The lights dim. The crowd gets quiet. You can feel the tension in the air.
The anthem is sung. The crowd goes wild. The players begin circling the ice, with thoughts of the stress and the pressure overwhelming the crowd noise.
It's been a long road to this point. But now it's time. It's Game 7. Everything is on the line. All the chips are on the table. The winner takes home the cup; the loser takes home his tears.
With everything on the line, here's a list of the players that I'd most want on my side.
Mike Bossy may remain the best pure sniper in the history of hockey. With 573 career goals, Bossy ranks 19th in the NHL in all-time scoring, despite having his career cut short to only 9+ seasons because of a bad back. He still boasts the best goal-to-game ratio in history, at .762, and scored 50+ goals in every single season he ever played (except for his last season, during which his back prevented him from playing a full season).
Bossy boats 4 Stanley Cup rings, demonstrating that he had what it took in the clutch as well. Indeed, in 129 playoff games, Bossy tallied 85 goals and 75 assists, and he scored 17 goals in each of the 1981, 1982 and 1983 seasons - the middle stanza earning him the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP.
Get this: Paul Coffey - a defenseman - retired as the 10th highest scoring player in NHL history. As a defenseman!
Indeed, Coffey was practically a legend, even while he was on the ice. His skating ability was remarkably quick and fluid, and his shot from the point was deadly. And as a result, he managed to tally 396 goals and 1,135 assists for 1,531 points in 1,409 regular-season games. He eclipsed 100 points five times, scored 48 goals in the 1986-87 season, won the Norris trophy three times, and was a perennial all-star, having been voted to the All-Star team eight times in his career.
He was just as reliable when all the chips were on the table. In 194 Stanley Cup playoff games, Coffey - again, remember, a defenseman - scored 59 goals and tallied 137 assists, giving him over a point a game for his playoff career.
In a Game 7, having Coffey as a threat on the point wouldn't be able to help but strike fear in the eyes of the opponent. I'd want him out there.
There are several reasons that I'd want Joe Sakic on my side if I were facing a Game 7 in my future.
Obviously, I'd love to have a player with the complete skill set of a Sakic on my side. With 625 goals (14th most all time), 1016 assists (11th most all time) and 1641 points (eighth most all time), Sakic was one of the premier goal scorers in the league. For his troubles, he managed 13 all-star appearances, including three first team all star honors, won two Stanley Cups, and has been able fill his trophy case with each of the Conn Smythe, Hart, Lester B. Pearson and Lady Byng trophies.
In addition, Sakic was one of the strongest team leaders in the league's history. Often playing on considerably less-skilled teams than many of the other hockey greats, Sakic found a way to elevate, not just his game, but also the games of the players around him. He was strong on the ice, and he was strong in the locker room. With the threat of a Game 7 in my midst, I want the leadership and strength that a Joe Sakic will instill on the entire team.
And finally, how can we forget that Sakic is also Mr. Clutch? Regardless of how strong his career numbers are, there is no question that Sakic also found a way to elevate his game further when playoff time came. Of Sakic's 85 playoff goals, 19 of them were game-winners. More impressive still, 8 of those 19 game-winners came in overtime. No one has more overtime playoff winners, ever, and it's quite possible that no one ever will.
Some may question this choice, arguing that in the history of the league I could find 15 more elite players. However, finishing with 741 career goals (3rd all-time), and 1391 points (21st all time), Brett Hull's accomplishments are hard to deny.Only Wayne Gretzky scored 70+ goals more often than did Hull, and only Wayne Gretzky scored more goals in a single season than did Hull. That's pretty lofty company to be in, and Hull was awarded first-team all-star three times for his troubles.
Moreover, he was Mr. Clutch. With 24 game winning goals in the playoffs, nobody - including Gretzky, who also had 24 - has more.
Hull, who shunned Canada to some extent, choosing to play for the US National team, may not have gotten all of the recognition that he deserved. But he was golden on the ice, and he was golden in the playoffs - in a Game 7 final, I want the puck in the hands of Mr. Hull.
Sergei Fedorov still holds the record for the most NHL goals by a Russian-born player, and was certainly one of the premier players in the league throughout the 1990s. A great stick-handler, and a wonderfully creative player, he was once described by Steve Yzerman as the "best skater I have ever seen".
Before coming to the NHL, Fedorov manned a line with Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny in Russia. Could you imagine having to play against that line?
Take a look at these playoff stats:
- Point leader, 1995 playoffs (24)
- Assist leader, 1995 playoffs (17)
- Assist leader, 1996 playoffs (18)
- Goal leader, 1998 playoffs (10)
- 3rd all-time in playoff scoring in the 1990s (134 points)
- 13th all-time in playoff points (176)
- 8th all-time in playoff assists (124)
- 5th all-time in short-handed playoff goals (5)
- 17th all-time in playoff plus/minus (+38)
- One of only three players to have four consecutive 20+ point playoff campaigns
Can you honestly say that you wouldn't want this guy on your team in a Game 7?
