As the playoffs continue and the coronation of the next winner of the coveted Stanley Cup nears, National Hockey League fans all over the world sit on pins and needles game after game in breathless hope that their team will keep advancing through the perilous playoffs.
Each round brings heartbreak and triumph as one team’s triumphant survival forces another team to hang up their skates until next year’s season rolls around. Whether your team is still in the running for the Cup or not, here’s a well-deserved break from the stress of the current playoffs. Here are five of the most memorable playoff games in NHL history.
1. 1987 Patrick Division Semifinals, Game 7: Islanders vs. Capitals
One of the most legendary games ever played, this semifinal contest went to seven games, but it was the number of overtimes required for Game 7 to end that makes it memorable. When Bryan Trottier scored with 5:23 left on the clock to tie the game, it would be the last time a puck crossed the goal line for quite some time. If fact, by the time the fourth and final overtime got underway, it was already Easter Sunday, and the Islanders’ goalie, Kelly Hrudey, had already made 72 saves. He got one more in the fourth overtime before teammate Pat LaFontaine shot and scored 8:47 in to give the Islanders the series. It’s still the longest Game 7 in the history of the NHL.
2. 1993 Campbell Conference Finals: Kings 4, Maple Leafs 3
The Toronto Maples Leafs had been in a 26-year Stanley Cup drought by the time they met Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings in the Campbell Conference Finals in 1993, and by the time Game 7 rolled around, they knew it was a moment of destiny. Unfortunately for them, that destiny would end up being all about Gretzky. One of the best games of his already storied career, Gretzky scored each period and ended up with a hat trick — his eighth one in the playoffs — to put the Kings over the top. Arguably the greatest hockey player who ever played, Gretzky had promised to take the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals, and he delivered on that promise. No wonder his NHL jersey still sells to this day.
3. 2009 Stanley Cup Final: Penguins 4, Red Wings 3
That the series went to seven games during 2009’s Stanley Cup Finals probably surprised few people. After all, the two teams had battled for the Cup just the year before. It was the first Finals rematch since 1983 and 1984, and the Penguins and the Red Wings did not disappoint fans hoping for a hard-fought contest. Because Game 7 was in Detroit, it looked as though the Red Wings would win the Cup again. After all, the last time a visiting team won a Game 7 in the Finals had been in 1971, but the Pittsburgh Penguins had other plans, and they held off a furious effort by the Red Wings to win by a goal.
The Vancouver Canucks had lost the previous two seasons’ quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks, so when they were able to get their revenge in the 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals, it was especially sweet.
The series, however, was brutal. The Canucks were up three games to none before the Hawks won three in a row. Game 7 went into overtime, but Alex Burrows was able to score his second goal of the game 5:22 in. Goalie Roberto Luongo recorded 31 saves, and the defending Stanley Cup champions were sent home.
5. 2006 Stanley Cup Final: Hurricanes 3, Oilers 1
When the Carolina Hurricanes found themselves in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, it was only because the Edmonton Oilers had battled back from a deficit of three games to one. An amazing game played on the Hurricanes’ own ice ensued. Aaron Ward scored. Frantisek Kaberle contributed a power play goal, and Justin Williams found the empty net, but it was the first-year goalie, Cam Ward, who garnered the most praise. Ward landed the Conn Smythe Trophy, and he earned it the hard way with 22 saves that game alone. The last time a rookie goalie had won the MVP award and helped his team win a Stanley Cup had been 20 years prior when “Saint Patrick” Roy accomplished it with the Montreal Canadiens.
The NHL Playoffs are some of the most fiercely contested games in all of sports, as is evidenced by this small sampling of five great games. Here’s hoping the future of professional hockey holds many, many more.