1 Moment That Haunts Each of the NHL's Top 10 Stars
These All-Stars are all one dinged post or whiffed glove save away from having nightmares about the same occurrence for the rest of their lives though—a fact that isn't lost on the ultra-competitive players that make up the league's elite.
Lift the Stanley Cup and all is forgiven. Bow out of the playoffs regularly and expect to hear it from both the hometown fans and those sitting in the stands supporting the opposition. Some of the moments are heartbreaking. Other moments are just embarrassing.
Regardless of the emotion attached to each one, they are all haunting in their own way.
All statistics appear courtesy of Hockeydb.com.
The Moment: 2010-11 Eastern Conference Final, Game 7
Why It's Haunting: By the time the Tampa Bay Lightning made it to the ECF during the 2010-11 season, Steven Stamkos had established himself as one of the NHL's elite scoring threats. He put up 91 points during the regular season, and had been spectacular for Tampa during its shocking run to the the Conference Final.
They'd erased a 3-1 series deficit against the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round prior to stomping the Washington Capitals in round two via a sweep.
All that stood between the Lightning and the Stanley Cup Final—a Game 7 showdown against the Boston Bruins.
It's tough to drop a decisive game by a 1-0 margin—it's even tougher to take when goal scoring is kind of your thing.
If Stamkos finds the back of the net in this contest we could be talking about Tampa's second Stanley Cup banner and not the Bruins finally ending their Cup drought.
How to Exorcise the Demons: Stamkos hasn't played a big game since this Game 7 as Tampa has fallen off considerably over the last few seasons. The only way to put this blank score sheet behind him is to have a big Game 7 and win this time around.
The Moment: 2011 Winter Classic—the original concussion game
Why It's Haunting: While losing in a Stanley Cup Final and snubbing Nicklas Lidstrom in a handshake line are certainly low points, all of the scars they left behind were emotional. They are issues that eventually make their way to the back of the mind before being forgotten entirely with time and space.
January 1, 2011 is literally an unforgettable date for Crosby because it was on that day that he had his career and ultimately his life altered by a concussion.
And not just any ol' concussion either. Check out ESPN's concussion time line to relive the staggering ups and downs of No. 87's recovery. It's easy to forget that at one point there were rumblings about Crosby being forced to retire because of the head trauma he'd received.
How to Exorcise the Demons: This isn't a moment that can really ever be fixed. Even Crosby's biggest detractors (hopefully) don't want to see the most outstanding offensive player of this generation knocked out because of a concussion, so hopefully Crosby can avoid the bug for the rest of his career.
The Moment: 2011-12 Eastern Conference Final, Games 4 through 6
Why It's Haunting: If you want to boil this down to a specific moment, Adam Henrique's Game 6 OT winner would probably be it. Considering that the New York Rangers had the New Jersey Devils on the ropes after Game 3 though, Games 4 through 6 in their entirety must be haunting for Henrik Lundqvist.
Arguably the best goaltender in the NHL year in and year out, Lundqvist was the backbone of the Rangers in 2011-12. He backed them to a 109-point season, helped them win the Division and the Eastern Conference before leading them to the Eastern Conference Final.
Through the first three games, Lundqvist was deserving of his "King" moniker. He shut the Devils out twice, putting New York firmly in the driver's set.
Something happened between Games 3 and 4 though, because the Rangers wouldn't be in control of the series again and Lundqvist would suddenly look very human. He allowed 12 goals in Games 4 through 6, allowing the Devils to not only claw back into the series, but to win it entirely.
How to Exorcise the Demons: Lundqvist, is 31 now and that is still the closest he's ever been to the Stanley Cup Final. Considering he rarely—if ever—is victimized for 12 goals across three games, it must be tough to live with the fact that he did it during the Eastern Conference Final.
While no one questions Lundqvist's regular-season dominance, his only chance at redemption is to be in the same situation, only this time not drop the ball.
