Before I start this, we have to go through a few ground rules. For starters, these are all guys from teams who never won the Cup. Second, I was born in 83. And while I can go toe to toe with anyone in the media on the history of hockey, I can’t really judge anyone’s playoff run pre 1984 or so. Not that I’m able to remember much before 1989, but I do know all about the 84-88 playoffs thanks to my Oilers fandom.
Third, goaltenders aren’t on this list, because the fact is that if I can do a whole list on goaltenders. It happens so often, that it really isn’t that special of a feat. Still, let’s give honourable mention to those goaltenders: 2016 Martin Jones, 2014 Henrik Lundqvist, 2013 Tuukka Rask, 2006 Dwayne Roloson, 2004 Mikka Kiprusoff, 2001 Martin Brodeur, 2000 Ed Belfour, 1999 Dominik Hasek, 1998 Olaf Kolzig, 1996 Jon Vanbiesbrouck, 1994 Kirk McLean, 1985 Pelle Lindberg, etc.
It’s really ironic here because it’s a lot of guys who were on Canadian teams. Not really my fault, there’s been a lot of Canadian teams in the last 23 years who went on dramatic playoff runs only to lose in the seventh game of the Cup final.
I guess this is a top six really because I kick things off with a tie. I still remember how much he got CRUSHED for the sweep against the Red Wings. What was Lindros supposed to do? They pretty literally didn’t have a goaltender who could stop a puck. Lindros was incredible through that entire run. Only until he had to go against Centres like Yzerman and Federov (easily two of the top two way centres in hockey at the time), an OK D-man in Nicklas Lidstrom, and the best coach of all time was he slowed down. In the moment nobody realized just how great that Red Wings team was, and Lidstrom in particular was just then emerging as one of the games elite defencemen. But Lindros dominated the playoffs to that point, and still put up three points in four games in the final, he just simply didn’t get any other help. 26 points in just 19 games, and much like a Milan Lucic today there was so much more to Lindros than what the numbers say. If you were shutting him down on the scoreboard, then he was going to completely dominate you physically. Unfortunately, Lindros was never better than during this run. But was it ever a great run!
Yep, didn’t even play a game in the final and he’s on this list…he was THAT good! Although we should be really honest here, in 2002 even the Eastern media wasn’t shy to say that the Eastern Conference was disgusting and would pose zero threat to whoever came out of the West, so game seven between the Red Wings and Avs in the West final was pretty widely regarded as the Cup final. 27 points in just 20 playoff games in an era where you didn’t score. The guy missed the entire regular season, and his first game back which was game 1 for the Avs vs LA in the playoffs the guy didn’t have an ounce of rust. Four game winners in that run, two of those were OT winners. I was and always will be a massive Joe Sakic guy, and always got annoyed when people suggested Forsberg was the better player of the two. But in the spring of 2002, Forsberg was the best player in the world without a doubt.
Another honourable mention at this point goes to Trevor Linden. It was so tough to leave Linden off of here because it felt like he had more dramatic moments during that run for the Canucks, in particular game seven against the Rangers where he sniped twice. That shorthanded goal he scored in the second period with the Canucks trailing 2-0 was all heart. He was such a deadly player early in his career. But the fact is that they don’t get to game seven, or the final, or the conference final, or get past Calgary without the Russian Rocket. Started off slow with just three assists in the first four games. Didn’t score (might not have had a point) in the first four games against the Flames, had only one goal going into game seven. He did a total 180 after that. Two goals in that game seven including that OT goal. He had 15 goals in 18 games from game seven on. He was simply unstoppable, and incredible to watch. Not as good as what McDavid is today, but for those people who didn’t get to see Bure in his prime he had that similar game breaking speed with the puck that McDavid has today, which is so rare to see.
This was a run that’s well remembered simply because pre 2012 being the only season the Kings made the Cup final. What seems to be somewhat forgotten is not only how tremendous Gretzky was during that run, but how surprising it was. Gretzky was always good with the Kings, but he never seemed to be QUITE what he was with the Oilers. Understandable, those Oilers teams had a lot more talent and he started to run into a lot of injury trouble. He was out the first half of the 93 season due to back surgery and there was talk of him possibly retiring, which made his 93 playoffs all the more amazing. 40 points in just 24 games, three game winners including the controversial OT goal in game six against the Leafs in the conference final which sent that series to a seventh game, and we all know what Gretz then did in game seven. Gretz had a couple of pretty good runs with the Blues and Rangers in the 96 and 97 playoffs, but this was the last one of his prime.
Hate the Flames or love them, this team was pretty difficult to dislike, and a large reason for that was the way Jarome Iginla played during this run. Iginla didn’t have the amazing numbers some of the other guys had (different era), but Iginla would get it done in vital moments seemingly every time. Game seven vs Vancouver he got both Flames goals in regulation, then really was responsible for the Gelinas OT winner with his work in front of the net. The series against the Sharks was slipping away. Sharks had won games 3 and 4 and were coming home. Early in game 5 they went to the pp, and it was Iginla who stepped up with a tremendous solo effort for a short handed goal which completely turned that series around. In game 5 against Tampa in OT, it’s known as “the shift” in Calgary where Iginla, helmetless and all, completely took over the game which led to an Oleg Saprykin’s goal and the Flames were a win away from the Cup. And of course here I’m only talking about his goals. He was physical, his fights with Matthias Ohlund, Derrian Hatcher and Vincent Lecavalier were tremendous and always gave the Flames a big spark, Iginla was a freaking beast in 2004. He played the way we all would play if we had that kind of talent.
Flames fans won’t like me for this, but take it as a compliment to your 2004 team Flames fans. The 2006 Oilers would not have been anywhere near a Stanley Cup in 06 had it not been for Pronger. He should have been the Conn Smythe winner in 06 over Cam Ward. I recall Pierre Lebrun having that same sentiment after game seven. 21 points in 24 games (as a defenceman), was playing 30 minutes a night matched up against guys like Datsyuk, Thornton (in his MVP season), Selanne, and Eric Staal and was completely shutting these guys down. Three guaranteed hall of famers, and Staal sure looked as though he could become one in 2006 (still will have a shot). Keep in mind that I never saw Bobby Orr play, but I can say I never have seen another defenceman at the level Pronger was in 06. He was just simply incredible, seemingly never making a mistake. Most Oilers fans will never forgive him for what happened in the days following this run, but when you think of 2006, you think of Pronger and how tremendous he was. He elevated an average team that spring to a team that had it not been for the Dwayne Roloson injury probably would have won the Cup, and there for Mr. Pronger wouldn’t be on this list. But it happened, and he is, and this Oilers fan will just have to accept it one of these days…
Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups