shutout of at least 41 saves, via NHL PR.
  • Cale Makar scored his 11th goal, setting a new record for goals by a rookie Avalanche defenseman.
  • Dominik Kubalik reached 20 goals in his 47th game. NHL PR points out that Kubalik ranks among sixth Blackhawks to reach 20 goals in 50 games or less.

Scores

WSH 6 – NYI 4
COL 5 – STL 3
EDM 7 – ARI 3
OTT 5 – CGY 2
CHI 6 – TOR 2
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (SO)
FLA 4 – DET 1
PHI 4 – LAK 1
CBJ 5 – NJD 0
NSH 2 – BUF 1
MIN 7 – DAL 0
VAN 4 – SJS 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

Leave a comment

Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

3 Comments

An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

Leave a comment

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.