The Moment: 2012-13 playoffs, Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal
Why It's Haunting: John Tavares made his playoff debut after a lockout-shortened 2013 season. The New York Islanders were rewarded for their surprisingly productive campaign with a matchup against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
No one gave the Islanders much of a chance in the series, and many pundits were predicting a four-game sweep in favor of Pittsburgh. After the Penguins trucked the Isles in Game 1 by a final score of 5-0, the fate of the Islanders seemed all but certain.
They were trailing 3-1 heading into the second period of Game 2 and another route seemed likely. Then New York scored three unanswered goals and managed to tie the series. Pittsburgh counterpunched by winning Game 3, but again the Islanders answered by winning the following contest.
Through the first four games, New York managed to bench Marc-Andre Fleury and seemed to have momentum on its side. With a victory in Game 5, the Islanders would be within one game of closing out the heavily favored Penguins.
That's when Pittsburgh decided to show Tavares and New York the difference between underdogs and champions. They dominated Game 5, winning via a 4-0 final. While Tomas Vokoun stopped all 31 shots he faced, Tavares ended up with a goose egg in what could have been a career-defining game for him.
How to Exorcise the Demons: The Islanders will get another crack at the Penguins within the next year or two. Tavares will be all the better for this experience, but he needs to win a playoff round or two before this missed opportunity stings any less.
The Moment: 2008 Stanley Cup Final, the dying seconds of Game 6
Why It's Haunting: There may not have been a more dominant player than Evgeni Malkin in the world during the 2008 (and later, 2009) Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was a nearly unstoppable force as he went toe to toe with two of the best defensive forwards in the NHL in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the Stanley Cup Final in '08.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were just coming into their own at this point as their young stars were learning how to win in the big games. The Detroit Red Wings, on the other hand, were a veteran-laden squad that had been through it all.
Still, the Pens didn't lie down for the Wings and pushed them to Game 6. While Malkin did score a power-play goal in this game, it wasn't enough to help Pittsburgh get to a Game 7. The most haunting moment of the experience was likely the waning moments of the game.
With time running out and one-goal deficit to overcome, Malkin one-handed the puck over the blue line to Crosby. With mere seconds remaining, he shuffled the puck across the slot to a streaking Marian Hossa, who just about tied the game with less than a second to go.
How to Exorcise the Demons: These demons are already gone. Geno would win the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009 as the playoff MVP after leading the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup Final where they defeated these same Red Wings in seven games.
Exorcising demons doesn't get much more perfect than that. Though it must be tough for Malkin not to think about how close he was to possibly securing a second Stanley Cup ring.
The Moment: 2008-09 Western Conference Final, Game 5
Why It's Haunting: In 2007-08, the Detroit Red Wings were busy winning a Stanley Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks were at home on their respective couches, having missed the playoffs narrowly by three points.
2008-09 was a different story for one team, but more of the same for the other. The 'Hawks returned to the postseason and made it to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 1995, where they ran up against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings.
In another case of a veteran team taking advantage of a younger one, the Wings downed the 'Hawks in five games. While it required three overtimes to complete the series, losing to a Divisional rival like Detroit is such decisive fashion isn't easy.
Especially for Jonathan Toews, who had been named team captain prior to the beginning of the season. Patrick Kane scored a goal in Game 5 as Chicago fought for their playoff lives. Nowhere to be seen was Captain Serious, who had been kept at bay for most of the series by Detroit's strong two-way players.
How to Exorcise the Demons: Toews and the Blackhawks have already moved on from this moment. They've defeated Detroit in the playoffs since this trip to the Final and won the Stanley Cup to boot. Still, these first brushes with loss at the professional level always seem to leave scars, and this case is no different.
The Moment: The Max Pacioretty incident
Why It's Haunting: Zdeno Chara drove Max Pacioretty's head into the sancton in one of the most spine-chilling hits in the history of the NHL.
The impact was audible. The fallout was predictable, and the result was undeniable: Pacioretty had a concussion and a broken neck (or a "non-displaced cetvical fracture of the fourth vertebra" to be technical, according to Sports Illustrated) following this play.
For the rest of his life, Chara will face questions as to what his intentions were with his check.
