Skip to main content

Five games that changed hockey

by John Kreiser
Like every sport, hockey has games that serve as lines of demarcation -- dynasties begin, end or intersect, wins and losses send franchises in different directions.

Here are five games from the past 35 years that had implications far beyond simply which team won and which lost.

1975: Game 3, Preliminary Round
NY Islanders 3, NY Rangers 2

The 1974-75 standings said these teams were even -- the established Rangers and upstart Islanders both finished with 88 points, tying them for second in the Patrick Division. But that was about the only way in which they were equal, which is why the stunning impact of the outcome would reverberate through the NHL, and especially in New York, for years to come.

The third-year Islanders had gone from laughingstock in their first season to respectable in their second and a playoff team in their third. But to Rangers fans, they were inconsequential -- a minor annoyance that was to be swatted away before their team went about the serious work of making a run at the Cup.

The first two periods in the opener of the best-of-three series justified that optimism. The Rangers were flawless defensively and grabbed a 2-0 lead on second-period goals by Brad Park and Pete Stemkowski.

But one of the good things about being young is that you often don't know you're supposed to be scared. Billy Harris scored a power-play goal at the 5-minute mark, Jean Potvin tied it at 11:51 and rookie Clark Gillies broke in alone on Ed Giacomin and put the Islanders ahead at 13:30. Suddenly, stunningly, the Islanders had a 3-2 win and a 1-0 lead in the series.

The Islanders came unglued at home in Game 2. With thousands of Rangers fans cheering them on, the visitors jumped to a 3-0 lead and coasted to an 8-3 victory.

The full house at Madison Square Garden for Game 3 had no doubt their heroes would roll over the Islanders in the third and deciding game. But the Isles stunned everyone by grabbing a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes.

But the Rangers had some life left. Bill Fairbairn started the rally by beating Billy Smith at 4:44, then made it 3-2 when he scored again at 13:27. With the sold-out Garden in a state of bedlam, Steve Vickers pulled the Rangers even 14 seconds later. For the next few minutes, Smith was the busiest man in New York as waves of Rangers flooded the Islanders' zone. Like a boxer being saved by the bell, the Islanders got a respite only when the buzzer ending the third period finally sounded -- Smith hung his head on the goal and appeared to shake before finally skating off.

Whatever Isles' coach Al Arbour said during the intermission worked. With most fans still finding their way back to their seats, Jude Drouin won the opening faceoff, fed Dave Lewis, got the puck back in the corner and zipped a pass across the crease -- where J.P. Parise tipped it past Giacomin. Just 11 seconds into OT, the Rangers' season was over.

"If you could have written a script for the game, it couldn't have been any better," Isles captain Ed Westfall told writers after the game.

Years later, GM Bill Torrey cited the game as the most important in the history of the franchise.

"No one took us seriously until we won that game," he said. "It was more important to the franchise than 1980 (when the Islanders won their first Cup)."

1980: Game 7, Quarterfinals
Minnesota North Stars 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

The Stanley Cup parade had become an annual rite of spring in Montreal by 1980. The Canadiens had won the previous four Stanley Cups, and a lot of their fans were sure that No. 5 was in the offing as the playoffs got under way.

The Habs swept their first-round series against Hartford in three games, setting up a meeting against the young Minnesota North Stars, who had swept Toronto in the opening round in their first playoff appearance in three years.

If the North Stars were supposed to be intimidated by the aura of the Canadiens and the Forum, it wasn't apparent in the first two games. Minnesota blanked the Habs 3-0 in the opener and took Game 2 by a 4-1 score. But the Canadiens, despite injuries to some of their stars, won the next three, winning 5-0 and 5-1 at the Met Center and 6-2 back in Montreal.

The young Stars regrouped in front of their home fans and beat the Canadiens 5-2 in Game 6. That sent the series back to Montreal for a Game 7.

Though the Canadiens were still missing injured stars Guy Lafleur and Pierre Larouche, both 50-goal scorers, they jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Mark Napier scored 9:12 into the game. But Minnesota tied it when a misplay by goaltender Denis Herron gave Tom Younghans a tap-in for a shorthanded goal.

Craig Hartsburg put the North Stars ahead with the only goal of the second, but Rod Langway tied it early in the third. The Canadiens continued to press goaltender Gilles Meloche in search of the go-ahead goal; however, with the clock ticking below two minutes, overtime appeared imminent.

But on one of the North Stars' few rushes, Bobby Smith centered a pass from the corner, Steve Payne swatted the puck at the net and Al MacAdam knocked the loose puck into the net at 18:34.

Eighty-six seconds later, the Canadiens' dynasty was over -- and it has never resurfaced. The Canadiens won Cups in 1986 and 1993, both due to the goaltending of Patrick Roy. But they've never dominated the League the way they did before MacAdam's goal.

1989 Smythe Division Finals
Los Angeles 6, Edmonton 3

Wayne Gretzky had led the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cups in a five-year span from 1984-88. But when the 1989 playoffs came around, Gretzky was in the black-and-silver of the Los Angeles Kings, trying to keep the Oilers from extending their reign as champions.

Gretzky had been dealt to Los Angeles the previous summer as the centerpiece of the biggest deal in NHL history. With "The Great One" in the lineup, the Kings finished with 91 points, their best season since 1981-82 -- and finished second in the Smythe Division, seven points ahead of the Oilers.

Still, it looked like the Oilers would be on their way to the division finals after they split two games in Los Angeles and won Games 3 and 4 in Edmonton. But Gretzky and the Kings had other ideas. They held serve by winning Game 5 at home, 4-2, then stunned a Northlands Coliseum crowd that turned out expecting a series-clinching victory by shutting down the Oilers, winning 4-1.

