2011 NHL Playoffs: 50 Greatest Players in Stanley Cup Playoff History

Matthew FairburnCorrespondent IMay 12, 2011

2011 NHL Playoffs: 50 Greatest Players in Stanley Cup Playoff History

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    The NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs are home to legends, dramatic moments, historic performances and countless other cliches. The trophy speaks for itself.

    The beauty of sports is figuring out which players rise to the occasion when the lights shine the brightest.

    Those players earn a special place in fans' hearts and more importantly achieve the coveted Stanley Cup ring.

    Legends come in all shapes and sizes. Goal scorers, playmakers, defensemen and role players all grace this list of the 50 Best Players in Stanley Cup history.

    Enjoy, and let the discussion begin.

50. Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Bobby Clarke embodies playoff hockey.

    His tough, physical two-way play was characteristic of the Broad Street Bullies of the 70s.

    Clarke played in 136 playoff games, tallying 119 points and over 150 penalty minutes. He played in the most games and collected more points during the playoffs than any other player in Flyers history.

    Clarke was also a part of the only two Stanley Cups in Philadelphia Flyers history.

49. Chris Osgood, Detroit Red Wings

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    Some may be surprised to find Chris Osgood's name on this list, but his performance in the postseason throughout his career has been monumental, to say the least.

    He has a career 2.09 GAA in the playoffs and has won three Stanley Cups.

    Osgood is also the only goalie since Terry Sawchuck to win two Stanley Cups as a starting goaltender 10 years apart, winning in '98 and '08. 

48. Dave Keon, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    When a player manages only eight points in the entire postseason and still manages to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy, he has to be doing something right.

    Dave Keon was an instrumental aspect of four Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cups during the 60s. He shut down opposing forwards with his dynamic skating ability. Keon is without a doubt on of the best defensive forwards to ever touch the ice.

47. Red Kelley, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings

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    Red Kelly played multiple positions for multiple teams and has eight Stanley Cup rings to show for it.

    Kelly was as tough as nails and played defense as well as he played center. His playmaking skills combined with his vicious checking ability made him a nightmare for the opposition.

    Add to that the fact that he was a four-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy, and Kelly is the complete package.

46. Tim Horton, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Tim Horton was a rock for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    The shutdown defender played in nearly 1,500 games during his career including over 20 seasons spent in the Toronto organization.

    While he may not have the accolades of some of his teammates, Horton was just as instrumental to those four Stanley Cup Championships as any of the Leafs of the 60s.

    Horton was able to shut down the opposition's best forward and also contribute on the offensive end when needed.

45. Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins/Colorado Avalanche

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    Generally considered a top 10 player of all time, Ray Bourque slides on this list due to winning just a single Stanley Cup.

    Bourque waited his entire career to hoist the Cup which made his playoff run with the Avalanche all the more historic.

    His fingers may not be loaded with Stanley Cup rings, but his play in the postseason was deserving of the lone ring he did manage to snatch.

44. Chris Chelios, Detroit Red Wings

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    Playing in nearly 300 playoff games, Chris Chelios managed to win a pair of Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

    Chelios was dependable on the back end, evident by the fact that he was a career plus-48 in the playoffs. However, Chelios could also get it done in the offensive zone as he had 144 points during his postseason career.

43. Frank Mahovlich, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Frank Mahovlich might be the best pure winger to ever play the game of hockey. In addition to the four Stanley Cups he won in Toronto, Mahovlich was engraved on the trophy twice more as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

    He had nearly a point per game in his playoff career and was a plus-48, making significant contributions in his own end.

42. Brendan Shanahan, Detroit Red Wings

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    The only player in NHL history with over 600 goals along with over 2,000 penalty minutes, Brendan Shanahan was the ideal physical presence on a team with Sergei Feorov and Steve Yzerman.

    Shanahan muscled his way to three Stanley Cups during his NHL career. He also won the World Championships and Olympic Gold, making him a member of the Triple Gold Club.

41. Brian Leetch, New York Rangers

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    Like Ray Bourque, Brian Leetch makes the list despite winning just a single Stanley Cup.

    Leetch is higher on the list than Boston's finest because of his outstanding play throughout the Rangers' playoff run in 1994.

    Brian Leetch took home the Conn Smythe that season, cementing himself as the greatest New York Ranger of all time.

40. Peter Forsberg, Colorado Avalanche

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    Peter Forsberg's career may have been short lived, but it was illustrious while he was in his prime.

    The Swedish superstar won two Stanley Cups and scored well over a point per game during his postseason career.

    Factor in his two Olympic gold medals, and it's hard to argue Forsberg's spot on this list.

39. Glenn Hall, St. Louis Blues

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    Three Vezina Trophies, two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Award are evidence of the fact that Glenn Hall was one of the most prolific goaltenders in the history of the game.

