As the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach the pinnacle of its excitement, the best playoff performers become clear.
Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings is leading his team through a dominant run to the finals. Meanwhile, goalies Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist seem impossible to beat.
Picking a Conn Smythe Trophy winner will be difficult this season, due to many players worthy of recognition as the playoffs’ most valuable player.
Winning the Stanley Cup takes an extraordinary level of effort that some players reach and go beyond. Certain players show a history of playing at higher abilities than others when it really matters.
Those who appear in this countdown excelled in the playoffs with timely plays and consistent contributions to their respective teams’ journey towards hockey’s greatest moment.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ duo of stars have a short but successful playoff history together.
Crosby already has 90 career playoff points in just 68 games. He tied Henrik Zetterberg with 27 playoff points in 2008 and hoisted the cup as a 21-year-old captain the next season.
Malkin trails Crosby with 81 points in 68 games, but has a Conn Smythe Trophy after a 36-point 2009 run to the cup.
No other player has totaled more points in a single playoff year since Wayne Gretzky delivered 40 in 1993.
While Crosby and Malkin carry their regular-season performance into the playoffs, Giroux has a short but impressive history of improving his.
Giroux’s regular season points-per-game average is 0.85, but in the playoffs, he totals 55 points over 50 career games.
In 2010, Giroux delivered 21 playoff points in 23 playoff games after totaling just 47 in 82 regular-season games. His 17 points over 10 games is still the most in the 2012 NHL playoffs.
Giroux brings intensity and clutch play to the playoffs that neither Crosby or Malkin could match when the Flyers and Penguins went head-to-head in this season’s first round.
Like Giroux, Toews’ playoff history is very short, but both players show signs of being dominant playoff forces for years to come.
Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy when his Chicago Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup. He has 50 points in 52 career playoff games, including the 29 points he scored in the 2010 run to the top.
Neely did not have many opportunities to shine in the playoffs due to a shortened career and many first-round exits with the teams he played with.
When he had a chance to come through, he did. From the 1988 through the 1991 playoffs, Neely’s Boston Bruins either lost the Stanley Cup Final or were eliminated by a team that went there.
In those four seasons, Neely totaled 74 points in 73 games. He did not win the Stanley Cup as a player.
Over 13 seasons in the playoffs, Bellows totaled 122 points in 143 games. His best run came in 1991, but his 29 points were not enough to lead the Minnesota North Stars past the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Bellows won his only Stanley Cup two seasons later with the Montreal Canadiens.
Simpson found himself in the playoffs just five seasons of his short career, but played well in those runs, totaling 68 points in 67 games.
He led the NHL in goals (16) and points (31) in the 1990 playoffs while winning his second Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers.
Bure did not have many opportunities in the playoffs, with just five seasons of experience playing hockey in spring.
He made the most of his chances though, leading the Vancouver Canucks all the way to Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final with an NHL-best 16 playoff goals and a team-best 31 points.
Recchi ranks in at 29th all-time in career playoff points with 147. He won three Stanley Cups with three different teams (Pittsburgh in 1991; Carolina in 2006; Boston in 2011), showing his playoff value.
Park is ninth all-time in career playoff points by a defenseman with 125 over 161 games. Unfortunately, Park never won the Stanley Cup.
Briere is a two-time All-Star and definitely a player many teams would want to have during the regular season; he averages 64 points per 82 games.
In the playoffs, Briere is a different player; he is a force. In 108 playoff games, he has 109 points. Briere led all scorers in 2010 with 30 playoff points.
This season, his drive to win the Stanley Cup was especially noticeable. After scoring just 49 points in 70 regular-season games, Briere totaled 13 points in 11 playoff games.
This six-time Stanley Cup champion totaled 118 points over 137 playoff games. While winning the cup in 1971, Mahovlich led the NHL in playoff goals (14) and points (27).
Gilmour is ninth all-time in playoff scoring with 188 points over 182 games. He led the playoffs in points in 1986 and later won his only Stanley Cup as a member of the Calgary Flames in 1989.
Savard won the Stanley Cup just once, in 1993 with the Montreal Canadiens.
However, his consistent, career-long playoff production ranks him among the NHL’s best. Savard totaled 175 playoff points over 169 games, ranking him 16th all-time.
The eight-time Stanley Cup champion did not fail to deliver when the playoffs came; he led the NHL in playoff goals (15) and points (25) in 1973, while totaling 127 career playoff points in 147 games.
One of the best Chicago Blackhawks of all time, Mikita totaled 150 points over 155 playoff games in his career. He won a Stanley Cup in 1961 and led the playoffs in points in 1962.
Kelly’s playoff success is an excellent display of what might be the most incredible versatility in NHL history.
Kelly was a James Norris trophy-winning defenseman with the Detroit Red Wings, winning four Stanley Cups in his first eight seasons.
After Detroit attempted to trade Kelly to the Rangers in 1960, he refused to report and subsequently retired. The Toronto Maple Leafs were able to convince him to come back, and Kelly was traded to the Leafs instead.
Kelly switched to playing as a center for Toronto, scoring 55 points in 64 playoff games and winning another four Stanley Cups.