While perhaps not holding quite the same level of innate skill as some of the other players on this list, if I'm in a Game 7 final, there is no question that I want the likes of Chris Drury on my side.
Consider that success seems to follow Drury around: even at 13, he led his baseball team to a shocking win over a strong Taiwanese squaud in the 1989 Little League World Series and led his Greater Bridgeport Pee Wee hockey team to the amateur national championship. And since then it's only continued: he won a state hockey title in high school, and an NCAA title his freshman year at BU. And he is the only player to ever receive both the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's best hockey player, and the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
While Drury would hardly be considered a prolific scorer, winning simply follows him around. Perhaps it's because he's such a clutch player, able to turn it up when the heat is on him. Indeed, Drury has tallied 12 game winning playoff goals in his career, including four overtime winners that tie him for second among active players.
Sometimes timing is everything, and while Drury may appear only human during the regular season, something changes in him during the playoffs. I'd want him out there.
To this point, our list contains four premier goal scoring forwards, and one premier goal scoring defenseman. But as we all know, the game of hockey relies at least as much on the man between the pipes as it does on the men trying to stick the puck between them.
And so for No. 9, I would choose Grant Fuhr to be on my side in a Game 7.
Wayne Gretzky has said on many occasions that he believes that Grant Fuhr is the greatest goaltender in NHL history - and who would disagree with Gretzky?
While that statement is certainly up for debate, I'd still want to see Fuhr on my team if I had a Game 7 final in my midst. Fuhr won four Stanley cups with the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, and often out-shined the rest of his all-star cast on those teams. He played in the NHL all-star game in every year from 1984 to 1989 except for 1987...when he won the Vezina trophy for best goaltender in the league. While he battled injuries and substance abuse issues near the tail-end of his career, there is no question that Fuhr in his prime was a goaltender to be reckoned with.
And to top it off, Fuhr holds NHL record for most assists in a single season by a goaltender (14 in 1984). So even if he lets a puck get passed him, there is always a chance that he may include himself in the team's offensive push!
Glenn Anderson was known for his ability to make it appear as if the defenseman that he was approaching was standing still. With blazing speed, Anderson could race down the wing, and leave his defensive counterpart shaking his head, trying to figure out what just happened.
Collecting six Stanley Cups throughout his career, Anderson was certainly no stranger to success. And with 498 career goals and 601 career assists, he was certainly no stranger to the net either. He had two 50+ goal scoring seasons, and 3 seasons where he tallied 100+ points.
Moreover, Anderson was well-regarded as one of the greatests clutch players in the game. Indeed, his career included 17 game winning goals (3rd all-time), including five overtime game winners (3rd all time, behind only Joe Sakic (8) and Maurice Richard (6).Thus, with him on the team, I think my chances in Game 7 would increase considerably.
Orr inspired the game of hockey with his two-way game, which was unusual for a defenceman in the NHL at that time. He pioneered the offensive defenceman, and his style of play has influenced countless defencemen since his time. Most notable, perhaps, was his rapid acceleration, and his open-ice artistry, which allowed him to set almost every conceivable record for a defenceman.
In 1966, Orr joined Boston, a team that had not won a Stanley Cup since 1941 and had not qualified for the playoffs since 1959. With Orr, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup twice, in 1970 and 1972, and lost in the 1974 final. In both victories, Orr scored the clinching goal and was named the playoff MVP.
Orr remains the only defenceman to have won the league scoring title with two Art Ross trophies, and holds the record for most points and assists in a single season by a defenceman. Orr won a record eight consecutive Norris Trophies as the NHL's best defenceman and three consecutive Hart trophies as the league's MVP.
How could a list of this nature be complete without the likes of Mario Lemieux?
Lemieux led Pittsburgh to two Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, won a Stanley Cup as a chairman in 2009 with the Penguins, led Canada to an Olumpic gold medal in 2002, a championship at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and a Canada Cup in 1987. A gifted playmaker and fast skater despite his large size, Lemieux often beat defenceman with fakes and dekes.
He won three Hart trophies as the NHL's most valuable player during the regular season, six Art Ross trophies as the league's leading scorer, and two Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP. And it is important to remember that he was often competing against Gretzky for these esteemed titles!
Indeed, Lemieux, who tallied 199 points in his remarkable 88-89 season, remains the only person who has even come close to matching Gretzky's mammoth 200+ point seasons. At the time of his retirement, he was the NHL's seventh-ranked all-time scorer with 690 goals and 1,033 assists.And he is the NHL's all-time record-holder for goals scored per game played, averaging 0.750 goals per game. Moreover, his production held up in the playoffs as well, where he also holds the all-time record with a .710 points/game mark.
