Every year, there are at least 20 games that could easily be classified as a "classic" NHL game. Because of that, it is almost impossible to truly pick the top 15 games of the last two decades.
Nonetheless, what follows is a slideshow of what I believe to be the top 15 games since 1990, both playoffs and regular season. They are in chronological order, as there is no way to rank one game better than the next.
The unique aspect of this slideshow, in my opinion, is that every picture is a snapshot from the original game film. Therefore, some of the pictures are a bit grainy and of bad quality.
However, it is the memory of the game that can help elevate the picture in your mind. Enjoy!
From the start, this series had “drama” written all over it. After the Kings and Flames split the first two games, the Kings won game three in overtime, then blew Calgary out of the water with a 12-4 win in Game 4.
Calgary pushed the series to six, but then Los Angeles was able to drag the decisive game to a second overtime. Mike Krushelnyski scored one of the most memorable goals in Stanley Cup history, swatting at the puck while flat on the ice, lobbing it over a fallen Mike Vernon, who could only reach, as the picture shows.
The goal clinched the series for the Kings, who went on to lose in the second round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers.
After taking a 3-1 series lead in the opening round, Edmonton dropped two straight to the Flames, who were looking to avenge the previous year’s loss to the Kings. In Game 7,
The grainy picture tells the story: Esa Tikkanen, surrounded by four Calgary Flames. Want to make a bet that he found a way to get around them?
Well, he did, going around the outside, and firing a shot through a defender to the back of the net, clinching the series for the Oilers.
This game was such an exciting one, the Edmonton Oilers included it on their “10 Most Memorable Games” DVD set.
The series started out tied 1-1, then tied 2-2. After Toronto won the fifth game, The Great One needed to come up with some magic to keep his team’s hopes alive.
Gretzky did just that, playing what he calls “the best game” of his career. Gretzky recorded a hat trick en route to a 5-4 victory that sent the series to a Game 7, which Los Angeles also won, clinching their first and only berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
ESPN called it the “most audacious claim in sports history.” People rank the guarantee with that of Joe Namath and Muhammad Ali. When the New York Rangers were down 3-2 in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final, captain Mark Messier had to do something in order to prevent the curse from rising, yet again.
Messier not only guaranteed the victory, but he went out and scored a hat trick, sending his team to a Game 7 in Madison Square Garden.
And what happened next? Well, I can’t just give it away…
Okay, maybe I can give it away.
Going into New York, Marty Brodeur needed a big game to lift his Devils to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. And a big game, he had.
Unfortunately, Mike Richter had an even bigger game on the other end, as the Rangers and Devils went into overtime, perhaps the biggest game in Rangers’ history.
Going into the corner to steal the puck, Stephaney Matteau faked to the front of the net, swooped behind, then shoved the puck to the left of Brodeur’s pad, to a screaming crowd and an announcer screaming, “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!” a call that will live forever.
Mark Messier was brought to the Big Apple to break the curse and bring a Stanley Cup back to New York. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so in his first year. However, after a successful year in the regular season and a dominant playoffs, Messier found himself in Game 7, leading his team out on the ice against the Canucks at Madison Square Garden.
The game came to a climax with just a couple seconds left in the third period, and a faceoff in the Rangers’ end. Messier won the draw to the corner, then jumped like a little kid, while the announcer screamed the famous words, “The waiting is over! The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup Champions! And this one will last a lifetime!”
Everyone remembers the famous “toe-in-the-crease” goal in the 1999 final. The rule stated, "Unless the puck is in the goal crease area, a player of the attacking side may not stand in the goal crease. If a player has entered the crease prior to the puck, and subsequently the puck should enter the net while such conditions prevail, the apparent goal shall not be allowed."
Brett Hull scored in the third overtime of Game 6, while his toe was in the crease, before the puck was. After a lengthy review, the league ruled that the Dallas Stars had been correctly awarded the Stanley Cup, saying, "Hull had possession and control of the puck. The rebound off the goalie does not change anything. It is his puck then to shoot and score albeit a foot may or may not be in the crease prior to."
