Stanley Cup Playoffs: Each NHL Team's Biggest Postseason Star Ever

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IJune 5, 2012

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Each NHL Team's Biggest Postseason Star Ever

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    The Stanley Cup playoffs have produced so many thrilling moments over the years that it is difficult to make any list of "the best of all time."

    This article will examine the best postseason player for each NHL team thus far. For some franchises, like the Montreal Canadiens or Detroit Red Wings, we are covering a period of time that stretches back to the days of the NHL's Original Six. Other teams have a much shorter history but still have a player that had created special moments for his team.

    Any list like this is bound to create discussion, controversy and some out-and-out disagreements. Let the debate begin!

    Here is a team-by-team look at each NHL franchise's biggest postseason star of all time.

Anaheim Ducks: J.S. Giguere

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    The Anaheim Ducks joined the league back in 1993 and have made two trips to the Stanley Cup finals. Both times, goalie J.S. Giguere was a huge key to Anaheim's playoff run.

    Ironically, Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when his team lost in the finals to New Jersey. Either way, neither long playoff run would have possible without the stellar play of Giguere, who stood on his head throughout both postseason journeys.

Boston Bruins: Bobby Orr

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    The Bruins have a long and storied past, from the playoff heroics of "Sudden Death" Mel Hill in the 1930s to Tim Thomas a year ago.

    But the Bruins' biggest playoff hero remains Bobby Orr, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1970 and again in 1972 when the Bruins won a pair of Stanley Cups.

    In 1970, Orr scored nine goals and 20 points in 14 games. He also scored the cup-winning goal in overtime against St. Louis, which was immortalized in the famous photo of him "flying through the air."

    Two years later, Orr was the difference as the Bruins downed the Rangers in six games. Again, No. 4 scored the cup-winning goal and finished with 24 points in 15 games.

Buffalo Sabres: Gilbert Perreault

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    This was a close contest between Perreault and goalie Dominik Hasek, who led the Sabres to the Stanley Cup final in 1999.

    Perreault gets the nod for his longevity with the team and sustained excellence. As the center for the famed "French Connection Line," Perreault was the franchise's first-ever draft choice and remains their biggest star.

    In 1973, Perreault led the Sabres to their first playoff appearance, where they made a respectable showing against the eventual champion Montreal Canadiens.

    Two years later, Perreault helped the Sabres reach the Stanley Cup finals in just their fifth year of existence. Although they fell in six games to the Flyers, Gil finished the year with 15 points in 17 postseason games.

    Perreault spent his entire NHL career in Buffalo and finished with an impressive 33 goals and 103 points in 90 playoff games.

Calgary Flames: Al MacInnis

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    The Calgary Flames won their only Stanley Cup in 1989, and Al MacInnis was a major reason they got there.

    In 24 games that postseason, the hard-shooting defenseman had seven goals and 32 points and captured the Conn Smythe Trophy.

    MacInnis remains the Flames' all-time playoff scoring leader with 102 points in 92 games. The next closest player is 30 points behind him.

Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward

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    Ron Francis, Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour all had exciting moments in the playoffs for the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise, but goalie Cam Ward was the key to the Hurricanes' lone Stanley Cup win and gets the nod as their biggest postseason star.

    Ward won the Conn Smythe in 2006. He notched a pair of shutouts and finished the postseason with an impressive 2.14 GAA.

    He also holds the all-time franchise marks for most playoff games played, most career postseason victories and shutouts.

Chicago Blackhawks: Stan Mikita

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    As an Original Six team with four Stanley Cup titles, the Blackhawks have a long playoff history. Players like Bobby Hull and Glenn Hall played a big role in the Hawks' 1961 title and Jonathan Toews captured the Conn Smythe in 2010.

    In between, players like Tony Esposito, Chris Chelios and Denis Savard had strong postseason performances, but the all-time best playoff performer in Chicago remains Stan Mikita.

    Mikita was a part of the 1961 Cup winner and helped the Hawks reach the final again in 1962, 1966, 1971 and 1973.

    He remains the Hawks' all-time playoff point producer, despite playing most of his career in an era with lower scoring than the second-place Savard.

    Mikita was also a long-time captain of the Blackhawks and a player who transformed himself from the NHL's penalty minutes leader early in his career to winning two Lady Byng Trophies for gentlemanly play as a skilled, veteran center.

Colorado Avalanche: Patrick Roy

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    Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg came close, but in the history of the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise, goalie Patrick Roy remains the all-time top playoff performer.

    Roy was acquired from Montreal midway through the 1995-96 season and ended the season by leading the Avs to a Stanley Cup win in their first season in Denver.