"Right now, I feel a lot of mixed emotions. I didn't enjoy playing this series. Those guys are champions."
-- Wayne Gretzky talking to the media after the game

That sent the series back to Los Angeles, where Gretzky scored the first and last goals in a 6-3 victory that sent the Oilers home for the summer. Gretzky beat Grant Fuhr on a breakaway in the opening minute -- and fittingly, he scored the empty-netter that wrapped up the victory, capping a series in which he scored 12 points in seven games.

"Right now, I feel a lot of mixed emotions," Gretzky told the media after wards. "I didn't enjoy playing this series. Those guys are champions."

The Kings' first playoff series victory since their upset of the Oilers in 1982 marked only the sixth time a team had won a series after trailing 3-1.

"We're not in a state of shock," said Oilers coach and GM Glen Sather, whose team regrouped to win the 1990 Cup but hasn't won another. "There was no miracle tonight. In my opinion, Gretzky is the best player in the world. When any team has that, you can never count them out."

1993: Game 7, Patrick Division Finals
New York Islanders 4, Pittsburgh 3 (OT)

In 1982, the Penguins came within minutes of stopping the Islanders' run of Cups at two. Eleven years later, the Islanders didn't miss their opportunity.

The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992, following mediocre regular seasons with dynamic playoff performances. In 1993, they came into the playoffs following a League-leading 119-point regular season that featured a record-setting 17-game winning streak down the stretch.

The Mario Lemieux-led Penguins blitzed New Jersey in the opening round of the Patrick Division playoffs. They figured to roll over the Islanders, who had upset Washington in the first round but would be without their best player, Pierre Turgeon, who was out with a separated shoulder after being attacked from behind by Washington's Dale Hunter in the clincher.

Turgeon's absence didn't bother the Isles in the opener, when they stunned the Pens, 3-2, at the Civic Arena. Pittsburgh won the next two games, lost a 6-5 decision in Game 4 at the Nassau Coliseum, but moved within a game of advancing when they beat the Islanders, 6-3, in Game 5.

The Islanders wouldn't go quietly. A 7-5 victory at the sold-out Coliseum sent the series back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 -- and with time running out in the third period, it looked like the Islanders were ready to make history. They led 3-1 and appeared to be on their way to the Eastern Conference finals.

But champions rarely die easily, and the Penguins were no exception. They continued to storm the Isles' net, got a goal from Ron Francis and tied the game at 3-3 on Rick Tocchet's deflection with 60 seconds remaining, sending the game into overtime.

The Penguins controlled play for the first minutes of OT but were unable to beat Glenn Healy, who finished with 42 saves -- and just past the five-minute mark, the Islanders made Healy's heroics pay off.

Ray Ferraro and David Volek raced into the Pittsburgh zone on a 2-on-1 break, and Ferraro fed Volek for a wrist shot from near the right dot that zipped past Tom Barrasso at 5:16 to give the Islanders a stunning 4-3 victory -- short-circuiting the aspiring Penguins' dynasty. Pittsburgh lost in the first round the following year and didn't make the Stanley Cup Final again until last spring.

"You can't eliminate the possibility of a loss in the seventh game," Barrasso said. "It's that one time and anything can happen."

2003: Game 1, Western Conference Quarterfinals
Anaheim 3, Detroit 2 (3 OT)

Jean-Sebastien Giguere couldn't have picked a tougher situation for his first Stanley Cup playoff game. All he had to do was beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, on their home rink -- and in top form.

That's exactly what he did.

The Wings had won the Cup in 1997 and 1998, then captured it again in 2002. Another championship would have made them the most successful team since the Edmonton Oilers of the late 1980s. The Ducks had made only two playoff appearances -- both of which ended in losses to the Wings.

The crowd of 20,058 at Joe Louis Arena roared when Brendan Shanahan opened the scoring with a power-play goal 4:15 into the game. The fans were a little perturbed when Adam Oates tied the game at 15:33, then watched the teams play the final 44:27 of regulation to force overtime. Giguere preserved the tie when he gloved Darren McCarty's slap shot with seven minutes remaining.

The Wings came out firing way in OT -- they took 20 shots in the first extra period, and Giguere stopped them all, setting a post-expansion record for saves in an overtime period. He made 16 more before Paul Kariya stunned the crowd by wristing home a rebound 3:18 into the third overtime to give Anaheim a 2-1 win.

Giguere's 63 saves were the most ever for a goaltender making his playoff debut
"I was nervous before the game, but I used that nervousness to get me going. I turned those emotions into a positive thing.." -- Jean-Sebastien Giguere
"I was nervous before the game, but I used that nervousness to get me going," Giguere told the media afterward. "I turned those emotions into a positive thing."

All the Red Wings could do was tip their ... helmets.

"I don't think you could have a better debut, that's for sure," Detroit coach Dave Lewis said. "He won a playoff game playing in this building, which is huge for them, and he was probably the biggest reason why."

The series-opening victory sparked the Ducks to an improbable sweep of the defending Stanley Cup champs. Giguere finished the series with 165 saves on 171 shots against the high-scoring Wings, who became only the second defending champion to be swept in the first round the following season.

Giguere's heroics carried the Ducks all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, where they finally lost to New Jersey. They finally won the franchise's first Cup four years later, beating the Wings on the way to the Final.

"We just did not get it done, not one game," Lewis said after the sweep. "Their team played hard. One guy (Giguere) did not beat us; he was the difference, but their team beat us."
View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.