After countless delays I’m finally back with the final entry in The Greatest Playoff Games in NHL History series. This one takes a look at the best playoff games of the past 13 seasons, though neither of the eight games that made the cut occurred later than 2010. That’s not to say we haven’t witnessed some great hockey over the past few years, just that no single game has achieved a level of greatness comparable to others on this and previous lists in the series. Anyway, let’s kick things off with the longest game to make the cut.
May 5, 2000 – Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – Quarterfinals Game 4
Not just the longest game of the past 13 years, but also the longest game since 1936 and the third longest in league history. The underdog Penguins stole the opening two games in Philadelphia thanks to excellent goaltending from Ron Tugnutt, but the Flyers stormed back with an overtime win in Game 3 and were now looking to even the series. Once again the spotlight would be on Tugnutt, who made 70 saves through 60 minutes of regulation and over 90 minutes of overtime play, but in the end it wasn’t enough as Keith Primeau made a nice move to get around Darius Kasparaitis and snap home the winner just past the halfway mark of the fifth overtime period. Result: 2-1 Flyers in 5OT.
May 4, 2002 – Ottawa Senators vs. Toronto Maple Leafs – Quarterfinals Game 2
The Leafs and Senators met in the playoffs four times during the first five seasons of the new millennium and no series was better than this one, which fueled the rivalry to epic heights when Daniel Alfredsson knocked Darcy Tucker out of the series with a vicious hit from behind in Game 5. However, no game was better than Game 2, which saw Toronto break out to an early two goal lead after being embarrassed 5-0 in the series opener. But Ottawa slowly fought back to tie it at 2 and it remained that way until the third overtime period, where Curtis Joseph came up big early, stopping Marian Hossa on back-to-back breakaway attempts. Shortly after, while playing four-on-four hockey due to coincidental roughing minors, Robert Reichel won a draw straight back to Gary Roberts, who fired a quick, low shot past Patrick Lalime for the win. Result: 3-2 Maple Leafs in 3OT.
April 10, 2003 – Anaheim Ducks vs. Detroit Red Wings – First Round Game 1
One of the best games to ever open up the playoffs (though technically it was the second night, but whatever), Jean-Sebastien Giguere began his playoff career on a high note and didn’t let up for nearly two months as he backstopped the Ducks all the way to the Finals and earned himself a Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts. Anyway, back to the game at hand, the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings ran into a brick wall as Giguere made 63 saves through over 100 minutes of play, while Curtis Joseph did his best to have with him, making 42 saves of him own. Eventually Paul Kariya became the hero, pouncing on a loose puck in the slot and ripping it top shelf past Joseph. Result: 2-1 Ducks in 3OT.
June 5, 2004 – Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Calgary Flames – Finals Game 6
This game is infamous for the phantom goal by Martin Gelinas late in the third period that could have won the Flames the Cup had the puck actually gone in (it did not fully cross the line, deal with it Flames fans). Despite being overshadowed by this “goal”, the game itself was amazing and arguably the best Stanley Cup Finals game in over a decade. It was a fierce, tight-checking affair with great goals, strong goaltending, and huge hits. For the second game in a row the series saw overtime, this time a second overtime period as well, but it didn’t last long as Martin St. Louis flicked a rebound over Miikka Kiprusoff’s shoulder just 33 seconds into the period to force Game 7. Result: 3-2 Lightning in 2OT.
May 5, 2006 – Buffalo Sabres vs. Ottawa Senators – Quarterfinals Game 1
The Sabres/Senators Shootout. For fans of fast-paced, back-and-forth, goal-laden hockey this was the best playoff game since the 80’s, easily. Buffalo opened the scoring just 35 seconds into the game, but Ottawa responded less than 3 minutes later with 2 goals of their own only 15 seconds apart. From there the game turned into a revolving carousel of Sabres comebacks as they would fight back to tie the game up on five separate occasions, trading goals with the Senators at breakneck speed until forcing overtime when Tim Connolly scored with 11 seconds remaining on the clock. Obviously in a game like this overtime wouldn’t last long as Chris Drury stunned the crowd only 18 seconds into OT. Result: 7-6 Sabres in OT.