    Five seasons later, Roy captured the Conn Smythe as he led the Avs to their second title.

    Roy has a career 2.18 playoff GAA in his Avalanche career and holds the franchise mark in wins, games played, save percentage and shutouts.

Columbus Blue Jackets: R.J. Umberger

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    OK, we're not talking about a team with a large playoff tradition here. Columbus joined the NHL in 2000 and has qualified for the playoffs just once, when they were swept by the Red Wings in 2009.

    R.J. Umberger leads all Jackets players with three playoff goals and is tied for the franchise lead with three points. His even plus/minus mark also ties him for the team lead.

    It's not much, but so far, it's the best the Blue Jackets franchise has to offer.

Dallas Stars: Mike Modano

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    Mike Modano started his NHL career with the Minnesota North Stars back in the 1989 playoffs and remained with the team through 2010, long after their move to Dallas. Modano also led the Stars to their lone Stanley Cup title in 1999.

    Modano has 58 career goals and 145 points in 174 postseason games with the Stars franchise. In 1999, Modano scored 23 points in 23 games, a feat he matched the following year when they returned to the final, only to lose to the New Jersey Devils in a close series.

    While Brett Hull scored the controversial cup-winning goal for the Stars, it is Modano who has been the most consistent and productive force in Stars playoff history.

Detroit Red Wings: Gordie Howe

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    Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom have scored more points, but there is no player in Red Wings history who has played better in the postseason than Gordie Howe.

    "Mr. Hockey" scored more than a point-per-game in the playoffs in an era when playoff production was a lot harder to come by. Howe tallied 67 goals and totaled 158 points in 154 postseason games.

    Howe helped the Wings win four Stanley Cups in the 1950s and led them to five other appearances in the Stanley Cup final.

    While he played before the Conn Smythe Trophy was created, Howe had his best playoff in 1955, when he scored nine goals and 20 points in just 11 games.

    Howe also played a tough brand of hockey throughout his lengthy NHL career, which concluded when he was past the age of 50.

Edmonton Oilers: Wayne Gretzky

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    Mark Messier won one more Stanley Cup, but no player dominated in the postseason for the Oilers like Wayne Gretzky.

    "The Great One" won four cups with the Oilers and holds the franchise's all-time record with 252 points in 120 postseason games, a mark of more than two points per game.

    Gretzky served as captain of a young Oilers squad that won four cups in five years before financial concerns forced ownership to break up the team.

    Even 13 years after he retired, Gretzky still has his name all over the NHL record book. The Oilers and the game of hockey have never seen anybody who can match his outstanding offensive production.

Florida Panthers: John Vanbiesbrouck

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    The Florida Panthers don't have a long and illustrious playoff history, but they did reach the Stanley Cup final in 1996 as the rats rained down from the stands with each goal the club scored.

    Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck was the star player on that 1996 team and holds every franchise playoff mark for goalies by a wide margin.

    The Panthers were only in their third season of existence when they made their long playoff run, and they relied on the savvy of their veteran goalie to lead them (nearly) to the promised land.

    Vanbiesbrouck has a career 2.31 playoff goals against average with Florida and has two shutouts. Entering the 2012 postseason, he was the only goalie in Panthers history to win a playoff game.

Los Angeles Kings: Wayne Gretzky

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    Before this season, the Kings made only one other trip to the Stanley Cup final back in 1993, and Wayne Gretzky was far and away the leader of that team. He still gets the edge of Luc Robitaille, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick.

    "The Great One" is the Kings' all-time playoff scorer with 94 points in 60 games. His hat trick in Game 7 of the Western Conference final against Toronto gave Los Angeles their first trip to the final. It was almost as if Gretzky willed this team to a conference crown.

    Gretzky's star power helped put hockey on the map in the Southern California market, and his popularity made franchises in non-traditional hockey markets across the USA possible.

Minnesota Wild: Marian Gaborik

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    The Minnesota Wild have only qualified the playoffs three times, and their best run by far was in 2003 when they reached the Western Conference final.

    While the goaltending duo of Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez were important to the Wild's success, sniper Marian Gaborik wins the spot as the Wild's best playoff performer.

    Gaborik led the Wild with nine goals and 17 points in 18 games in 2003 and holds nearly all of the franchise's postseason scoring records.

Montreal Canadiens: Maurice Richard

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    Of all the franchises in the NHL, none was tougher to pick than the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs have won 23 Stanley Cups, more than any other franchise.

    There are so many candidates worth mentioning, from Jean Beliveau, who won the first Conn Smythe Trophy in 1965, to players like Henri Richard, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.

