Stanley Cup 2013: Top 10 Moments of the Playoffs
Legendary Montreal Canadiens forward Guy Lafleur once said, "Well, it's always nice to know the fans didn't forget what you did when you played in the NHL."
The Stanley Cup playoffs are the most physically taxing and mentally demanding postseason in North American sports. The intensity causes players to gut through injuries that would shelve other athletes for months, creating the most truly unfathomable and unforgettable memories.
The champagne is still flowing in Chicago, and the agony is still stinging in Boston. But with the 2013-14 NHL season just 13 weeks away, here's a look back at the 10 most memorable moments from the last eight weeks of hockey.
Crosby's Weaving Goal
Say what you will about Crosby's constant griping, but the greatness is undeniable. With all respect to Alexander Ovechkin, if not for a broken jaw that sidelined Crosby the last month of the season, No. 87 probably would have taken home the Hart Trophy.
His goal against the Islanders in Game 5 of the Penguins' first-round series may have been the most skillful of the postseason. Crosby's splitting of defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey looked eerily familiar to famous goal scored by another Pens legend.
Though Pittsburgh would later melt down against the Bruins' physicality, Crosby's goal embodied the world-class skill emblematic of the East's top seed.
Alfredsson's Short-Handed Tying Goal
For a while, it appeared the Ottawa captain was headed out of town. Long-term injuries to Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson made contention nearly unfathomable.
But the Senators never stopped winning. Against all odds, their AHL-laden lineup not only cracked the postseason, but upset the Northeast division champion Montreal Canadiens in the opening round.
That opened the door for Alfie's memorable Game 3 goal. Short-handed with just over a minute left, it appeared the Sens were going to fall into a 3-0 deficit against the Penguins. But Alfredsson's awareness to dart to the right side of the ice while the defense shifted left towards the puck allowed him to redirect Milan Michalek's pass into the net.
Colin Greening would later provide the winner in double overtime.
The 40-year-old is expected to decide on his future before Sunday's draft. But if that was indeed his last hurrah, it was a thrilling way to go out.
Tortorella: "He Stinks"
John Tortorella has never been particularly fond of the media. Tortorella is to the NHL what Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich are to their respective leagues, often capping his responses to three words or fewer.
So when Torts opened up during the Rangers' second-round series with the Bruins, it came as a bit of a shock. The Rangers, whose power play was operating at a stupefying five to six percent success rate, had apparently stretched their coach beyond his limits.
Before Game 2, a reporter asked Tortorella about Hagelin's lack of power-play time. And as always, Tortorella kept his reply short, sweet and brutally honest.
Though the Rangers did somehow score power-play goals in Games 4 and 5, they would bow out against the Bruins, leading to Tortorella's firing after the season.
You can bet Torts will be as determined and short-tempered as ever next season, so the Vancouver media better get ready.
Josh Harding's Inspiration
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The Minnesota Wild fell short of expectations in 2013. After splurging on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for nearly $200 million, the organization was surely hoping for something more than a No. 8 seed.
So perhaps it was fitting that the team's brightest and most memorable moment came from their backup goaltender. Josh Harding, who continued playing despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, stepped in to start the team's first postseason game against the Blackhawks after Niklas Backstrom was injured in pregame warm-ups.
Harding's subsequent 35-save performance against the top team in the NHL was stunning to say the least, considering he had not made a start in two months. Though the Wild lost the game in overtime, Harding's mere presence on the ice exceeded anyone's expectations.
This season, awards such as the Hart and Selke Trophies came under debate. However, Harding's awarding of the Masterton Trophy, given to the player who "best exemplifies qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication" may have been the easiest call of the season.
Gregory Campbell's "Broken Leg Shift"
Gregory Campbell showed why the Stanley Cup playoffs are so remarkable and awe-inspiring.
Campbell, a fourth-line center whose main contributions are penalty killing and gritty forechecking, set a new bar for playing through injury. After an Evgeni Malkin slap shot broke his tibia, Campbell writhed on the ice for a few seconds.