The NHL alarmingly saw nothing wrong with the incident, and didn't suspend or even fine Chara for the interference play that lead to Pacioretty's injury. As Michael Farber wrote in that same SI article, there were some in attendance that actually thought that they'd just witnessed a death on the ice.
Regardless of intent, the hit was one of the most violent ever captured on film, and Chara has had to deal with the lingering questions about his morality ever since.
How to Exorcise the Demons: Just as Todd Bertuzzi will never be allowed to forget his display of aggression against Steve Moore, Chara won't ever be allowed to live this down. The only thing the big man can do is not do this again.
The Moment: Smashing Henrik Zetterberg's head against the glass during the 2012 playoffs
Why It's Haunting: Perhaps Shea Weber was a backyard wrestler in a past life. That's the only reasonable explanation for his actions toward Zetterberg at the end of Game 1 between the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators.
As time was winding down in the third period, the Red Wing charged into the corner after a loose puck. Weber clearly didn't like something about the way Zetterberg tried to make a play, and subsequently grabbed him by the back of the head and slammed him into the boards face first.
While you can argue for days about what Zdeno Chara's intent was on the Max Pacioretty hit, there's zero doubt that Weber was trying to inflict damage on Zetterberg on this play.
Detroit fans are still waiting for the suspension for this atrocious act because it never came. Weber was slapped with a $2,500 fine and was allowed to walk. When an arch rival like Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks sticks up for Zetterberg, you know a line was crossed.
How to Exorcise the Demons: Weber didn't have the reputation as a dirty player prior to this play, and he hasn't had any trouble since then. He'll need to keep it that way, lest this despicable action come back to bite him in the hockey pants.
The Moment: The Game 7 collapse in 2013
Why It's Haunting: This Eastern Conference Quarterfinal between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs had more subplots than the Pirates of the Caribbean series. One of the focal points though was Phil Kessel playing against the team that he'd forced to trade him.
Underneath everything was the fact that the Leafs hadn't made the postseason in seven consecutive seasons before matching up against the B's in the first round following a lockout-shortened season.
The teams went back and forth during Game 7 before Toronto jumped out to a 4-1 lead at 14:31 of the third period. Kessel had a goal and had notched an assist as well, and the Leafs appeared to be well on their way to upsetting Boston.
Kessel did everything that he could to will his team into the second round, but Boston made a historic comeback and scored two goals in the final two minutes of play to knot things up. When Patrice Bergeron scored the winner in overtime, it had a feeling of inevitability to it.
That doesn't make things easier for Toronto's leader in Kessel, or the most tortured fanbase in all of hockey. Moments don't get much more haunting than watching your former team storm back and make history against you and your current squad.
How to Exorcise the Demons: Get back to the playoffs, except this time maybe don't give up a three-goal lead in the third period of a Game 7.
The Moment: 2008-09 Eastern Conference Semifinal, Game 7
Why It's Haunting: While the Washington Capitals have been frequently shrouded in disappointment over the last few decades, losing Game 7 of the ECF against the Pittsburgh Penguins may represent the lowest of lows.
Only because expectations were so high.
After ripping off a 108-point season and winning the Southeast Division for the second consecutive season, Ovechkin and the Caps seemed poised to finally make it over the playoff hump. Then they ran into Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, much to the delight of hockey fans everywhere.
The two generational talents went at it through the first six games, trading blows and hat tricks. Tensions were at an all-time high heading into Game 7—a game that many believed would be an instant classic based on how competitive the first six games had been.
Ovechkin broke in all alone three minutes into the game but was robbed by Marc-Andre Fleury. From that moment forward, the offense would go completely dry. The defense didn't come up with a solid effort either, as the Pens blew the Caps out of the arena, 6-2.
As NHL.com wrote in its recap:
The hype for the first installment of Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Unprecedented.
The goods? Delivered.
The end? Um, can we get a do-over?
How to Exorcise the Demons: Ovechkin and the Capitals are still searching for a way to make it to the third round of the playoffs. The Great Eight has never played more than 14 games in any one playoff year—a sign that things haven't gone so well for the team since the 2008-09 letdown.