Ranking the 10 Greatest Playoff Performers in NHL History

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystApril 26, 2013

Ranking the 10 Greatest Playoff Performers in NHL History

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    National Hockey League fans, rejoice! Another chase for the Stanley Cup is upcoming, presenting an opportunity for players from across the world to step up into the spotlight.

    The sport's history is filled with phenomenal performances at the highest level. The postseason provides a proving ground for greats, ultimately shaping the legacies of legends.  

    In recent years, we've seen Sidney Crosby and Tim Thomas rise to the occasion as team catalysts en route to Stanley Cup glory. Perhaps we're on the verge of watching another athlete elevate his skill set on game's grandest stage. 

    The Stanley Cup is earned as a team, but powerhouse individual performances have made the ultimate difference on several occasions. When superstars surge to the finish line in dominant fashion, their heroics are filed in the NHL annals of greatness, revered forever.

    Here's a look at 10 NHL players who always embraced the postseason spotlight. Each refused to be denied in the playoffs on the way to winning multiple Stanley Cup titles.

10. Jacques Plante

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    Plante claimed six NHL titles during his career, recording 14 playoff shutouts along the way. The Canadiens' goalkeeper anchored a stifling defensive effort that provided the foundation for a dynasty.

    Montreal won five straight titles with Plante between the pipes. He led the playoffs in goals-against average during six postseasons. 

9. Brett Hull

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    Hull's playoff career will forever be defined by his controversial championship-clinching goal in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. Although his skate clearly entered the crease before the puck (illegal at the time), the third-overtime score sent the Stars to a Game 6 victory over Buffalo and ended the series in dramatic fashion. 

    Nearly a decade earlier, Hall starred with the St. Louis Blues. In 1990, he accumulated 13 goals in 12 games. The right winger ranks fourth in NHL history with 103 playoff goals. 

    Hull capped off his second Stanley Cup run in 2002 with Detroit. He led all players in goals during those playoffs and tallied a double-digit postseason scoring total for the fourth time in his career.

    He is also the NHL's all-time leader in postseason power-play goals (38).

8. Paul Coffey

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    Some would argue Nicklas Lidstrom is the greatest postseason NHL defenseman of all time, but Coffey's offensive capabilities set him apart. He accumulated 196 playoff points, establishing a new career high for defensemen. 

    He claimed four Stanley Cups during a career that featured playoff journeys with six different squads. In terms of agility and speed, Coffey is unmatched at his position.

    In 1985, Coffey accounted for 37 points for Edmonton in the playoffs and carried a plus-26 rating. He totaled 25 assists during that championship run, the second of four times he would tally at least 12 assists in a single postseason. 

7. Gordie Howe

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    The six-time Hart Trophy recipient and four-time Stanley Cup champion earned the nickname "Mr. Hockey" for a reason. Howe, who made an NHL-record 23 All-Star Game appearances, picked up 160 points in 157 playoff contests. 

    Howe's remarkable longevity in the sport extended into the postseason. He tallied double-digit point totals during 10 different playoff runs.

6. Maurice Richard

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    "The Rocket" remains synonymous with success in hockey. Richard dominated opposing defenses during the Canadiens' reign, putting up points unseen before his prolific performances. 

    The eighth all-time leading playoff scorer led the postseason in goals five times. His 82 postseason goals helped pave the way to eight Stanley Cup series victories.

5. Mike Bossy

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    The New York Islanders are long removed from the organization's glory days, but Bossy was beastly when the team claimed four consecutive Stanley Cups between 1980-1983. He is the only player in league history to net Cup-clinching goals in consecutive seasons and developed a reputation as one of the most lethal third-period performers in the game.

    Bossy tallied 160 points over the course of 129 playoff games. He earned the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1982, a year after leading all postseason competitors in goals, points and assists.

    The Islanders' dynastic run is seemingly overshadowed by the Oilers' dominance in the same decade, but Bossy became known as a legendary finisher before Edmonton took control of the league. His status as a playoff superstar is unquestioned but arguably underrated.

4. Patrick Roy

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    Roy's 151 postseason victories dwarf any other goalkeeper in history (Martin Brodeur ranks second, owning 113 wins). His masterful efforts in net earned him three Conn Smythe Trophies, the only player to accomplish this feat.

    Roy rose to prominence quickly, winning a title with Montreal during his 1986 rookie campaign. He reached the winner's podium again in 1993 and eventually moved on to become a Colorado Avalanche legend.

    He led the Avs to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001. Roy's 23 postseason shutouts rank second all time.

3. Mario Lemieux

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    Lemieux made the NHL playoffs his personal tour de force during the dawn of the 1990s. He led the Pittsburgh Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992, carving his place in hockey lore along the way

    Lemieux amassed 78 total points in the two title runs, including a 44-point effort in 1991 that places him ahead of everyone not named Wayne Gretzky. Unsurprisingly, both postseasons ended with Lemieux claiming Conn Smythe Trophies.

    He is the only non-goalie to win the award in consecutive seasons.

2. Wayne Gretzky

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    Gretzky refused to give opponents an opportunity to catch their breath during his prolific career, including several eye-popping postseason performances. He tallied at least 40 points during three playoff campaigns, including a record-setting 47-point outburst in 1985.

    "The Great One" gave hockey fans across the globe a glimpse at a level of dominance we're unlikely to see again. Gretzky led Edmonton to five finals appearances before his unceremonious departure. He then lifted a middling Los Angeles Kings franchise to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1993. 

    Gretzky retired with four NHL titles and a spot on the Mount Rushmore of athletics.

1. Mark Messier

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    Messier was not the Scottie Pippen to Gretzky's Michael Jordan. He was a legend in his own right who claimed two Stanley Cups without the services of his heralded teammate.

    After winning four titles alongside Gretzky in Edmonton, Messier helped the city move on from the superstar's painful departure with another championship in 1990. Four years later, he became the man in Manhattan by leading the New York Rangers to an elusive Stanley Cup victory.

    Messier's most memorable career highlight occurred on the road to that 1994 title. With the Rangers trailing New Jersey three games to two in the Eastern Conference Finals, he guaranteed a New York win.

    Messier proceeded to register a hat trick, delivering a 4-2 victory and ensuring a Game 7. Rangers and Oilers fans alike idolize the consummate team captain, who ranks second all time in postseason goals, points and assists.