Ranking the Gutsiest Moments of the 2014 NHL Playoffs
Hockey seems so straightforward when we listen to the players and coaches in their interviews. It's all about puck possession, getting shots on net, doing the little things and keeping it simple. Right?
Maybe not. There's also a huge mental dimension to hockey that encompasses drive, determination and the opportunity to outsmart the opponent. Sometimes they call it "giving 100 percent." For today, let's file it under the category of "guts."
As we've already seen in the 2014 playoffs, gutsy play can take many different forms. It can be about putting your team and teammates ahead of an injury; about digging deep to find your way out of a tough spot; about introducing an extra wrinkle that gives your team an edge but will lead to scrutiny if it doesn't work.
Here are the gutsiest moments we've seen so far this spring. There will undoubtedly be more to come over the next six weeks before the Stanley Cup is awarded.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com, current through games that ended Sunday, May 4.
6. Patrick Roy Starts a Trend by Pulling Goalie Early
What happened: On April 17, in the Colorado Avalanche's first playoff game in four seasons, coach Patrick Roy set a trend that would spread throughout the league. Roy pulled his goalie early for an extra attacker—and it worked. From ESPN.com's Craig Custance:
Down a goal in the third period, Roy's first inclination to pull Semyon Varlamov came with four minutes left in the game when he spotted Minnesota's third defensive pair on the ice. That, he decided, was a little too aggressive.
Instead, he waited until there was 3:01 left in regulation to pull his goalie Varlamov. He called out his lines, and when (Paul) Stastny heard his name followed by Ryan O'Reilly's, he knew something was up.
It took the group 2:43 before Stastny finally potted the equalizer with just 18 seconds left on the clock. He went on to score the game-winner at 7:27 of overtime.
What it means: After having success with the maneuver again in Game 5, Colorado got burned in Game 6 and ultimately lost its series to the Minnesota Wild in seven games. Nevertheless, Roy's gambles may leave a lasting legacy. As Dan Rosen pointed out on NHL.com, pulling the goalie became an important strategic decision for coaches around the league in Round 1, though it yielded mixed results.
How gutsy was it: 5 out of 10. When a team is already behind, pulling the goalie is a last-ditch gamble. The more time they have to try to apply steady pressure and get the other team's defense on the run, the greater the odds of succeeding. The extra attacker adds tremendous excitement to the final minutes of close games.
5. Minnesota Wild Bounce Back 4 Times to Win Game 7 in Overtime
What happened: In Game 7 of their first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche, the Minnesota Wild fell behind by a goal four times in regulation, including twice in the third period. Each time, they battled back to re-tie the game, ultimately sending it to overtime.
Nino Niederreiter's wrist shot at 5:02 of the extra frame gave the Wild the only lead they needed in the game—the one that gave them the win and a ticket to Round 2.
What it means: The upset win over Colorado advanced Minnesota past the first round of the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. The playoff success helps to validate the bold player personnel moves the team has made over the last few seasons, with young players like Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle offering hope for the future.
How gutsy was it: 6 out of 10. The Wild trailed the series 2-0 and 3-2 before their never-say-die effort in Game 7. Minnesota's prior wins had come in defensive battles on its own home ice. On April 30 in Denver, the Wild beat Colorado at its own game.
4. Boston Bruins Come Back to Beat Montreal Canadiens
What happened: Already down 1-0 in their second-round series against the Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Bruins trailed Game 2 on May 3 by a 3-1 score before staging a late-game comeback with four goals in the last nine minutes. The win tied the series 1-1 before switching to Montreal for Game 3.
What it means: Instead of letting the Canadiens take the series back to the Bell Centre with a 2-0 series lead, Boston is back on even terms with a win that could change the momentum significantly. Saturday's comeback was reminiscent of Boston's Game 7 assault on the the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. It sends a strong message that the Bruins are never out of any game.
How gutsy was it: 7 out of 10. We've seen plenty of come-from-behind wins in these playoffs, but teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche weren't able to parlay those victories into first-round series wins.
In half a period, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Bruins went from being a team on the playoff ropes right back to being a favorite to win it all.
3. Los Angeles Kings Complete Comeback to Oust San Jose Sharks
What happened: After falling in seven games to the Los Angeles Kings in the second round of the 2013 playoffs, the San Jose Sharks stormed out to a 3-0 series lead before the Kings responded with four straight wins. On April 30, Los Angeles completed the comeback and advanced to the second round.
What it means: Los Angeles became just the fourth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit, but the second in four seasons. Current Kings Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were also part of the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, who accomplished the feat in the second round that year against the Boston Bruins.
How gutsy was it: 8 out of 10. With no margin for error, the Kings methodically laid down four dominant victories, each by a margin of three goals or more.
2. Ryan Getzlaf Returns to Anaheim Lineup After Jaw Injury
What happened: After his Anaheim Ducks let a 4-0 lead over the Dallas Stars shrink to 4-3, Ducks' captain Ryan Getzlaf was defending a 6-on-5 attack when he caught Tyler Seguin's slap shot right in the jaw with 18 seconds left in the third period.
Badly bruised and stitched up, Getzlaf returned to action for Game 2 on April 18. He was the game's first star in the Ducks' 3-2 win.
Oh yeah—he also stole a bit of time between the games to watch his wife give birth.
What it means: As Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times describes, Getzlaf's determination epitomizes the stereotype of the hard-nosed hockey player.
The injuries that would drive lesser mortals to scream in agony are badges of courage for hockey players. No matter how many teeth you might be picking up off the ice or how much blood you shed, you tape an aspirin to your wound and get back out there because the biggest sin in hockey is to let your teammates down.
How gutsy was it: 9 out of 10. Not only did Getzlaf show tremendous leadership in returning to his team, he was the Ducks' best player in the first round against a resilient Dallas squad.
His injuries were serious enough that he sat out Game 4, which the Stars won handily to tie the series 2-2. Getzlaf returned to the lineup with three points in Game 5, helping to push Dallas to the brink of elimination.
1. P.K. Subban Brushes Aside Racist Taunts
What happened: After he scored the overtime winner to give the Montreal Canadiens a 1-0 series lead in their second-round series against the Boston Bruins, defenseman P.K. Subban became the subject of a barrage of racist tweets on social media.
Subban returned to TD Garden for Game 2 on May 3 and let his on-ice play do the talking, posting two assists for the Canadiens before the team's late-game collapse gave Boston the 5-3 win.
After the game, Subban took the high road, speaking positively about the city of Boston and the Bruins organization and looking to return the focus to the game on the ice. From CBC.ca:
It's unfortunate when things take away from the great hockey that was played two days ago. It was a fantastic game, great for the league, great for hockey and that's what we are going to talk about. So I'm happy now that we can just move on.
What it means: Subban's grace under fire might be the first step toward shifting a flashy image that has drawn criticism ever since he entered the National Hockey League. Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry never misses a chance to point out Subban's supposed shortcomings. He was also ranked No. 1 on Sports Illustrated's list of the "NHL's Most Hated Players" in 2013, per Sportsnet.ca.
How gutsy was it: 10 out of 10. Subban could have stayed silent or played the role of victim, but his classy strength in a difficult situation has hit just the right notes. As CBC's Tim Wharnsby suggests, "Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban wasn't a winner on the ice Saturday, but he certainly continued to win over fans for his off-ice actions."