    But of all the great players who shined for the Canadiens in the playoffs, none could match the magic of Maurice "The Rocket" Richard.

    Richard was part of eight Stanley Cup championship teams, including five in a row from 1956-1960. His 82 goals remain the Habs' all-time postseason best despite the fact that he played in an era where goals were a lot harder to come by.

    In 1944, his first playoff year with Montreal, Richard had an incredible 12 goals and 17 points in just nine games.

    Richard was always a player who rose to the occasion. Today, the NHL's leading goal scorer wins a trophy named in his honor.

Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne

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    The Nashville Predators have won only two playoff series in their brief NHL history, and both times it was goalie Pekka Rinne who was the key to those victories.

    In 2011, Rinne helped the Preds oust the Anaheim Ducks, while this year, the Detroit Red Wings were the victims.

    The fact is, the Predators may not have even reached the postseason without Rinne's strong play. He also holds most of the franchise's important playoff goaltending records.

New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur

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    The New Jersey Devils have reached the Stanley Cup final five times in their history and won three cups. The one constant on all of those teams has been goalie Martin Brodeur.

    Brodeur has won more than 100 playoff games for the Devils franchise in his career. No other netminder has won more than 12.

    While the Conn Smythe Trophy has eluded him so far, the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer has a career postseason GAA right around 2.00 and has recorded 24 career playoff shutouts.

    No player has ever meant more to the Devils/Rockies/Scouts franchise since they entered the NHL back in 1974.

New York Islanders: Billy Smith

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    The Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983 and reached the cup final the following year against Edmonton. There are plenty of deserving candidates from those teams.

    Denis Potvin was the captain, Butch Goring was the last piece of the puzzle, Mike Bossy the sniper and Bryan Trottier probably the team's best overall skater, but the player who was the most consistent playoff performer for the Islanders is goalie Billy Smith.

    Smith was truly the definition of a money goaltender. His stats weren't always the best during the regular season, but the bigger the game, the better he played.

    Smith was also aggressive and never afraid to clear players out of his own crease with a chop of his goalie stick.

    He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1983 and helped the Isles win an incredible 19 consecutive playoff series from 1980-1984.

New York Rangers: Mark Messier

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    When the Rangers ended their 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994, no one was more responsible than captain Mark Messier.

    Messier practically led the Rangers to the title with the sheer force of his will. His performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final in New Jersey remains the stuff of legend.

    With the Rangers trailing in the series 3-2 and on the brink of elimination, "The Messiah" guaranteed that his team would win the game. He merely backed it up with a three-goal, one-assist effort to spark a 4-2 comeback victory.

    Messier finished the 1994 playoffs with 30 points in 23 games and finished his Rangers career with 80 points in 70 postseason contests.

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson

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    No player has meant more to the modern incarnation of the Ottawa Senators than Daniel Alfredsson.

    The Sens captain holds nearly ever meaningful offensive postseason record for the club including goals, assists and points.

    Ottawa reached the Stanley Cup final in 2007, and Alfredsson was a major reason, scoring 14 goals and 22 points in 20 games.

    Alfredsson has also been the heart and soul of the Senators franchise both on and off the ice since joining the team back in 1995. In fact, Alfredsson has played in 111 of the 113 playoff games in Senators franchise history.

Philadelphia Flyers: Bernie Parent

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    The Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, and no player was more responsible than Hall of Fame netminder Bernie Parent.

    Parent helped lead the "Broad Street Bullies" past a more talented Bruins team in 1974 with his stellar goaltending. He won back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophies for Philadelphia and became a legend in the City of Brotherly Love in the process.

    In 1976, the Flyers returned to the final, but without Parent, they were swept by the Canadiens in four straight games. They haven't won a Stanley Cup since.

    Parent's career playoff GAA with Philadelphia is an impressive 2.38, and he has six playoff shutouts.

Phoenix Coyotes: Mike Smith

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    The Coyotes/Jets franchise doesn't exactly have a winning playoff tradition, at least not in the NHL (they did win some titles in the WHA, but that's for a different article).

    This season, the Coyotes won their first playoff round since they were in Winnipeg back in 1987.

    While players like Keith Tkachuk, Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen and Shane Doan all had their moments, Mike Smith's performance in this year's playoffs make him the Coyotes player that was responsible for the franchise's most memorable playoff moments.

    Smith was stellar in this year's playoffs, helping the Coyotes reach the Western Conference final for the first time in franchise history. He finished this year's playoffs with a 1.99 GAA and an impressive .944 save percentage.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Mario Lemieux

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    No player has meant more to the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise on or off the ice than Mario Lemieux. He twice saved the franchise from bankruptcy and led the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cup wins as a player and another as team owner.

