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10 Most Clutch Stanley Cup Final Performances of the Modern Era

Bill StollContributor IIIJanuary 7, 2017

10 Most Clutch Stanley Cup Final Performances of the Modern Era

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    Game 5 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks is coming up Saturday night, and after several close games, it seems as if this series will go down as one of the hardest fought in recent memory.

    What remains to be seen is if one player will rise up and own the series with clutch performances.

    Perhaps it will be Daniel Paille, who has netted two game-winning goals already, or one of the Blackhawks stars, Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane.  Maybe it will be one of the goaltenders, Corey Crawford for Chicago or Tuukka Rask for Boston, who will steal a game or two and change the course of the series.

    One thing is for sure, by the end of the Stanley Cup, a hero will have been made.

    Which brings us to this list, over the last four decades there has been no shortage of playoff heroes, stars who have elevated their play on hockey's highest stage to lead their team to hoist the Stanley Cup. 

    A few points are in order:

    First, this list begins its considerations in 1967 and ends after the most recent Stanley Cup Final. Why? Because in 1967, the NHL doubled its size and expanded from the Original Six teams.

    Right around the early 1970s is when the NHL began to more closely resemble the game played today, as nearly all goaltenders were choosing to wear masks, the vast majority of teams were in the U.S., and a young defenseman by the name of Robert Orr had just broken into the league and began to revolutionize the position he played.

    Second, I have attempted to rank the following players and their contributions to their teams based on one simple rule: How vital was that player to his team's performance in that respective Stanley Cup Final series?

    What I mean by this is that a game-winning goal gets rated higher than a goal in a 6-1 loss, for example.  Also, while statistics can sometimes be misleading, they're often fairly black and white.

    Third, this list is completely subjective. Comparing a goalie who shuts down a team throughout the series to a player who puts up a ton of points is apples and oranges.  Having said that, you will not agree with every part of it, and if you disagree, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

    So, without further ado, let's dive in. 

Honorable Mentions

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    These are the players who put in valiant efforts in their respective series but didn't quite make the top 10. 

     

    Bobby Orr/Phil Esposito: 1970

    All anyone seems to remember in this series is Bobby Orr's legendary goal, but keep in mind that the leading scorer in the series was actually Phil Esposito, who tallied two goals and six assists for eight total points.

    Orr did have five points in the series, as well as the series-clinching goal in Game 4 to complete the Boston Bruins' sweep of the St. Louis Blues.

     

    Patrick Roy: 1986

    The first of many Patrick Roy appearances on this list, Patrick Roy showed up in a big way during his rookie season, capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP en route to hoisting his first Stanley Cup.

    He put up a .911 save percentage in the final, as well as a 2.2 GAA as the Montreal Canadiens took down the Calgary Flames four games to one.  Roy also provided one of the signature saves in the history of the NHL playoffs as the Canadiens fought their way to the Stanley Cup Final. 

     

    Patrick Roy: 1993

    In 1993, Roy's Canadiens came up against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.  Again, Roy was superb, posting a .928 save percentage and a 2.4 GAA.

    More impressive than that was Roy's clutch play throughout the course of the series, as Roy and the Canadiens won three of their four games in overtime, marching to a 4-1 Stanley Cup victory.

     

    Brad Richards: 2004

    The Tampa Bay Lightning center put up nine points in seven games against the Calgary Flames.  This would include four goals, and two of them would prove to be game-winners throughout the course of the series.  He took home the Conn Smythe and helped Tampa take home the Stanley Cup.

10. Brian Leetch: 1994

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    When you think of the 1994 New York Rangers, two things immediately come to mind.  The first is Mark Messier's notorious guarantee that the Rangers would win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Final and his ensuing hat trick to back up his prophecy.  The second is the iconic image of Messier receiving the Stanley Cup and laughing like a little kid.

    What is forgotten, however, is that in the Stanley Cup series his Rangers played against the Vancouver Canucks, it was a different player who carried New York to victory.

    Brian Leetch put in one of the all-time great performances by a defenseman in the Stanley Cup Final. Leetch tallied four goals in the series, including New York's first goals in three of their four wins.  Leetch took home the Conn Smythe Trophy, and his defensive play was also invaluable in helping the Rangers capture their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 4 G, 7 A, 11 PTS

9. Ken Dryden: 1971

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    After playing a mere six games throughout the regular season, rookie Ken Dryden was handed the reins to the starting goaltender spot in the playoffs.  Dryden would go on to carry the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.

    In addition to capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, Dryden's play throughout the series is universally accepted as the deciding factor.

    Dryden's sprawling positioning saved numerous goals, and his stops from point-blank range helped keep the Canadiens alive throughout the seven-game Stanley Cup Final (check out his save at about the 57-second mark in the video above, absolutely unreal).

    In the series-clinching Game 7, Dryden turned aside 31 shots to lead Montreal to a 3-2 victory.

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 2.57 GAA, .921 SV%

8. Patrick Roy: 2001

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    One of the best Stanley Cup Final series of all time produced one of the greatest performances of Patrick Roy's career.

    This series between the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils went a full seven games and featured one of the best goaltender matchups in NHL history.

    Featuring Martin Brodeur of New Jersey and Colorado's Roy, it would be Roy who would out-duel Brodeur and skate home with the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup.  Roy's heroics—and 25 saves in Colorado's 3-1 victory in Game 7—pushed Colorado over the top.

    Thanks to Roy, this series resulted in one of the most memorable playoff images of all time: defenseman Ray Borque finally hoisting the Stanley Cup.

