A few weeks ago Puck Propaganda unveiled the Greatest Playoff Game in NHL history over in the Hall of Fame Moments section of the Propaganda. The Easter Epic certainly is one of the most entertaining and historic games in hockey history, however it did not earn the title of Greatest Playoff Game easily. It faced plenty of stiff competition from other memorable playoff games throughout the history of the NHL and now I would like to share with you a list of those games and more.
The following list of games, in order from earliest to most recent, represents the best that NHL playoff hockey has had to offer since the end of the Original Six era. As I’ve already explained on Twitter, I’m not going to get into games that occurred prior to the major expansion of 1967, mainly because I have not witnessed enough of them from that era to be able to fairly judge them in comparison to those that I have witnessed either live or on tape since then.
Due to the size of the list (I ended up with 33 amazing games in total), I’ve decided to split it mostly by decade and you can expect to see parts 2 through 4 over the coming days. I’ll kick things off with Part 1 now, the 70’s, and if you haven’t had the good fortune to witness some of the games on this list, be sure to seek them out in any way that you can. Enjoy!
May 10, 1970 – St. Louis Blues vs. Boston Bruins – Finals Game 4
This game is most famous for Bobby Orr’s amazing overtime winner, but it was also the only competitive game in the series. After being dominated in the opening three games, the Blues turned to Glenn Hall for Game 4. Hall helped to make this game an instant classic, as the Blues fought tooth and nail to avoid elimination, but in the end the Bruins had just too much firepower to contain and Orr’s goal in overtime in front of a hometown crowd secured Boston their first Stanley Cup in nearly 30 years. Result: 4-3 Bruins in OT.
May 8, 1973 – Chicago Black Hawks vs. Montreal Canadiens – Finals Game 5
The 1973 Finals brought together two teams with amazing goaltenders in Tony Esposito and Ken Dryden, but Game 5 of this classic confrontation was anything but a goaltending duel. Chicago and Montreal would combine for a Finals record 15 goals in a back-and-forth game that witnessed the Black Hawks fight back to tie the game four times before finally gaining the advantage for good late in the second period. Montreal did their best to come back in the third, but Chicago went on to win and force Game 6 at home. Result: 8-7 Black Hawks.
May 19, 1974 – Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers – Finals Game 6
Despite finishing the season with only two more wins than the Flyers, the Bruins were heavy favourites heading into the 1974 Finals, lead by the league’s best offense. Unfortunately for them they would run into the best goalie in the NHL that year, Bernie Parent, who would turn in a masterful performance, none better than his shutout in Game 6. The Bruins were thwarted at every opportunity and the Flyers held on to a late first period goal to become the first 1967 expansion team to win the Stanley Cup. Result: 1-0 Flyers.
April 26, 1975 – New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – Quarterfinals Game 7
The Islanders had battled back from a 3-0 series deficit to force a seventh and deciding game in Pittsburgh thanks in large part to Glenn “Chico” Resch taking over in goal after Game 3. Chico played brilliantly and Game 7 was his best performance yet, but not without a little help from the posts, which rumour has it he kissed at one point. However, on this night, Gary Inness was every bit his equal at the other end as the game remained scoreless until late in the third. With just 5:18 left to play, captain Ed Westfall scored on a backhander and the Islanders completed the historic comeback. Result: 1-0 Islanders.
April 27, 1975 – Montreal Canadiens vs. Buffalo Sabres – Semifinals Game 1
While the Fog Game of the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals tends to be the most memorable game of the playoffs that year, it was actually a game that occurred in the round prior that turned out to be the best. Buffalo and Montreal, the league’s two best offenses, met in a highly entertaining series and the opening matchup failed to disappoint. With Montreal trailing by a goal late in the game, Jacques Lemaire tied it with only 18 seconds to go. Then in overtime Danny Gare scored one of the most memorable goals in Sabres history. Result: 6-5 Sabres in OT.
May 9, 1976 – Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens – Finals Game 1
1976 saw the Flyers make their third straight trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, only this time they would face the best defensive team in the league, lead by future Hall of Famers Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, and Larry Robinson. Though the Canadiens would sweep the series, each game was a close one and Game 1 was the best of the lot. The Flyers jumped out to an early lead just 21 seconds into the game and added to it just past the halfway point of the first, but the Canadiens fought back to tie it in the second. They traded goals during the first half of the third and then battled for the lead until the end when Lapointe scored the go ahead goal with just over a minute to go. Result: 4-3 Canadiens.
May 10, 1979 – Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens – Semifinals Game 7
Widely considered to be one of the most memorable games in the history of the NHL, it’s unfortunate that the game is most remembered for the too many men on the ice penalty that led to the game tying goal by Montreal. Nonetheless, if not for that call it is unlikely that Montreal would have forced overtime and the added drama that goes along with it. Check out the video below, direct from the CBC Digital Archives, to witness the thrilling conclusion to this stunning game. Result: 5-4 Canadiens in OT.