NHL history loaded with dramatic finishes

Sunday, 04.10.2011 / 4:55 PM
Brian Compton  - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
There have been plenty of memorable finishes to NHL seasons, and it appears the 2010-11 campaign will join the list.

Just one year after watching the Philadelphia Flyers clinch the last available playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and go on a dramatic run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL will need the very last game on its regular-season schedule to determine the eighth playoff team in the West.

Here's a closer look at some of the League's more dramatic finishes over the years:

1970 -- Rangers edge Canadiens

A playoff tie-breaking formula which featured goals-for as the criteria for breaking a tie between clubs tied in points and wins led to a bizarre finish to the 1969-70 season on April 5.

The New York Rangers trailed the Montreal Canadiens by two points heading into that Sunday and also had to overcome a five-goal Montreal advantage in goals-for (242-237). Playing an afternoon game at Madison Square Garden against Detroit, the Rangers gave themselves a chance, earning a 9-5 win. They pushed their points and wins totals to 92 and 38, respectively, tying the Canadiens in those categories, and increased their goals-for to 246, four better than Montreal.

Montreal entered its evening encounter at Chicago needing a win, a tie, or five goals to qualify for the postseason. Trailing 5-2 with fewer than 10 minutes remaining, Canadiens coach Claude Ruel, doubting his team would not get the tie or win, pulled goaltender Rogie Vachon for an extra attacker at 11:40 of the third period in hope of scoring the necessary five goals. Five goals were scored -- but all by the Blackhawks into the empty net.

The Habs lost the game 10-2, and by failing to score five goals, were eliminated from participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1948.

1988 -- Devils qualify on MacLean's OT goal

The New Jersey Devils qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history on the last night of the 1987-88 season thanks to a dramatic overtime goal by John MacLean in a 4-3 win at Chicago. In an unprecedented finish to the season, three clubs held down the final playoff spot over the course of a dramatic 85-minute span on April 3.
Entering the final night of the season, New Jersey and the Rangers were tied with 80 points for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Patrick Division, followed closely by Pittsburgh with 79 points.

At 10:07 p.m. (ET), the Penguins took temporary hold of the final playoff spot following a 4-2 victory against Hartford. Seven minutes later, the Rangers defeated the Quebec Nordiques 3-0, vaulting past the Penguins.

But at 11:32 p.m., the Devils, needing a win at Chicago, got the playoff-clinching goal from MacLean at 2:21 of overtime. MacLean also had tied the game at 11:57 of the third period. The Devils and Rangers each finished the season with 82 points, but the Devils won the tiebreaker with two more victories (38-36).

1990 -- Islanders reach postseason in dramatic five-minute swing

One year before being traded to the New York Islanders, defenseman Uwe Krupp (who was then playing for the Buffalo Sabres) got a head start on endearing himself to Isles fans on the decisive night of the 1989-90 season, which took place on March 31. Heading into the day, the Pittsburgh Penguins (72 points) led the Islanders (71) and Philadelphia Flyers (70) in the race for the final playoff position in the Patrick Division.

At 10:09 p.m. (ET), the Islanders eliminated the Flyers from playoff contention with a 6-2 home win. The Nassau Coliseum crowd immediately turned its attention to the arena's video screen to watch the conclusion of the Pittsburgh-Buffalo game, while the Islanders watched the contest in their dressing room. The club needed a Buffalo win to qualify for postseason play.

A minute later, the Penguins and Sabres teams went into the five-minute overtime period tied 2-2. At 10:14, the Islanders and their fans celebrated when Krupp scored 60 seconds into the extra session to give the Sabres a 3-2 win against Pittsburgh, propelling the Islanders into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

2010 -- Shootout determines last spot in East between Flyers and Rangers

Philadelphia hosted its longtime rival, the Rangers, on the final day of the 2009-10 regular season in a winner-take-all showdown in the City of Brotherly Love. The winner would advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a first-round berth against the New Jersey Devils, while the loser would go home.

Tied 1-1 after 60 minutes of regulation play and five minutes of 4-on-4 overtime, the teams headed to uncharted territory -- a shootout that would directly determine the playoff fates of both participants.

Foreshadowing their important role in Philadelphia's run to the Stanley Cup Final over the weeks to come, the Flyers got shootout goals from Danny Briere and Claude Giroux to upend the Rangers 2-1 in the tie-breaker. Winning goaltender Brian Boucher stopped two of three Rangers attempts, turning aside Olli Jokinen on the playoff-clinching save.

The Flyers then made a historic run to the Stanley Cup Final, which included eliminating the Boston Bruins in the second round despite losing the first three games of the best-of-seven series.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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