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Seven of the greatest playoff series of all-time

by John Kreiser /
We're still two rounds away from crowning this year's Stanley Cup champion, but we've already had a series for the record books.

The seven-game battle between the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings made history by becoming the first playoff series to have six of seven games decided by a single goal. It would have been seven, but the Red Wings hit the empty net in Game 6 for a 3-1 victory.

The Wings-Sharks series is one that fans will be talking about for years to come. But is it the greatest of all time? Here are seven other series (in chronological order) that are also worthy of being considered for that honor.

1950 Final: Red Wings 4, Rangers 3
On paper, this one should never have been close – but hockey isn't played on paper. The first-place Red Wings (even without an injured Gordie Howe) figured to have little trouble beating the fourth-place Rangers – especially because New York had to play all of its games away from Madison Square Garden, which was hosting the circus. Games 2 and 3 were in Toronto; the rest were at the Olympia in Detroit.

1950 Stanley Cup Final:
Red Wings 4, Rangers 3
Game 1 Red Wings 4, Rangers 1
Game 2 Rangers 3, Red Wings 1
Game 3 Red Wings 4, Rangers 0
Game 4 Rangers 4, Red Wings 3 (OT)
Game 5 Rangers 2, Red Wings 1 (OT)
Game 6 Red Wings 5, Rangers 4
Game 7 Red Wings 4 , Rangers 3 (2OT)
But after the Wings won the opener and split the two games in Toronto, the Rangers stunned the Olympia crowd by winning Games 4 and 5 in overtime, both on goals by skinny center Don Raleigh (yes, his nickname was "Bones"). The Wings had to rally to win Game 6, and had to overcome 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to force Game 7 into overtime – the first time that had ever happened in Game 7 of the Final.

Neither team scored in the first extra period. Raleigh had a pair of chances to win it early in the second.

"I think one of them went over my stick and I believe I hit the post or the crossbar on the other," he remembered more than a half-century later.

The end came with stunning suddenness. Just before a faceoff in the Rangers' end, Detroit center George Gee told linemate Pete Babando to move to a different spot and he'd get him the puck. Gee was as good as his word – he won the draw back to Babando, whose backhander beat Charlie Rayner to give the Wings the Cup.

More than six decades later, the 1950 Final is still the only time the Cup was decided in a second overtime.

1987: Patrick Division Semifinals: Islanders 4, Capitals 3
By 1987, the Islanders were no longer the dynasty team they had been in the early 1980s, when they won four consecutive Stanley Cups and a record 19 straight playoff series. But the core of that team was still there, so when the Washington Capitals won three of the first four games in their first-round series, they had to know the Islanders weren't going to go quietly.

1987: Patrick Division Semifinals: Islanders 4, Capitals 3
Game 1 Capitals 4, Islanders 3
Game 2 Islanders 3, Capitals 1
Game 3 Capitals 2, Islanders 0
Game 4 Capitals 4, Islanders 1
Game 5 Islanders 4, Capitals 2
Game 6 Islanders 5, Capitals 4
Game 7 Islanders 3, Capitals 2, (4OT)
Sure enough, the Islanders won Game 5 on the road and outlasted the Caps 5-4 in Game 6 at the Nassau Coliseum, sending the series to a seventh game on April 18.

The Caps twice took one-goal leads, but a goal by Bryan Trottier with 5:23 left in regulation got the Islanders even. Little did anyone in the Capital Centre know they had seen the last goal for quite a while.

Islanders goaltender Kelly Hrudey and Washington's Bob Mason matched save for save through three scoreless overtime periods. By the time the puck dropped for the fourth overtime, it was Easter Sunday and Hrudey had already made 72 saves.

He made only one more before the stunning conclusion. Gord Dineen circled the net and fed Pat LaFontaine just inside the blue line. LaFontaine one-timed the puck through a maze of bodies and past Mason, who never saw it, 8:47 into the fourth extra period, giving the Islanders a 3-2 win and the series.

''It didn't feel real anymore,'' said LaFontaine, "and for the longest time it felt like no one was ever going to score.''

Nearly a quarter-century later, it's still the longest Game 7 in NHL history.

1993 Patrick Division Finals: Islanders 4, Penguins 3
The Penguins won the Cup in 1991 and again in 1992 by being good enough in the regular season and brilliant in the playoffs. But they entered the 1993 playoffs looking for a three-peat after tearing up the League during the 80-game schedule, capping off a franchise-record 119-point performance by setting an NHL record with a 17-game winning streak.

1993 Patrick Division Finals:
Islanders 4, Penguins 3
Game 1 Islanders 3, Penguins 2
Game 2 Penguins 3, Islanders 0
Game 3 Penguins3, Islanders 1
Game 4 Islanders 6, Penguins 5
Game 5 Penguins 6, Islanders 3
Game 6 Islanders 7, Penguins 5
Game 7 Islanders 4, Penguins 3 (OT)
After slogging past New Jersey in seven games in the opening round, the Penguins figured to have little trouble with the New York Islanders in the Patrick Division Finals – especially because the Isles would be without their best player, star center Pierre Turgeon, due to an injury sustained in the clincher against Washington in the previous round.

But as often happens in cases like this, someone forgot to tell the Isles they had no chance to win. They won the opener 3-2 in Pittsburgh, rallied for a series-tying 6-5 win in Game 4, then scored three times in the third period of Game 6 for a 7-5 win that sent the series back to Pittsburgh for Game 7.