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 1.57 GAA, .938 SV%

7. Mario Lemieux: 1992

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    This Stanley Cup Final featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks was outright dominated by the Penguins, as they cruised to a sweep in four games.  They were lead by captain Mario Lemieux, whose play in Games 1 and 2 set the tone for the rest of the series.

    Take a look at the video, where Lemieux uses his supreme speed to draw a penalty and then notch the game-winning goal only seconds later. His two goals in Game 1 helped Pittsburgh come back and claim a 5-4 victory after falling behind to a 4-1 deficit midway through the second period.

    Lemieux followed this up with two more goals and again the game-winning goal in Game 2. 

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 5 G, 7 PTS, 2 GWG

6. Wayne Gretzky: 1985

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    In capturing their second consecutive Stanley Cup, "The Great One" Wayne Gretzky lead the Edmonton Oilers to a four games-to-one victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.  Gretzky demonstrated why he was far and away the best player on the planet, scoring seven goals over five games.

    He saved his best for when it mattered most, however, notching the final two goals in Game 4, one of which was the game-winner, and tallying one goal and three assists in the series-clinching Game 5. 

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 7 G, 11 PTS

5. Tim Thomas: 2011

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    The best playoff performance in recent memory, Boston's Tim Thomas was an absolute brick wall for the Bruins in net as they gutted out a seven-game victory against Vancouver.

    Thomas did it all, including stone the Canucks, notching two shutouts along the way.  Heck, he even fought a little bit.

    The Bruins rode Thomas to their first Stanley Cup victory in 39 years.  Oh, and along the way, Thomas also picked up the record for most saves in a Stanley Cup Final series, with 238.

    The Canucks pounded him with shots; however, Thomas' masterful performances kept the Canucks off the scoreboard when it mattered most.  In his two shutouts, he saved 38 and 37 shots respectively, with the latter coming in Game 7 with the series on the line.

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 1.14 GAA, .967 SV%

4. Wayne Gretzky: 1988

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    Wayne Gretzky's greatest playoff performance occurred in his last year in Edmonton before "The Trade."  Gretzky lived up to his moniker in this series, and the greatest player ever to lace up the skates dominated.

    Though Edmonton would sweep Boston 4-0 in the series, Gretzky would confusingly tally 13 points in five games (the first attempt at Game 4 ended prematurely 16 minutes, 37 seconds into the second period due to a power failure at the Boston Garden).

    The Great One had the series-clinching goal in the Game 4 redo.  And, let's not forget, he set Stanley Cup Final records for most points and assists.

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 3 G, 10 A, 13 PTS

3. Mike Bossy: 1982

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    Now, this is where the list starts to get even more difficult to rank.  Let me explain why I rank Bossy ahead of Gretzky's incredible performance in 1988.

    Bossy's New York Islanders would sweep the Vancouver Canucks (for those counting at home, this is the third time the Canucks have been on the short end of the stick in this list), taking home the Stanley Cup in four games.

    The biggest reason for this by far? Mike freaking Bossy.

    Not only did Bossy score a hat trick in Game 1, but he also scored the game-tying goal for New York with just under five minutes to play.  And then he went on to score the game-winner.  In overtime.  With two seconds left in the period.

    Bossy wasn't even close to finished there, as he scored at least one goal in every single game in the series.  Oh, and in the series-clinching Game 4?  Bossy scored the game-winner in that one too.  And then added one more for good measure.

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 7 G, 8 PTS

2. Patrick Roy: 1996

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    In 1996, Patrick Roy, arguably the best goaltender in the history of the NHL, posted possibly the greatest statistical Stanley Cup Final.  This is one of the lesser known Patrick Roy performances, however, as his Colorado teammate, Joe Sakic, skated away with the Conn Smythe instead after posting six game-winning goals throughout the playoffs.

    Make no mistake, the series belonged to Roy.

    The Avalanche swept the Florida Panthers in four games, making quick work of the series. Over the course of the series, Roy only gave up four total goals.  However, it was Roy who stepped up and delivered one of the best games, if not the best game, a goaltender has ever provided.

    In the series-clinching Game 4, Roy turned aside an astounding 63 saves in a game that lasted into triple overtime.  In the time it could've taken to play almost two full games, Roy didn't give up a single goal.

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 1 GAA, .974 SV%

1. Billy Smith: 1983

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    I'm sure some of you are surprised by this selection.  Billy Smith? Who the heck is that? How in the world is he No. 1?  I'll tell you.

    Billy Smith is the single solitary reason that his New York Islanders won the Stanley Cup in 1983.  The team he was up against? Just Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers, who had finished first in the regular season in points.  Oh, and the Oilers also finished first in goals for during the regular season too. By an 86-goal margin.

    Billy Smith handled the Oilers throughout this series, giving up only six goals in four games.  As you can see by the video above, Smith's goaltending wasn't the only reason that his Islanders were able to sweep the Edmonton Oilers.

    His excessively dirty play throughout the series limited Gretzky to four assists and no goals, and intimidated the Oilers throughout the series.

    In Game 4, the series-clinching game, with his team up only one goal, Smith feigned an injury which drew a major penalty against Oiler Glenn Anderson, which helped clinch the game for his team.

    And just in case you're not entirely convinced, the Oilers outshot the Islanders every single game of the series, and despite having 20 power-play opportunities, they were only able to cash in one power-play goal.

    Smith received the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts, and his play goes down as a legendary Stanley Cup Final performance.

     

    Clutch Stat Line: 1.5 GAA, .955 SV%

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