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A Day to Remember

So, Curtis Joseph turns 53 today. That, in itself, is noteworthy, given the relatively short but definitely spectacular time the man they call Cujo spent tending goal as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. So, Happy Birthday, Cujo. Of course, there is more.

Today is also the 23rd anniversary of the Oilers’ stunning upset over the Dallas Stars in the first round of the 1997 playoffs thanks to Todd Marchant’s overtime goal in a 4-3 decision in Game 7 at Reunion Arena. That’s a moment – Marchant taking a pass from Doug Weight and then racing past a stumbling Grant Ledyard before beating Andy Moog on the stick side – burned into the brains of Oilers’ fans.

It’s a moment made possible, of course, by one of the greatest saves I’ve ever seen – Joseph diving across the crease to deny Joe Nieuwendyk of what looked like a sure goal. That act of outright robbery is what set up the sequence that resulted in Marchant deciding the series a shift later. Unforgettable.

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What had slipped my mind when I flipped open my laptop today was that Joseph was celebrating his 30th birthday on the very day he orchestrated the Oilers upset of the heavily favoured Stars. No save. No stunner. What are the odds of that?

FROZEN IN TIME

The Oilers were supposed to be relatively easy marks for the Stars, who’d finished 23 points ahead of them in the standings (104-81), but when Edmonton got to Game 7 and Andrei Kovalenko scored with 20 seconds left in regulation time to tie it 3-3, the stage was set. Then came Cujo and Marchant.

“I saw it in my nightmares for a few years,” then-Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock told Mark Spector of Sportsnet two weeks ago. “We had a perfect angle on it, and everybody on our bench thought that was it. That’s what happens sometimes. You’ve got to remember, (Eddie) Belfour did that to Colorado two years in a row. So, we got it done to us . . .”

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“You know, I don’t really rank games, or saves or anything,” said Joseph. “But I hear about this save more than any other save I’ve ever made. So, it’s got to be up there. I actually didn’t know where it was. You can see on the replay, I played the shell game with my gloves. I didn’t even know where it was lodged, but I knew it wasn’t in the net.

“The boys sang an impromptu ‘Happy Birthday’ in the dressing room, when we were still in our equipment. It was a surreal moment. A bonding moment, where somebody starts singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ a real emotional time. I get chills now, just thinking about it.”

Oilers’ fans can relate to that, Cujo. So, happy birthday and happy anniversary.

Previously by Robin Brownlee