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Bill Ranford elevated his play to new
heights in the spring of 1990 as he
carried the Edmonton Oilers all the
way to a Stanley Cup Championship.

Doug Ward | correspondent
Feb 10, 2007, 12:00 PM EST

Just about every spring, an NHL goaltender assumes the role of superhero, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying it through an unforgettable Stanley Cup Playoff ride.

Sometimes, the goalie is up-and-comer, like Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes. Other times, it’s an NHL legend, like Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy adding to their legacy.

Regardless of where it happens and to whom it happens, Bill Ranford remembers.

“When you see someone go through it, there’s no doubt that the memories come back and it’s really a special thing ” says Ranford, 40, now a goaltending coach for the Los Angeles Kings.

Back in the spring of 1990, it was Ranford who captivated the hockey world, his saves getting progressive bigger as his playoff stubble grew thicker.

“It’s one of those things,” Ranford says, “that you can now look back on and just kind of enjoy, knowing that you still have those friendships with the guys that played on those two (Stanley Cup champion) teams.”

Ranford, who had been a reserve on Edmonton’s 1988 Stanley Cup champions, began the 1989-90 season as a backup to Grant Fuhr. But when Fuhr suffered a shoulder injury in a Dec. 16 game at St. Louis, Ranford played in a career-high 56 regular-season games, going 24-16-9. Fuhr would return March 3, only to re-injure the shoulder 10 days later.

“It was one of those scenarios where it was my first year to get the opportunity to play because Grant had the shoulder injury,” Ranford says.

Fuhr ended up playing in just 21 games and missing the playoffs entirely.

“Because of Grant’s injury, I played a lot of games that year. You have to learn to be an NHL goaltender, and that was my first real opportunity to play that many games. It enabled me to really learn and understand the game.”

Ranford was the clear-cut No. 1 man in Edmonton’s net when the playoffs began, but things did not begin well. The Oilers quickly fell in to a three-games-to-one hole against the Winnipeg Jets in the Stanley Cup Playoff's first round.

“It started off a little rocky with our series against Winnipeg,” Ranford recalls. In Game 1, the Jets shelled Ranford, winning 7-5 in Alberta.

“I didn’t play very well in the first game of the series and we had to come back from 3-1, just to win the opening round.”

After the Oilers were able to dig themselves out of that hole against Winnipeg, they soon became a team on a roll.

“From that point on,” Ranford says, “you get into a groove and you start to learn what it takes to learn at that next level. As each round goes on, the pressure gets more intense and you learn, and you try to adapt.”

By the time the Oilers defeated Chicago, four games to two, in the Western Conference Final, Ranford and his Edmonton teammates pretty much had things figured out. It would, however, take a little longer for the rest of the hockey world to catch on.

Game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final was the big reveal; the night the rest of the NHL got hip to the idea that even two years after the departure of Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton could stay lay claim to being a City of Champions.

It’s also the game Bill Ranford will never forget. Neither will anyone else who witnessed it.

Ranford remembers how little was expected of the Oilers. They had finished second in the Smythe Division, going 38-28-14 during the regular season. They were going up against a Boston team that had been the class of the NHL during the regular season, posting a 46-25-9 record for a league-best 101 points.

“I think the big thing for our team going into Boston after leaving Chicago,” Ranford says, “was hearing all the reports back East about Boston being so dominant, and how we should just mail in the four points and try our luck back in Edmonton.”

Instead, Edmonton got a win so big that it almost felt like they had won two games. The Oilers were primed to deliver an opening game message and got off to a fast start, taking a 2-0 lead that held until Ray Bourque scored a pair of late third-period goals to force overtime.

It was a game that had a little of everything. Ranford got better and better as the extra sessions went on, and in the second OT, the game was momentarily delayed when Boston Garden suffered a power outage.

In all, Ranford played 115 minutes, stopping 50 of 52 Boston shots. But the contest is still remembered by many as “the Petr Klima game,” which is ironic, since Klima had less to do with much of the game than anyone else in uniform.

As the Oilers and Bruins sweated out a 2-2 tie after three periods, Klima sat idly through the first two overtimes.

When Edmonton coach John Muckler did not call Klima’s number during the first two extra sessions, the forward responded by leaving his chinstrap unbuckled, a non-verbal statement of indifference.

“We had a break, I’m not sure if it was between overtimes or if it was the break because the lights went out, but Muckler came in and made a point to Petr that even though he hadn’t played much, he couldn’t be sitting on the bench with his chinstrap undone.”

Then Muckler gave Klima a reason to buckle his chinstrap, sending him out in the third overtime period. At 15:13, a well-rested Klima became the freshest triple-overtime hockey hero ever, putting the puck past Boston’s Andy Moog — who had been traded for Ranford two years earlier — to end the game.

“I think it was a combination of Muckler trying to make a point that you win as a team and you lose as a team. Petr sat on the bench for about two-and-a-half hours, and whether he was fresh or not, he made the right shot at the right time. ”

It was after 1 a.m. in Boston. Ranford’s goaltending and Klima’s goal had the combined effect of lifting one team’s spirits while breaking another’s.

“Winning that game really set the tone for the rest of the series,” Ranford said.

The rest of the series belonged to the Oilers. Ranford’s team won Game 2, 7-2, and returned to Edmonton with a commanding 2-0 series lead. Boston got its lone series win in Game 3, 2-1, before the Oilers took control of the series with a 5-1 win at home.

The series reverted to Boston, where Edmonton won their first and only Stanley Cup of the post-Wayne Gretzky era, with a 4-1 victory.

“Everybody skated with the Cup and it was pretty special,” Ranford says. “I think the thing I remember about that night was it was the first time for Edmonton winning it on the road. Both teams faced a lot of adversity. We had a lot of guys, myself included, nine guys who had either the flu bug or dehydration after Game 1.”

Although Ranford had been traded from Boston to Edmonton in 1988 in the deal for Moog, he says by 1990, he no longer felt any burning desire to get the best of his former team. He had already been a part of Edmonton’s 1988 Stanley Cup team that also beat Boston in the Final.

“This time around,” Ranford says, “it was more of just the challenge of the two best teams at that point going head to head, and I really don’t think I put too much emphasis on the fact that I was playing my old team.”

He placed even less emphasis on the fact that he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. Ranford had always felt such awards are really no more than an extra layer of icing on the cake, earned by all, shared by all. He was so wrapped up in his team’s Stanley Cup celebration that when he was announced as the Conn Smythe winner, he felt little added emotion.

“That trophy is almost another team trophy,” he says. “They award it to one guy, but you need the team effort in order for a guy to win it.”

Ranford fondly recalls taking his turn skating the Stanley Cup around the Boston Garden, but says his day with the Cup didn’t come until two years ago.

“It just so happened that the organization I was with (as a goaltending consultant), the Coquitlam Express, were bringing the Cup in,” he says. “I was pretty fortunate in that they gave me the Cup for a day. It was four years after I retired and it was pretty special.”

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