A key defenseman on both the Pittsburgh Penguins’ and Detroit Red Wings’ cup-winning teams of the 1990s, Murphy is sixth all-time in playoff points by a defenseman with 152 over 215 games.
Murphy led the playoffs in plus/minus in three of the four seasons he hoisted the cup.
Richard won an NHL-record 11 Stanley Cups. What is most incredible about this is that over his 20-season career, he won the Stanley Cup more times than he didn’t.
Keep in mind, some players never win it.
Richard was a productive piece of all championships he won with the Montreal Canadiens and led the playoffs in points in 1960 as a 23-year-old.
Parent was a huge part of the Philadelphia Flyers' two Stanley Cup victories.
Parent won the Vezina and the Conn Smythe Trophies in both 1974 and 1975, clinching both championships with a Game 6 shutout.
Trottier was one of the most valuable members of the New York Islanders’ dynasty of the early 1980s. He led the NHL in playoff goals once, assists twice and points twice, in addition to winning the 1980 Conn Smythe Trophy.
Later, he provided veteran leadership on two Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins teams, for a total of six career Stanley Cup victories.
Hull might be among the NHL’s all-time playoff scoring leaders if he did not spend five seasons in the World Hockey Association with the Winnipeg Jets.
In the NHL, he totaled 129 points over 119 games with one Stanley Cup victory. In the WHA, he totaled another 80 playoff points in 60 games.
Regardless of the quantity of time he missed, Hull’s performance while in the NHL was excellent; he led the playoffs in goals three different times, including 1963, when his Chicago Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round.
The Philadelphia Flyers captain is a workhorse who has undeniable playoff value.
Pronger is 10th all-time in career playoff points by a defenseman. He won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. One season earlier, he helped bring the Edmonton Oilers to the finals, and in 2010 he carried the Flyers there also.
In 2001, Pronger averaged an astonishing 33:50 of ice time per game over 15 games with the St. Louis Blues.
This hard-shooting defenseman knew how to bring his skills to the playoffs. MacInnis totaled 160 points over 177 playoff games.
He led the playoffs in points with 31 and was awarded the Conn Smythe, while winning his only Stanley Cup in 1989.
This Hall of Fame defenseman always improved in the playoffs. Leetch totaled 97 points in 95 games, including an incredible 1994 playoff run.
Leetch was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy after leading the playoffs in assists (23) points (34) and plus/minus (plus-19). His 25 playoff assists is a record among all defensemen for a single season.
This Vezina-winning goaltender carried his success over to the playoffs with the New York Islanders. The netminder to the franchise’s four Stanley Cups won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1983.
Smith is fourth all-time in career playoff wins.
It took him 22 years to finally win the Stanley Cup, but not for lack of performance. His 1991 playoff run was particularly impressive, as Bourque totaled 25 points in 19 games as a defenseman.
Bourque totaled 176 points over 162 playoff games in his career, which culminated with a Game 7 victory with the 2001 Colorado Avalanche.
He is third all-time in playoff assists, first among defensemen.
What this Hall of Famer brought to the playoffs might not be palpable on stat sheets, but is easily evident in highlight reels and his opponents' medical reports.
Sure, Stevens totaled 118 points over 233 games and was a plus-48 over 20 playoff seasons with three Stanley Cup victories, but fans will remember the 2000 Conn Smythe Trophy winner for destroying his opposition.
Sakic is eighth all-time in career playoff points. He captained the Colorado Avalanche to their two Stanley Cups, leading the NHL in playoff points both seasons.
The four-time Vezina Trophy winner also won four Stanley Cups.
His first came in 1952, when the Detroit Red Wings went 8-0 in the playoffs. Sawchuk gave up just five total goals, with four shutouts.
Potvin was the best defenseman of the New York Islanders dynasty of the 1980s. Potvin is fourth all-time in playoff scoring by a defenseman, notching 164 points over 185 games.
Third in all-time playoff scoring, Kurri lead the postseason in goals scored four times in his career while winning five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers.
Forsberg’s playoff record is not as lengthy and stat-loaded as it would have been if he was not constantly hampered by injuries, but he did his part when he could.
Forsberg led the NHL in playoff scoring twice with the Colorado Avalanche in 1999 and 2002, despite the Avalanche being eliminated before the final round both seasons.
He hoisted the Stanley Cup twice and was a plus-54 in his playoff career with 171 points in 151 games.
The five-time NHL regular-season points leader continued his production in the playoffs.
Esposito led the playoffs in goals and points three times, leading in assists two of those three times as well. He won two Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins and totaled 137 points over 130 games.
The greatest NHL defenseman of all time won the Stanley Cup twice, leading the playoffs in points with the 1972 Boston Bruins.
He totaled 92 points over 74 playoff games and scored what is the most iconic goal in playoff history to clinch the 1970 Stanley Cup.
After Yzerman’s iconic double-overtime goal against the St. Louis Blues in 1996, he led the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups.
He led the playoffs in scoring in 1998 while winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and is 10th all-time in playoff points with 185.
This Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer was a dominant force in their cup-winning teams of the 1970s. Lafleur led the playoffs in goals scored twice, in assists twice and total points three times.