    Hall also holds the record for most consecutive games started with 502.

    Glenn Hall was the type of goalie any team would have killed to have between the pipes during a big game.

38. Eddie Shore, New York Americans

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    Eddie Shore was named the league MVP more times than any other defenseman in league history with four. He also added two Stanley Cups to his resume.

    It's a shame Shore played prior to the days of the Conn Smythe Trophy because his shelf would undoubtedly be littered with a few more pieces of hardware.

37. Stan Mikita, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Aside from being considered one of the greatest to ever play the game, Stan Mikita, along with Bobby Hull, led the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup back in the early 60s.

    It was only his second full season in the league, but Mikita managed to lead the team in goals on route to a championship.

    Adding to the Cup, Mikita is the only player ever to win the Hart, Art Ross and Lady Byng Trophies in the same season, doing so twice.

36. Martin Brodeuer, New Jersey Devils

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    Hear me out on this one.

    Martin Brodeur is without a doubt one of the top 10 goaltenders of all time. However, to call him the greatest to ever play the position is a bit unfair .

    Brodeur was between the pipes for a team that ran a trap system and relied on the strength of Scott Stevens on the blue line. Sure, Martin was a huge part of the success of that system, but the system inflated his numbers without a doubt.

    Never once was he the most valuable player on his team during the postseason, having never won the Conn Smythe.

    Some of his numbers are staggering, but when you consider how some of them came to be, it diminishes them a bit. 

35. Bernie Parent, Philadelphia Flyers

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    While the longevity of success may not be there with Bernie Parent, the two Stanley Cup runs he carried the Flyers on during the early 70s earn him a solid spot on this list.

    Parent won two Stanley Cups as well as two Conn Smythe Trophies due to his astounding GAA of 2.02 in '74 and 1.89 in '75.

    Parent but the bullies on his back.

34. Phil Esposito, Boston Bruins

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    Two Stanley Cups and more than a point per game scored during his postseason career is enough to go down as a postseason legend.

    Esposito was particularly impressive in the first of his two Stanley Cup runs in which he scored 27 points in just 14 postseason games.

    The Art Ross Trophies and Hart Trophies are also sitting in Esposito's closet.

33. Terry Sawchuk, Detroit Red Wings

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    Terry Sawchuk didn't need a mask to win four Stanley Cups and set numerous records in between the pipes.

    The 21-year netminder won over 500 games in the NHL and collected over 100 shutouts during his tenure.

    His career postseason and regular season GAA of roughly 2.5 is impressive given the slide late in his career. Sawchuk's run of dominance was unlike anything the league had ever seen.

32. Denis Potvin, New York Islanders

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    Remember when the New York Islanders were an intimidating team? Anybody who had to skate down the ice against long time Islander defenseman, Denis Potvin, certainly does.

    Potvin is generally considered the cornerstone of the four Islander Stanley Cups in the early 1980s, despite never bringing home the Conn Smythe.

    The Captain of the team, Potvin provided New York with leadership and pure intimidation on its blue line.

31. Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Another man who scored more points than games he played in was Jaromir Jagr.

    Jagr was still young but made an immense impact on the two Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Championships of the early 1990s.

    Had he stuck around and played out the rest of his career in the NHL, Jagr could have worked his way even farther up this list.

30. Ron Francis, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Ron Francis was the model of consistency throughout his NHL career. He consistently managed over 50 points during the regular season, occasionally breaking out with over 80 or even 100 points.

    Francis also took home the game's ultimate prize twice with the Penguins in '91 and '92.

29. Doug Harvey, Montreal Canadiens

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    Let the run of Montreal Canadiens begin.

    Doug Harvey won seven Norris Trophies and six Stanley Cups during his playing years, making him one of the most prolific blueliners in the history of the NHL.

    Harvey also impacted the game offensively, something the opposition wasn't used to.

28. Henri Richard, Montreal Canadiens

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    Fathom this; Henri Richard won eleven Stanley Cups during his career. 11.

    Perhaps not the most dynamic player the Canadiens have ever had, but he played more games than any other player in Montreal history.

    Plus, he had over 1,000 points during his career. Not too shabby.

27. Sergei Fedorov, Detroit Red Wings

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    Generally, Russian players are not known for their legendary postseason performances.

    However, Sergei Fedorov was a beast in the postseason in his prime.

    The highest Russian scorer in NHL history, Fedorov played in over 180 postseason games and totaled 176 points and three Stanley Cups.

26. Grant Fuhr, Edmonton Oilers

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    Grant Fuhr's contributions to the dominant Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s are vastly underrated.

    On a predominantly offensive oriented squad, Fuhr held the fort down for the Oilers and was a solid backstop for a number of seasons.

    Wayne Gretzky went as far as to say that his goaltender was the best he had ever seen.

    That's pretty high praise coming from the greatest player who ever lived.