May 4, 2008 – San Jose Sharks vs. Dallas Stars – Quarterfinals Game 6
Quite possibly the most spectacular display of goaltending in overtime history, Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov made sensational stop after sensational stop to keep the drama and stress on high at all times. On top of that was a highly physical game, foreshadowed early by a hit that knocked a pane of glass out just 70 seconds into the game. The nastiness only increased from there, culminating with Brenden Morrow absolutely plastering Milan Michalek at the end of regulation. Then overtime kicked off and it was back to the Nabby & Turk Show. Nabokov went first, making one of the greatest saves of all time on Brad Richards, but Turco was right there with him when he stoned Marleau later in the first frame of OT. The saves kept coming from there, but unfortunately the Stars finally broke through on the power play to end the series. Result: 2-1 Stars in 4OT.
June 2, 2008 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings – Finals Game 5
The best game from either of the two Pittsburgh/Detroit back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals showdowns, it featured tons of physicality, huge saves from both Marc-Andre Fleury and Chris Osgood, close calls off of a variety of posts, crossbars, and scrambles in front, and was only really lacking in highlight reel goals. Of course, it also featured overtime and the legendary “called shot” by one Petr Sykora. Between overtime periods Sykora informed his teammates not to worry as he would score a goal and it wasn’t long before he lived up to this bargain by ripping a wrist shot past Osgood during Pittsburgh’s third power play opportunity during extra time. Result: 4-3 Penguins in 3OT.
May 11, 2009 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals – Quarterfinals Game 2
I really could have included multiple games from this series in the list, but the dueling hat tricks game was just too memorable to not come out on top. The fact that Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby came out of this game with only a hat trick apiece was astounding as both Marc-Andre Fleury and Semyon Varlamov made huge saves on each at numerous times throughout the game. But it was Ovechkin’s hat trick that would come out on top as he put the game out of reach with a nasty snap shot with just under 5 minutes remaining in the game. Crosby’s pure determination willed the Penguins to within one with just 31 seconds remaining, enhancing the drama even more, but it was too little too late by that point. Result: 4-3 Capitals.
May 14, 2010 – Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins – Quarterfinals Game 7
The craziest game from the craziest series of the past decade, the Flyers completed their epic 3-0 series comeback in even more epic fashion by overcoming an additional 3-0 deficit after just over 14 minutes of play in Game 7. Boston came out all over Philadelphia, capitalizing on two early power play opportunities prior to Milan Lucic scoring his second of the game on an end-to-end rush. But a lucky break lead to the Flyers scoring one before the end of the first and from there all the momentum swung back in Philadelphia’s favor The dumbfounded look on Claude Julien’s face after Daniel Briere tied it up at 3 was priceless, while the game winning goal coming off of a power play due to a Bruins too many men penalty was just icing on the cake. Result: 4-3 Flyers.
April 24, 2011 – Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks – First Round Game 6
The final game on this list basically sums up the entire Canucks/Blackhawks rivalry. These two teams had real, deep seeded hatred for each other and it was on full display in the nastiness of the hits dished out by the both of them. Despite everything Vancouver threw at them, Chicago simply would not stay down, fighting back tooth-and-nail to win at all costs. For every Canucks goal the Blackhawks would answer with one of their own, forcing mistakes due to their aggressive attack. Michael Frolik’s penalty shot goal to tie the game was a beauty and it brought with it the return of Roberto Luongo between the pipes for Vancouver. The game went scoreless from there and into overtime when Ben Smith put a rebound past Luongo to send the series to an equally dramatic Game 7 that would see the Canucks finally conquer their demons. Result: 4-3 Blackhawks in OT.