The Greatest Playoff Games in NHL History Part 2: The 80′s


After many good times and celebration during the Christmas holiday, to go along with plenty of great international hockey action via the Spengler Cup and World Junior Championship, I’m finally back with the next entry in The Greatest Playoff Games in NHL History series. Before ringing in the new year I thought I would get the 80’s taken care of so that I’m half done and one of my resolutions can simply be to complete the other half before another year passes (I promise it won’t take that long, more like a few weeks tops). Anyway, on to part 2, the 80’s!

May 24, 1980 – Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Islanders – Finals Game 6

The 80’s kicked off with a bang as it ushered in an Islanders dynasty that would dominate the league during the first half of the decade. However, the road to their first Stanley Cup was arguably the toughest challenge they faced during that time as the Finals put them up against a Flyers squad that held the league’s best record during the regular season, recording 25 more points than the Islanders. Game 6 was the highlight of the series, featuring a late Flyers comeback to force overtime. But in OT, John Tonelli’s perfect pass to Bobby Nystrom for the overtime winner ended the series. Result: 5-4 Islanders in OT.

April 10, 1982 – Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings – First Round Game 3

The Miracle on Manchester. This game was an early contender when it came to choosing the Greatest Playoff Game in NHL history, but ultimately it lost out to the Easter Epic. Nonetheless, this is a spectacular game, most notable for being the greatest single game comeback in playoff history. Periods 1 and 2 featured a dominant display by the highly talented Oilers, lead by a young Wayne Gretzky, that saw them jump out to a 5-0 lead. But the third period is where the real magic started, as the Kings slowly but surely erased that five goal deficit only to tie the game with 5 seconds remaining. Then in overtime rookie Daryl Evans scored the winner and history was made. Result: 6-5 Kings in OT.

May 10, 1984 – Edmonton Oilers vs. New York Islanders – Finals Game 1

This game marked the dawn of a new era in the NHL. The previous Stanley Cup Finals had not been kind to a young Oilers squad as they were easily swept by an Islanders team on its way to a fourth straight Stanley Cup victory. However, the rematch brought with it a new, more experienced Oilers team and as such Game 1 wasn’t close to the offensive battle that many expected. Instead it was a defensive struggle that went scoreless through two periods of tough back-and-forth action. Finally, early in the third period, Kevin McClelland scored to give Edmonton the lead, one which they hung on to with the help of amazing goaltending from Grant Fuhr. The Oilers finally beat the Islanders and paved the way towards their first Stanley Cup. Result: 1-0 Oilers.

April 14, 1985 – Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins – First Round Game 4

This high-scoring classic was yet another amazing game between two bitter rivals, the Bruins and Canadiens. Montreal had a 2-1 series lead and had jumped out to 4-1 lead by the end of the first period in Game 4. It looked like all was lost in Boston, but then the second period saw the Bruins storm back to score 5 goals of their own, interspersed with 2 more goals by the Canadiens to set up the start of the third period tied at 6. They would play much of this period scoreless until  Ken “The Rat” Linseman completed his hat-trick with just under 7 minutes to go and the Bruins held on to even the series. Result: 7-6 Bruins.

May 2, 1985 – Quebec Nordiques vs. Montreal Canadiens – Quarterfinals Game 7

The next series featured another instant classic and the ultimate in the Canadiens/Nordiques rivalry. Sure, it doesn’t have a catchy name like the Good Friday Massacre that occurred the playoffs prior, but actual gameplay wise this one comes out on top. It was an excellent, tight-checking game full of great goaltending, timely goals, close calls, and bad blood. Best of all it featured sudden death overtime, which came to a quick conclusion when the legendary Peter Stastny jumped on a rebound to score the series deciding goal. Result: 3-2 Nordiques in OT.

April 20, 1986 – Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers – Quarterfinals Game 2

Though this series is most remembered for the unfortunate Steve Smith own goal during Game 7 that may have prevented the Oilers from recording 5 straight Stanley Cup victories, it is actually Game 2 that featured the most entertainment. Beautiful end-to-end rushes, breakaway goals, fights, and more. The teams traded goals throughout most of the game until Edmonton pulled away with 3 goals in the third. But Calgary tied it up late when Joe Mullen scored an incredible goal by grabbing a puck in mid air as it was about to sail over his head, dropped it at his feet, and smacked it into the open net. Overtime only lasted a minute as Glenn Anderson ended it with a highlight reel goal of his own by fooling Rejean Lemelin with a quick deke to give Edmonton the win. Result: 6-5 Oilers in OT.

May 5, 1986 – Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers – Semifinals Game 3

Though the score may not truly reflect it, this game was an amazing goaltending duel between John Vanbiesbrouck, the season’s Vezina Trophy winner, and Patrick Roy, a rookie already in the mist of creating a legend. The Rangers badly outshot the Canadiens for much of the game, forcing Roy to come up big constantly just to keep the Canadiens in it at all, while Vanbiesbrouck faced a lesser load in general aside from a torrent of shots during the second, the only time the Canadiens really outplayed the Rangers. In the end the game went to overtime and that’s when another hero was born as Claude Lemieux notched his second OT winner of the playoffs. Result: 4-3 Canadiens in OT.

April 18, 1987 – New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals – First Round Game 7

The undisputed Greatest Playoff Game in NHL history. If you haven’t already learned all about this game via our Propaganda section, please do so ASAP. Result: 3-2 Islanders in 4OT.

May 28, 1987 – Edmonton Oilers vs. Philadelphia Flyers – Finals Game 6

The Oilers and Flyers had many classic games during the 80’s, none better than this one during the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals, a rematch of the 1985 Finals. Unlike the 1985 Finals however, this series was a close one, mainly due to the amazing play of Ron Hextall in goal for the Flyers. The first period saw the Oilers all over the Flyers, outshooting them 3 to 1 in jumping out to a 2-0 lead. However, from there Hextall shut the door while his teammates clawed back with a goal midway through the second and another midway through the third. Then, shortly after the game tying goal, J. J. Daigneault unleashed a rocket from the blueline to complete the comeback and the Flyers held on for the win. Result: 3-2 Flyers.

April 15, 1989 – Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames – First Round Game 7

This series was never expected to be nearly as thrilling as it was as the Flames came into it with a 43 point advantage over the Canucks from the regular season. The Canucks didn’t see it that way though as they pulled off an upset in Game 1 and every time the Flames thought they had put them down for the count in winning games after that the Canucks would keep coming back with a win of their own, finally forcing Game 7. It was an instant classic, featuring excellent goals and great saves from both Mike Vernon and Kirk McLean. The game went to overtime, which saw Vernon make the save of the game on a Stan Smyl breakaway attempt and the controversial game winning goal that Joel Otto redirected with his skate to give the Flames the win. Result: 4-3 Flames in OT.