25. Scott Stevens, New Jersey Devils

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    Scott Stevens was an essential piece to the postseason dominance the New Jersey Devils had throughout the 90s and early 2000s.

    In the trap system, having a shutdown defender capable of flattening opponents all over the ice was beyond valuable.

    The Devils could sit back and let other teams attack them, because nobody was going to get by Scott Stevens. He has rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy to show for it.

24. Scott Nidermayer, Anaheim Ducks

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    Scott Niedermayer was both a tremendous leader and a productive defenseman; the perfect combination for the postseason.

    His four Stanley Cups are a credit to his disciplined play in the defensive zone and his ability to pinch into the offensive rush seamlessly. 

    Let's not forget the outrageous salt and pepper playoff beard this guy could grow.

23. Larry Robinson, Montreal Canadiens

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    Who wouldn't want a 6'4'', 225-pound defenseman anchoring their blue line for an entire postseason run?

    That's exactly what the Canadiens had in Larry Robinson. The towering defenseman helped bring six Stanley Cup Championships to Montreal and has his name on the Cup three more times for his work as a coach and a scout.

    Robinson also managed to reel in a Conn Smythe Trophy during his playing days.

22. Jacques Plante, Montreal Canadiens

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    Being known as the father of the goalie mask imakes one revolutionary. Winning seven Vezina Trophies and 5 Stanley Cups makes that man a legend.

    Plante was tough as nails and carried the Canadiens for the better part of a decade and managed a 2.16 GAA during postseason play.

    His career was loaded with accolades, but numbers and trophies can't measure this man's impact on his franchise and the game of hockey. 

21. Brett Hull, St. Louis Blues

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    When it comes to ranking the best NHL Players of all time, Brett Hull is usually somewhere near the top of the list. He won two Stanley Cups, so this list is no different in that regard.

    However, what keeps him out of the top 20 is his admitted lack of passion for the sport. Hull never had the guts that some of the players above him had. While he had all of the talent in the world, it is hard to justify him as one of the 10 to 20 best players in playoff history.

20. Jari Kurri, Edmonton Oilers

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    While many argue that Kurri's stats were inflated because he played alongside Wayne Gretzky, there is no denying this man's dominance in the postseason.

    Seven times Kurri went over the 20-point mark during postseason action. The Finnish winger totaled 233 playoff points in his career.

    No matter who was around him, Kurri had some skills.

19. Bryan Trottier, New York Islanders/Pittsburgh Penguins

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    There is hardly a trophy that Bryan Trottier did not win during his illustrious career. Most notable are his six Stanley Cup Championships and his Conn Smythe Trophy.

    A textbook two way center, Trottier had 184 career points in the playoffs and played in over 200 games.

18. Mike Bossy, New York Islanders

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    Ordering the remaining players on this list is beyond difficult.

    Bossy could arguably be much higher, but his career ended early due to injuries. 

    However, during all of the Islanders' Stanley Cup runs, Bossy dominated the postseason, tallying a total of 61 goals and 111 points during that four year stretch.

17. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings

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    Nicklas Lidstrom has proven to be a phenomenal captain for the Detroit Red Wings.

    The Swedish defenseman has played in an obscene amount of playoff games. Lidstrom has won the Stanley Cup four times, brought home a gold medal for his country and won the Conn Smythe aware.

    There is no doubt that he is one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history. 

16. Guy Lafleur, Montreal Canadiens

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    Playing for the Montreal Canadiens essentially guarantees some level of postseason success. Guy Lafleur was no exception to that rule.

    Lafleur had a dominant stretch of postseason play that earned him and the rest of the Montreal Canadiens five Stanley Cups.

    He had the rare ability to take over a game and be the best player on the ice on any given night.

15. Claude Lemieux, Multiple Teams

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    Claude Lemieux had the innate ability to take his game to a new level during the postseason.

    One of the least enjoyable players to play against, the lesser Lemieux lived for the postseason and was remarkably clutch when in pursuit of Lord Stanley's Cup.

    He ranks third all time with 19 career game winning goals in the playoffs and won four total Stanley Cups with three different teams, one of just 10 players to do so. 

14. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche

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    Joe Sakic constantly had ice water running through his veins, leading his team with clutch play and gutsy effort.

    Sakic is tied for fourth all time with 17 career game-winning goals in the postseason and won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that eight of his game winning goals came in the overtime frame. This guy was immune to pressure.

13. Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings

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    When a team has a leader that is so unquestioned that he captains the team for over 1,300 games, that squad will usually find some degree of success. That is especially true if that player is Steve Yzerman.

    In addition to his leadership, Yzerman provided unmatched offensive prowess. He has four Stanley Cups to his name including three as a player. 

12. Glenn Anderson, Edmonton Oilers

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    Glenn Anderson very well may have been the best two-way forward to ever play the game of hockey. His ability to shut down opposing players was impecable. 