While not an official NHL record, it is particularly noteworthy that Lemieux is the only player to have ever scored goals in all five possible game situations within the same game: even strength, power play, short-handed, penalty shot, and empty net.
Interesting fact: Mario Lemieux does not hold the record for the Lemieux with the most game-winning post-season goals. Rather, that title belongs to the less-heralded Claude Lemieux.
Long regarded one of most clutch players in hockey, Claude Lemieux has also been deemed a player that the opposing team least enjoys playing against. Indeed, he was rated by ESPN 2nd on the list of top 10 most hated players of all time. In addition to his modest hockey skills, he's tough, scrappy, willing to throw down the gloves, and perhaps just a tad dirty. Indeed, Lemieux is one of those players that you love to have on your side, and hate to have against you.
And so I'll choose to have him on my side.
Lemieux's clutch heroics have the makings of legends. Indeed, on three occasions he scored more goals in the playoffs than he did during the entire regular season! He is one of only ten players to win the Stanley Cup with three different teams. And his 80 playoff goals ranks him 9th since the league began keeping stats. Not only that, but 19 of those goals were game winners! Now that's clutch; and that's a man I want on my team in a Game 7.
Mike Bossy won the Lady Byng, Joe Sakic won the Lady Byng. Brett Hull won the Lady Byng. Wayne Gretzky won the Lady Byng. These are great accomplishments, and it's always nice to see great players who can also play with compassion and sportsmanship. But we need a bit of grit on the team as well.
Enter Maurice Richard.
Richard was certainly one of the premier goal-scorers in the history of the game, being the first to score 50 goals in 50 games, and the only one to ever do it in a 50-game season. And he was certainly a clutch player as well. With eight Stanley Cup rings in his arsenal, and 14 all-star appearances, I think it's clear to say that Richard deserves to be on the team.
But part of the reason that I'd want Richard on my team is because of his fire. Fearless in the slot, as with everywhere else on the ice, Richard could strike fear in the eyes of his opponent with his trademarked stare. And if that wasn't enough, you knew that Richard would be willing to drop the gloves and give his fists a whirl if he felt it required. Not known for a particularly hard or accurate shot, it was his fire and toughness that drove him to become the elite player that he was.
We all knew Wayne Gretzky was going to make this list, didn't we?
There was a part of me that thought about leaving him off, just to be different; but then I'd just be inundated with fan mail across the country, asking for my head.
And so, here's the obvious and requisite summary of Wayne Gretzky's career records (he holds 61 of them, by the way):
Everyone now bow our heads to The Great One.
While his acting career as the spokesman for Lays is certainly impressive, there can be no doubt that Mark Messier extolled the majority of his skills while on the ice.
Playing in 15 all-star games throughout his career, Messier ended second on the all-time career lists for regular season points (1887), playoff points (295) and regular season games played (1756). Surprisingly, despite these numbers, Messier never won a scoring title (he did skate alongside Gretzky for 11 seasons). Nonetheless, he amassed some impressive trophies: six Stanley Cups (five with the Oilers and one with the Rangers), two Hart trophies, two Lester B. Pearson trophies, and one Conn Smythe trophy for most valuable player in the playoffs. He ended up ranked No. 4 in a list of all-time Ranger greats, and No. 12 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
Besides all of his scoring, however, Messier ranks as high as he does on this list because of his leadership skills. He is the only professional athlete - in any sport - to captain two different teams to championships. Moreover, On November 13, 2006, the National Hockey League created the Mark Messier Leadership Award, given to an individual in the sport who leads by example on the ice, motivates his teammates and is dedicated to community activities and charitable causes. Messier did all of these things while he was a player, and would thus be an invaluable presence on the ice and in the locker room, for the Game 7 match.
Once again, no matter how many goal scorers you have on your team, if you don't have a quality presence between the pipes, then you're unlikely to win the game. And so my No. 1 pick for a Game 7 final would have to be Patrick Roy.
Maybe it's the fact that he's got the most playoff wins by a goaltender ever (151). Or perhaps it's the fact that he's the only goaltender ever to win three Conn Smythe trophies. Or maybe it's the fact that he's tied for the most playoff shutouts ever (23, tied with Martin Brodeur). Whichever way you look at, Roy stands out from the crowd. Indeed, in 2004, Roy was selected as the greatest goaltender in NHL history by a panel of 41 writers, coupled with a simultaneous fan poll. I believe I must concur.
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Enjoyed this article? Check out some of my other work:
NHL Playoffs: Sean Bergenheim and the Top 11 Stanley Cup One-hit Wonders: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/691434-nhl-playoffs-sean-burgenheim-and-the-top-11-stanley-cup-one-hit-wonders
Toronto Maple Leafs: No Reason to Bring Back Clarke MacArthur: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/673945-toronto-maple-leafs-why-mac-should-not-come-back