He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1977 and is a five-time Stanley Cup champion. He totaled 134 points over 128 playoff games.
Hull’s playoff performance is particularly impressive because it spans two decades with three different teams.
In 1990 with the St. Louis Blues, Hull scored 13 goals in 12 games plus eight assists. Despite playing just two rounds, Hull finished three goals short of the playoff lead in goals that season.
In 1999, Hull scored the ever-controversial cup-winning goal for the Dallas Stars. The next season he would lead the NHL in playoff goals, assists and points.
Two years later, Hull won another cup with Detroit, leading the playoffs in goals yet again.
Hull is fourth all-time in playoff goals scored.
Here is one legend who is still writing his story.
Second all-time in playoff wins, first in playoff shutouts, Brodeur is still the go-to guy for the New Jersey Devils.
He never won a Conn Smythe, but probably should have in 1995; he led the playoffs in save percentage, goals-against average and minutes played. (Claude Lemieux won the trophy with 16 points in 20 games played).
Brodeur has three cup titles on his resume.
The NHL’s all-time leader in career playoff points by a defenseman (196), Coffey appeared in the playoffs for six different teams (Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia and Carolina), winning four Stanley Cups.
His 1985 performance was astonishing; Coffey scored 37 points with a plus-26 rating, both NHL playoff records among defenseman. Only Wayne Gretzky is above Coffey with a plus-28 rating that same season.
Bossy totaled an incredible 160 points over just 129 playoff games. He lead the playoffs in goals (17), assists (18) and points (35) in the 1981 season, then won the Conn Smythe Trophy the next year after leading the playoffs in goals.
Bossy led the playoffs in goals again in 1983 while winning his fourth Stanley Cup with the New York Islanders.
Second among defensemen in all-time playoff points with 183, Lidstrom is one of the greatest NHL defensemen of all time and his abilities always show in the playoffs.
Lidstrom won four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, the team he’s made it to the playoffs with in every season of his career. There is not a single defenseman in NHL history with the breadth and quality of playoff excellence to surpass Lidstrom.
No Original Six-era player, not even “Mr. Hockey” himself, totaled more playoff points than Beliveau’s 176.
Over a 162-game playoff career, Beliveau won 10 Stanley Cups and was the inaugural winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The all-time NHL leader in playoff wins (by a ridiculous margin; if Martin Brodeur wins the Stanley Cup this season, in 2013 and in 2014, he would still be behind Roy), Roy is the only player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy three times.
Roy won a Stanley Cup in 1986, his rookie season with the Montreal Canadiens, again in 1993 before backstopping the Colorado Avalanche to their two Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001.
Richard’s incredible scoring touch always showed up in the playoffs; he is eighth all-time in playoff goal totals with 82 in his career.
He scored more goals than anyone else in the playoffs five different seasons, led the playoffs in points twice and won eight Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens.
He knew how to finish when it counted.
No goalie won more Stanley Cups than Plante, who is tied for the NHL record with six.
14 of Plante’s 71 career playoff victories were shutouts, reflected by the fact that he led the playoffs in lowest goals-against average six times in his career, including once at the age of 41.
Dryden played just eight seasons in the NHL, but backstopped the Montreal Canadiens to six Stanley Cups.
The five-time Vezina Trophy winner was an essential part of the Canadiens’ four straight cups in the late 1970s; he led the NHL in playoffs goals-against average three times in those years.
He was an incredible 80-32 with 10 shutouts in the playoffs.
Howe led the playoffs in scoring six different times in his career and ranks 21st all-time with 160 points over 157 games. Though he also lost seven finals series, Mr. Hockey’s legendary playing ability always carried through in the playoffs.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, Lemieux was the Conn Smythe Trophy after dominant playoff scoring.
Lemieux led the NHL in playoff points with 44 points in 23 games in 1991 then 34 points in 15 games in 1992. Only Wayne Gretzky has scored more than Lemieux’s 44.
Lemieux ranks 17th all-time in playoff points and is the only skater to win consecutive Conn Smythes.
Wayne Gretzky holds nearly every major regular-season offensive NHL record and the playoffs are not much different. “The Great One” is the NHL’s all-time leader in career playoff goals, assists and points.
Gretzky is the only player to score more than 40 points in one playoff run more than once, doing it three times, including a record of 47 in 1985.
Not a single person has ever, or probably will ever, produce as much offense as Gretzky did at any time in his career, including the playoffs.
So, why is Gretzky not here?
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about winning the Stanley Cup. Simply enough, Gretzky did not do that without Messier on his team.
Messier, who is second to Gretzky in career playoff goals, assists and points, led the Edmonton Oilers to the cup in 1990, two years after Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles.
In 1994, Messier lifted the New York Rangers to their only Stanley Cup win over the past 72 years. His incredible “we will win” guarantee and ensuing hat trick highlights the qualities of the greatest leader and playoff performer in NHL history.
Messier won six Stanley Cups in his career, including two without the help of hockey’s greatest offensive player of all time.
If you needed scoring, you went to Gretzky. If you needed to win the Stanley Cup, you went to Messier.
Jason Sapunka is available on Twitter for NHL updates, commentary and analysis.