After just barely making the playoffs, the Washington Generals were not expected to go very deep in the post-season, especially as they had to face the defending champion Montreal Royale in the first round. The Royale won game one 5-2 and immediately jumped to a 3-0 lead in game two. A sweep seemed inevitable, when suddenly the Generals offense exploded for three unanswered goals from Rob Wentzel and two from Igor Zharkov. The game was now tied entering the third period. Early in the third, Tomas Axelsson beat Victor Malmsten to give Washington a 4-3 lead, one they would hang on to to win game two. The Generals never looked back after the big comeback, winning both games in Washington, including a thrilling double overtime victory in game four, to take a stunning 3-1 series lead. Back in Montreal for game five, the Royale were in unfamiliar territory, facing elimination in only the first round. “We know we can win, we just need to keep things simple and force them to play our game” said Vincent Ducharme prior to the game. Game five was a close one, tied 2-2 through two periods, until Wentzel scored a big goal to make it 3-2 midway through the third before Grant Sibley sealed it with an empty-net goal in the dying seconds. Washington completed one of the biggest upsets in PHL history and advanced to the second round for the first time since 1981.
The Quebec Nationale finished the year with 13 fewer points than their first-round opponent, the Boston Bulldogs. But that didn’t stop them from giving Boston all they could handle in a hard-fought first-round series. After splitting the first four games, Quebec took a 3-2 series lead in game five to put the Bulldogs on the brink of elimination. Ron Buckner had struggled in goal throughout the series, even allowing the game five winning goal to trickle between his legs as he attempted to pick it up with his glove, so Gary Shantz decided to give rookie Kevin Washer the start in game six. Washer was spectacular, stopping 39 shots for the shutout as Boston won 4-0 to force game seven. Washer turned in another strong effort in game seven, as Boston won the game 4-1 to move on to the second round. In other Eastern Conference action, Long Island upset the Philadelphia Redshirts in six games, while Toronto defeated Detroit in five.
Out West, the Edmonton Northern Lights and Calgary Wranglers met in the “Battle of Alberta” for the first time ever in the playoffs. The teams split the first four games setting up a pivotal game five in Edmonton, where the bad blood that had been brewing all series finally boiled over. When Shannon Michaels laid out Edmonton’s Gary Clayton with a clean but devastating hit, Joey Hamilton went after him, engaging him in a fight while two other fights broke out of the ensuing scrum. Edmonton went on to win the game but shortly afterwards it was announced that Clayton could miss the remainder of the playoffs with a concussion. Upon news that Calgary star Sergei Krayev would be returning to the lineup for game six after being out since March, Tough Edmonton defenseman Dwight Ingram hinted at retribution for the hit on Clayton. “I’m just saying, we lost one of our star forwards for the rest of the playoffs, their guy is coming back tonight. If the game gets out of reach, they may want to sit Krayev.” The league fined Ingram for uttering what certainly seemed to be a threat and Calgary defenseman Jonathan Adams made sure Krayev would have the space he needed in game six, dropping the gloves with Ingram right off the opening faceoff. The fight seemed to settle everything down, at least for a while, as Krayev scored his first goal in over a month in a 5-3 Calgary win to send the series to a deciding game in Edmonton. Game seven was face-paced and hard-hitting. After a week of controversy, Ingram played a very focused game for Edmonton and ultimately became the hero, scoring late in the second period to give the Northern Lights a 2-1 lead. The goal would eventually be the winner, as Edmonton won the provincial battle to advance to round two.
Elsewhere in the West, Minnesota defeated Milwaukee in five games, Chicago took out St. Louis in six, while Vancouver eliminated LA in six games.