But realizing his team could not get the puck to halt play, Campbell somehow got on his feet and helped kill off the remainder of the penalty, even getting in position to block additional shots.
Campbell's toughness underscores the truth that while superstars are always going to have the largest say in a game's outcome, it is the end-of-the-roster players whose hard work and resiliency can dictate a game's pace, often determining the outcome.
Red Wings' Resiliency
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It feels strange calling the Detroit Red Wings underdogs. But the preeminent NHL franchise of the past decade underwent a significant transition this past season following the retirement of former captain Nicklas Lidstrom. In fact, GM Ken Holland even acknowledged the possibility that the team might miss the playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons.
However, the Wings held on to clinch the seventh seed on the regular season's last day. While many expected Detroit to bow out quickly against the Anaheim Ducks, the Red Wings got surprising contributions from young players such as Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Jakub Kindl, and defeated the second seed in seven games.
Indeed, the lightning-fast maturation of Detroit's young players proves the Red Wings are probably just reloading rather than rebuilding, as model franchises are apt to do. However, it was the team's second-round series that truly turned heads.
Blackhawks Comeback from 3-1 Series Deficit
After the Red Wings seized a 3-1 series lead amidst a Jonathan Toews meltdown, it appeared the Presidents' Trophy curse had struck again.
But somehow, the Blackhawks found that extra gear that all championship-caliber teams possess. After smoking the Wings in Game 5, the Blackhawks were down 2-1 headed to the third period. But after two quick third-period goals, Michael Frolik benefited from a dubious call that ultimately provided the difference in the game.
In Game 7, Chicago had its heart-stopping moment. Though Niklas Hjalmarsson appeared to win the game at the end of regulation, coincidental minor penalties waved off the play. It seemed karma was simply not going to end in the Blackhawks' favor.
But Brent Seabrook's OT goal, which deflected off Niklas Kronwall's skate, showed both the poise and luck needed for the team to make a deep run.
Bruins-Leafs, Game 7
Speaking of heart-stopping moments, there is little doubt what the Bruins' signature moment was on their way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Halfway through the third period of Boston's first-round Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it appeared Claude Julien was on his way out after another disappointing playoff exit. Milan Lucic admitted to thinking about the potential dissolution of the team's core, which drove he and others to the miraculous comeback after trailing by three goals.
Though the Bruins would later get a taste of their own medicine (more on that later), the comeback encapsulated the mental toughness characteristic of championship teams. Like their Final counterparts, the Bruins had to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to climb their way to the top of the playoff mountaintop.
By the time Patrice Bergeron's overtime winner found the back of the net, Boston started to feel like the Eastern Conference's team of destiny.
A Triple OT Instant Classic
When Boston and Chicago met in the Cup Final, it felt like the prototypical "unstoppable force colliding against an immovable object" type of series. Game 1 fulfilled those expectations and then some, foreshadowing a tightly contested series which turned on a few bounces.
Though the Bruins appeared to have the game sealed, leading 3-1 midway through the third period, the Blackhawks dominated the rest of regulation, scoring twice to force overtime.
What ensued was effectively a doubleheader. Three overtimes served as a mind-boggling marathon of brutality. Fittingly, Andrew Shaw's game-winner was a prayer from distance that deflected off two separate skates, a fortuitous goal that was the only type the teams had the energy for.
And somehow, the fifth-longest game in Final history would not be the series' signature moment.
"17 Seconds" will go down in NHL lore. Game 6's ending was so swift and paralyzing that it may be the most stunning ending to a championship series in the history of North American sports.
Perhaps we should have seen it coming when the Bruins led just 1-0 after the first period, despite dominating play. But then again, no one could have really seen it coming, because by the time the viewers blinked at their TVs, Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland had won the Stanley Cup for Chicago.
Hockey is such an exhilarating sport partly because the speed of the game allows for sudden momentum shifts. The Blackhawks pulled off the most shocking turn of events in quite some time, and in the process, stole the Cup before the Bruins could even blink.