    Add to that his 17 game-winning goals in the postseason, and you've got the ideal player for a Stanley Cup run.

    Thus, it should come as no surprise that Anderson has six Stanley Cups to his name.

11. Paul Coffey, Edmonton Oilers

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    Paul Coffey is the father of the modern day offensive defenseman.

    Coffey currently ranks 10th all time in scoring amongst all players, and he played on the blue line. He also managed over a point per game during postseason play.

    His resume is loaded with accolades, including his four Stanley Cups with three different clubs.

10. Dominik Hasek, Detroit Red Wings

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    While many would say that the argument for the best goaltender of all time comes down to Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, I would say that the discussion comes down to Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy.

    Hasek put up jaw dropping numbers and had the ability to carry even the most mediocre of teams through the playoffs.

    His career 2.02 GAA average in the playoffs is astounding, and some of the single season performances he put together were staggering.

    Hasek deserves more credit than he tends to get.

9. Jean Beliveau, Montreal Canadiens

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    Seventeen. That's the number of times Jean Beliveau's name appears on the Stanley Cup; 10 as a player and seven as an executive for the Montreal Canadiens.

    Beliveau wasn't just along for the ride either. He won the first ever Conn Smythe award and put up over a point per game throughout his playoff career.

8. Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens

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    Ken Dryden was a rare leader at the goaltending position for the Montreal Canadiens throughout the 1970's.

    Many will argue that Dryden is too high on this list, but he won six Stanley Cups and had prolific performances on the way to each and every one of those championships.

    He may not have carried the team in the same fashion as some other goaltenders on this list, but Dryden was a tremendous leader and clutch performer.

7. Maurice Richard, Montreal Canadiens

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    Who wouldn't want Maurice "Rocket" Richard on their side come playoff time?

    There is a reason the Rocket has a trophy named after him. He simply piled up goals in insane amounts.

    So the fact that he has 18 career game winners in the playoff should come as little surprise to anyone.

    The longtime captain of the Candiens led the team to eight Stanley Cups during his days as a player and appeared in countless all star games.

6. Gordie Howe, Detroit Red Wings

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    Playoff hockey is not for the faint of heart or the feeble minded. Perhaps, that's why Gordi Howe fared so well in the postseason.

    In addition to his gritty two-way play and leadership, Gordie Howe racked up 160 points in the playoffs an won three Stanley Cups.

    Howe is one of the toughest players to ever lace up the skates, and a guy any team would love to have on their side in the postseason.

5. Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins

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    The photo says it all doesn't it?

    Bobby Orr is the best defenseman to ever play the game and is one of just five players to win multiple Conn Smythe awards during his tenure in the NHL.

    Orr is the only defenseman to ever lead the league in points, doing so twice during his career. He also won eight consecutive Norris Trophies and was a career plus-597.

4. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Mario Lemieux is arguably the greatest player ever. Unfortunately, his career was abbreviated due to his battle with cancer.

    However, that did not stop Lemieux from being one of just five players to win multiple Conn Smythe Awards.

    Lemieux carried the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cups in the early '90's. He was especially impressive in '92 when he had five game-winning goals throughout the course of the postseason.

3. Mark Messier, Edmonton Oilers/New York Rangers

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    Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky made one great duo in Edmonton.

    However, Messier proved he did not need Gretzky to be a winner by capturing the Stanley Cup with the Rangers later in his career. Messier won a Conn Smythe Trophy in addition to being the only player in all of sports to captain two different teams to championships.

2. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers

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    I would like to preface this by saying that I am not placing Gretzky No. 2 just to be different. When it comes to postseason play, I truly believe a superb goaltender is slightly more important than a goal scorer, even one of Gretzky's caliber.

    That being said, Gretzky is unquestionably the greatest postseason skater to ever grace the ice. Gretzky had an NHL record 24 game-winning goals in his postseason career to go along with a record 382 points in just 208 playoff games.

    The numbers speak for themselves, but the two Conn Smythe Trophies don't hurt either.

1. Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche/Montreal Canadiens

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    You can debate this choice all you want, but Patrick Roy can't hear you with his Stanley Cup Rings in his ears.

    Roy is unquestionably the greatest goaltender of all time in my mind. His 151 playoff victories are the most by any goaltender in league history. His 23 postseason shutouts are tied for the most ever, and he has the most Conn Smythe Trophies (three) of any player in the history of the game.

    A goalie like Patrick Roy allows a team to play a run-and-gun type of offense such as the system Colorado ran for much of Roy's time there. 

    However, Roy's success was not limited to just one team. He won a pair of Stanley Cups with both the Montreal Canadiens and the Colorado Avalanche.

    Having a presence like Patrick Roy between the pipes is more valuable to a team than any goal scorer could ever be.