Not only was this game an instant classic, but it also was a crucial game in the series. The Flyers had gone down 2-0 in the series, losing both home games to the Pens. After winning Game 3, Game 4 went to overtime. As one day became the next, the game seemed to go on forever.
More than halfway through the start of what would’ve been the third straight game (time-wise), Keith Primeau raced down the right wing. He faked like he was going to try to get around the defenseman, then jammed on the breaks and flung a wrist shot past Ron Tugnutt on the near side to end the marathon. The Flyers went on to win the series.
Following the Flyers’ great series against the Penguins, the Devils came back from a 3-1 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Final to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. In Game 5, the Devils had a chance to win the Cup in the third overtime during a scoreless tie, but the Stars had other plans, as they sent the series back home to Texas.
In the second overtime in Game 6, Arnott was able to peel away from the defense and found himself alone at the side of the net. He took a backhanded feed from Patrik Elias from the far corner, and flipped the puck over Ed Belfour to clinch the Devils’ second Stanley Cup in their history.
Every hockey fan that lived through the nineties remembers the struggles that Raymond Bourque went through in Boston, trying to win a championship. In a last-ditch effort to get a ring before retiring as one of the best defensemen in NHL history, he signed with the Colorado Avalanche and future hall-of-famer Joe Sakic.
Going up against the reigning champion New Jersey Devils, the Avalanche brought the series back to the Pepsi Center in Denver for Game 7, an epic battle in which both teams had numerous chances to engrave their names on the Cup. However, when all is said and done, Ray Bourque and the Colorado Avalanche became the champions, and as the call goes, “A dream comes true!”
In one of the most exciting games of the decade, Petr Sykora became a hero, scoring in the fifth overtime in the first game of round two. The game turned out to be pivotal, as the Ducks went on to eliminate the Stars and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
In what could have been the Flames’ first Stanley Cup since 1989, the Lightning decided to ruin the party with a hugely controversial game. On what seemed like an innocent play, Calgary’s Martin Gelinas skated into the crease, but the puck bounced into the corner, and play continued. The play was not reviewed, but was later found to be a goal, as the puck was on Nikolai Khabibulin’s toe, across the goal line.
The goal would have put Calgary ahead and possibly given them the Stanley Cup, but instead, Martin St. Louis scored for Tampa Bay in overtime to send the series to Game 7, which the Lightning went on to win.
Not to take away from the Heritage Classic in Edmonton, but the inaugural Winter Classic was the best outdoor game yet. With Sidney Crosby, the face of the league, starring in the game against Ryan Miller, one of the best goaltenders in the league, it was a recipe for success.
Going into a shootout, in storybook fashion, Crosby scored through Miller’s five-hole to win the game. In true Crosby-fashion, the Penguins went on to star in the Stanley Cup Final that year.
In a crucial Game 5 in which the Red Wings had the opportunity to clinch the Stanley Cup at their home Joe Louis Arena, the Penguins came up big. Down 3-2 in the final minute, Maxime Talbot was able to jam a puck past Chris Osgood in the crease with just over thirty seconds remaining in regulation.
As one overtime turned to a second, then a third, Marc-Andre Fleury made big save after big save, while the players became more and more exhausted. Finally, on a four-minute power play, Petr Sykora, who told Pierre McGuire after the third period that he would score the winning goal, fired a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Chris Osgood, while the Pittsburgh bench emptied.
Unfortunately, though, they would have to wait one more year to celebrate the real deal…
In what many have called the best hockey game since the lockout, the Penguins and the Red Wings faced off in the first Stanley Cup final rematch since the Oilers and Islanders in 1984. The two teams battled back and forth, as Max Talbot again came up huge, scoring two goals.
As the game came to a close, Nicklas Lidstrom had one more opportunity to tie it up, with Fleury on the wrong side of the crease. As Lidstrom shot, Fleury dove across to stop it with his chest. As the clock ran out its final second, the Crosby-less Penguins left the bench in jubilation, as the almost-defunct franchise became alive yet again.