Friday, September 29, 2017

1998 Lewis Cup Finals

Deep into June, 1998, the Lewis Cup Finals were set to begin later than ever before. The Minnesota Lumberjacks were making their third appearance of the decade, while the Generals appeared in their first final since making it to two consecutive finals in 1980 and ’81.
Game one took place on June 16 at JFK Arena. Tomas Axelsson opened the scoring for Washington before Minnesota scored three in the second period and held on for a 3-1 win to steal home ice advantage. In game two, it was Washington who exploded offensively with four goals from Axelsson, Igor Zharkov, Rob Wentzel, and Geoff Collier. The series was now tied heading to Minnesota.

Game three was very close. The teams skated to a 3-3 tie and the game went into overtime. About two minutes into overtime, Geoff Collier took a penalty and Minnesota went on the powerplay. With the top unit of Crowley, Vana, and Greg Willis peppering the Generals with shots, Jake Borman had to play at the top of his game, meeting every challenge. After killing the penalty, the Generals began to make a push themselves. They would finally be rewarded when Rob Wentzel beat Christian Grayson to give Washington a 4-3 win and a 2-1 series lead.

Game four would be the first-ever PHL game played in the summer and the Lumberjacks badly needed a win. “We know what we need to do, it’s just a matter of executing” said Jason Crowley. Crowley himself would step up in game four, scoring a goal and assisting on Pavel Vana’s winning goal as the Lumberjacks tied the series. Washington had an opportunity at home in game five to regain the series lead. It seemed like the momentum shifted when tough defenseman Dwayne Ingram caught star Lumberjacks forward Stanislav Zykov with his head down and laid him out with a devastating hit. Zykov laid on the ice for several minutes before being helped off. Washington then scored two goals just minutes later. Halfway through the game, Greg Willis challenged Ingram and fought him, shifting the momentum in Minnesota’s favour. Shortly after the fight, Pavel Vana scored two goals at the end of the second period. Two minutes into the third period, Vana scored again to complete the hat-trick. With the ‘Jacks leading 3-2, Washington pulled Borman. After Grayson made several big saves in the dying seconds, Brendan Marlo scored on the empty net to seal a 4-2 Lumberjacks win and give them an opportunity to win the Lewis Cup at home in game six.

Prior to game six in Minnesota, the twin cities were buzzing with anticipation. The Lumberjacks were just one win away from winning another championship, but Washington had plans of their own. Game six would go on to be a classic. The Generals jumped to a 2-0 lead on goals from Maxime Trepanier and Brendan O’Connor. At the end of the first period, Vana scored to bring Minnesota to within one. Just three minutes into the second period, Crowley scored to tie the game, but the Generals were quick to respond, re-taking the lead on a goal from Igor Zharkov. It appeared that the series was destined to go to a seventh game, until Stanislav Zykov, who returned despite still feeling the effects of a concussion, scored to tie the game. Washington nearly took the lead again late in the third period, but Trepanier’s shot hit the post. The game went into overtime, where Christian Grayson and Jake Borman both played very well, until finally, early in the second OT, Pavel Vana beat Borman to end the game. Vana threw his gloves off as the Minnesota players spilled off the bench. The Lumberjacks were Lewis Cup Champions for the second time in three years. Vana, who had scored the first overtime Lewis Cup winner since 1984, was named playoff MVP. One of the most bizarre seasons in PHL history was over as the league entered a new era.

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