    "Super Mario" holds the Penguins' playoff record with 172 points in 107 games. Lemieux won the Conn Smythe Trophy in both 1991 and 1992 when the Pens won their first two championships.

    His courageous return from cancer inspired the hockey world and perhaps even more than his spectacular play on the ice.

St. Louis Blues: Brett Hull

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    The Blues have had a very checkered playoff history. The team reached the Stanley Cup final in each of its first three seasons but never won a single game. They haven't been back since. Later, they qualified for the playoffs for 25 years in a row without ever advancing past the Western Conference final.

    Sniper Brett Hull holds nearly all of the Blues important offensive playoff records. "The Golden Brett" has 117 points in 102 postseason contests for St. Louis. Two of his goals were overtime game-winners.

San Jose Sharks: Evgeni Nabokov

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    It's tough to pick an all-time best playoff performer for the San Jose Sharks. When the team struggled to make the playoffs, they pulled some big early-round upsets that resulted in some big individual moments, but no sustained excellence. When the Sharks were perennial contenders, they often found a way to have disappointing and early playoff exits.

    Patrick Marleau holds most of the Sharks' offensive playoff marks, but his failure to raise his game in the playoffs has been part of the problem for the Sharks on too many occasions.

    As a result, almost by default, we will go with Evgeni Nabokov, who led the Sharks to the Western Conference final in both 2004 and 2010 and who holds nearly every substantial postseason goaltending record in franchise history.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Martin St-Louis

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    While Brad Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy the year the Bolts won the Stanley Cup in 2004, Martin St-Louis has been the team's most consistent playoff performer throughout their history.

    St-Louis leads the Lightning in postseason goals, assists and points and played a major role in 2004 and again in their run to the Eastern Conference final in 2011.

    The former University of Vermont star has provided Lightning fans with many thrills over the years, including a franchise-high eight game-winning playoff goals.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Turk Broda

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    When an Original Six team like the Leafs hasn't won a Stanley Cup in 45 years, it's tough to select their all-time best playoff performer.

    While players like Frank Mahovlich, Mats Sundin, Wendall Clark and Borje Salming all had stellar moments, no player outshined Hall of Fame goalie Walter "Turk" Broda, who played for the Leafs from 1936-1952.

    Broda helped Toronto win five Stanley Cups and a career playoff GAA of 1.98 to go with 13 postseason shutouts.

Vancouver Canucks: Kirk McLean

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    This was a close call. The Canucks have reached the Stanley Cup final three times but have yet to win a championship.

    In 1982, Roger Nielsen led a Cinderella team with a below-.500 record all the way to a meeting with the Islanders, but the magic ran out and the Isles triumphed in five games.

    In 1994, it was the Rangers who defeated Vancouver in seven games after the Canucks came back to force a deciding game after trailing 3-1 in the series.

    Last year, it was the Bruins who toppled the Canucks in seven games to end yet another Stanley Cup dream for Vancouver.

    While Pavel Bure was flashy and Trevor Linden a steady leader, the edge goes to goalie Kirk McLean, who backstopped the Canucks to the 1994 cup final and had several strong playoff performances in other seasons.

    McLean still holds the Canucks franchise record for playoff appearances, wins and shutouts.

Washington Capitals: John Druce

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    Dale Hunter was the most consistent, and Oleg Kolzig and Don Beaupre had their moments, but no player created more playoff magic for the Washington Capitals than journeyman John Druce did in 1990.

    During the 1989-'90 regular season, Druce scored only eight goals and 11 points in 45 games for Washington and was an afterthought when the playoffs got underway.

    But in the postseason that year, Druce caught fire. He scored 14 goals and 17 points in 15 playoff games including four big game-winning goals as the Capitals reached the conference final for the first time in franchise history.

    Druce just rose to the occasion again and again in 1990. But then, just as quickly as he emerged as a playoff hero, he reverted back to his usual form, scoring only three more playoff goals in the rest of his NHL career.

    For one season, however, Druce represented the NHL journeyman who could go on a hot streak and create magic for his team.

Winnipeg Jets: Keith Tkachuk

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    OK, this really isn't fair. The new Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise only qualified for the playoffs once (2007) and was quickly swept away by the Rangers in four straight games.

    Keith Tkachuk is tied for the franchise lead with one goal and three points, so he is our pick for now by default.

    As soon as the new Winnipeg Jets start their own playoff tradition, a new player will emerge in this category.