In round two, the Toronto Racers faced a tough test of their will against the Long Island Concordes. The series went back and forth, with Long Island winning game one, then routing the Racers 9-0 in game three after Toronto had tied the series in game two. The blowout seemed to be a clear indication of who was in control of the series, as Stuart Burns was enjoying the performance of a lifetime with seven goals in three games, including four in game three. Toronto managed to tie the series once again in game four, only to once again give the Concordes the lead in game five on an overtime goal from Doug MacIntyre. The Racers now faced elimination and needed a big win on the road to extend the series. Goals from David Havel, Alexei Yolkin, and Tory Partridge gave Toronto a 3-0 lead in game six, before Burns and Mike Wheeler answered with two for Long Island to make it a one goal game. The Concordes nearly tied in late in the second period when a Craig Davidson shot hit the crossbar, but minutes later, Long Island defenseman Brandon Fox was given a penalty for roughing. Randy Fernandez scored on the powerplay with a booming point shot and Toronto once again held a two goal lead. The Racers ultimately won game six 5-3 to force game seven at home. The deciding game was tied 1-1 with just seven minutes to go when Scott Whitmore was sent on a breakaway. Whitmore made no mistake, beating Jeff Pickard to give Toronto the lead. Partridge scored the empty-netter to seal the victory as the Toronto Racers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1979.
The Edmonton Northern Lights also faced an uphill battle in their second-round series with Vancouver. The Bighorns took 1-0 and 2-1 series leads and forced Edmonton to play from behind throughout most of the first four games. The Northern Lights finally caught a break in game four, trailing 3-2. Tommy McGuire was hooked on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. McGuire made good on the rare opportunity and tied the game. Just two minutes into overtime, McGuire scored his second of the game as Edmonton tied the series. The penalty shot proved to be a turning point as the Northern Lights never looked back, winning game five 5-3 and taking game six 3-2 to win the series and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in five years. In other second round action, Boston ended the Washington Generals run in six games, while Chicago defeated Minnesota in five.
For the first time since 1987, the Conference Finals would both go to seven games. Edmonton continued their resilient play against the heavily favoured Shamrocks. After losing game one 4-0, the Northern Lights battled back, earning a 2-2 split after the first four games. The Shamrocks knew they had to get a win at home in game five, and would get a big boost from an unlikely hero. 40-year-old Rudy Hunter, playing in his 21st and final season, scored two goals in a 3-1 win as Chicago now had an opportunity to advance to the Lewis Cup Final in game six. The celebration would have to wait, however, as Dwight Ingram and Kevin Wyatt did an excellent job shutting down the Russian Connection line while Wes Simmons stopped 35 shots in a 2-0 win. Game seven would only bring more frustration for the Shamrocks, as Joey Hamilton enjoyed a two goal night while Ingram and Wyatt continued to physically wear down the talented Russian trio as the Northern Lights finally advanced to their first-ever Lewis Cup Finals appearance with a 4-2 game seven victory.
The following night, the Northern Lights gathered together to watch game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, they would play the winner for the Cup beginning in four days. Boston and Toronto had played a tight series, trading the lead back-and-forth until the seventh and deciding game. With the game tied 2-2 after two periods, Toronto had a golden opportunity when Alexei Yolkin found himself on a breakaway. Yolkin deked Kevin Washer and slipped the puck between his legs to give Toronto a 3-2 lead. The Racers now stood just 16 minutes away from facing Edmonton in what would be the first all-Canadian final since 1941. Unfortunately for Toronto, Boston’s Jason Luna scored with just three minutes left to send the game to overtime. Overtime would last just 28 seconds, enough time for the Racers to get a big opportunity on an odd-man rush, which was broken up by Dale Knight, who passed it ahead to captain Craig Bush. Bush found Colin Fleming through traffic, springing him on a breakaway. Fleming slapped it from the top of the faceoff circle to beat goaltender Tom Branson and send the Bulldogs to their first final since 1976. For Fleming, a Bulldog since his rookie year in 1974, it was a dream come true. When asked if this would be his final year, the 39-year-old answered “we’ll see, we do have one more hill to climb, but if we win, I can’t imagine a better way to say goodbye.”