The teams were tied 1-1 after two periods, but goals by David Volek and Benoit Hogue gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead with less than five minutes to go. However, the Penguins showed why they were two-time defending champs – Ron Francis made it a one-goal game with 3:47 remaining, and Rick Tocchet forced overtime by scoring with exactly 60 seconds to play.

Blowing a two-goal lead in the final minutes of a Game 7 didn't deter the Islanders, who had always been one of the NHL's most successful teams in overtime – and sure enough, they weren't fazed by having to deal with the Penguins or their fans. Just over five minutes into the extra period, Volek, a journeyman forward, beat Tom Barrasso with a wrister on a 2-on-1 break to give New York a stunning 4-3 victory and end the Penguins' hopes for a dynasty.

"David Volek didn't play much in that game," then-Isles forward Tom Fitzgerald said years later, "but I'll never forget him going down the side and blasting a slap shot past Barrasso.

"We were like, 'Oh my God, we just did this!' I've always thought that the 1993 Penguins were the best team in my 17 NHL years not to win the Stanley Cup."

1993 Campbell Conference Finals: Kings 4, Maple Leafs 3
Twenty-six years after winning their last Stanley Cup, the Leafs stood on the verge of their first trip to the Final since 1967 when they hosted the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Campbell Conference Finals.  Glenn Anderson's overtime winner in Game 5 had given the Leafs a 3-2 series lead, and only an overtime winner by Wayne Gretzky in Game 6 sent the series back to Maple Leaf Gardens for the seventh and deciding game.

1993 Campbell Conference Finals:
Kings 4, Maple Leafs 3
Game 1 Maple Leafs 4, Kings 1
Game 2 Kings 3, Maple Leafs 2
Game 3 Kings 4, Maple Leafs 2
Game 4 Maple Leafs 4, Kings 2
Game 5 Maple Leafs 3, Kings 2 (OT)
Game 6 Kings 5, Maple Leafs 4 (OT)
Game 7 Kings 5, Maple Leafs 4
Little did the Leafs or their fans know that the overtime winner in Game 6 was just a warmup act for Gretzky.

In one of the greatest performances of his career – and perhaps the best ever in a Game 7, Gretzky stole the show by scoring once in each period. His goal at 9:48 of the first started the scoring, and he set up Tomas Sandstrom's goal later in the period for a 2-0 lead.

After goals by Wendel Clark and Anderson tied the game in the second period, Gretzky put the Kings back on top for a second time. His third goal, with 3:14 left in regulation, allowed the Kings to survive a late tally by Dave Ellett and escape with a 5-4 win and their first (and still only) trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

"When you are Wayne Gretzky, you take the roses when they are thrown at you and you have to take the heat," he said. "I took the heat. I stood up and I answered the bell."

The hat trick was Gretzky's eighth in the playoffs – breaking the mark he shared with Maurice Richard and former linemate Jari Kurri. He also delivered on a promise to get the Kings to the Final.

1994 Western Conference Quarterfinals: Sharks 4, Red Wings 3
This year's playoff meeting between the Sharks and Wings was a battle between two of the NHL's elite teams. That wasn't the case the first time the teams met in 1994.

1994 Western Conference Quarterfinals: Sharks 4, Red Wings 3
Game 1 Sharks 5, Red Wings 4
Game 2 Red Wings 4, Sharks 0
Game 3 Red Wings 3, Sharks 2
Game 4 Sharks 4, Red Wings 3
Game 5 Sharks 6, Red Wings 4
Game 6 Red Wings 7, Sharks 1
Game 7 Sharks 3, Red Wings 2
The third-year Sharks made the playoffs for the first time after a record 58-point improvement from a 24-point season in 1992-93. That didn't figure to help them much against the powerful Red Wings, who had finished first in the West with 100 points.

But the Sharks won the first playoff game in franchise history by beating the Wings 5-4 at Joe Louis Arena on April 18. After two losses, they pulled even with a 4-3 win in Game 4 and actually grabbed the lead with a stunning 6-4 home win in Game 5.

However, the Wings appeared to be back in charge in Game 6, pummeling the young Sharks 7-1 and setting up a seventh game.

Many of the 19,875 fans at Joe Louis Arena were still settling into their seats when Johan Garpenlov put the Sharks ahead by beating Chris Osgood 47 seconds into the game. Sergei Makarov's goal at 13:59 made it 2-0 before the Wings got one back on a shorthanded goal by Kris Draper with 13 seconds left in the period.

Slava Kozlov's goal 2:36 into the middle period got the Wings even, and with Detroit controlling the play, it appeared to be just a matter of time before the Sharks – who managed just 12 shots through 40 minutes -- ran out of gas.

However, Arturs Irbe was flawless after allowing Kozlov's goal, and the Sharks hung around well into the third period, keeping the game tied 2-2, before catching a break. Rookie goaltender Chris Osgood tried to make a clearing pass up the right wall, but put the puck on the stick of Sharks' forward Jamie Baker instead. Baker fired before Osgood could get back into the net and scored with 6:35 left in regulation for a 3-2 lead. Irbe did the rest, and the Sharks were winners in the first playoff series they'd ever been part of.

Baker's goal was arguably the most important in franchise history until Patrick Marleau's series-winner against the Wings in Game 7 on Thursday.

"Even though we were an eighth seed and nobody expected us to win, there was a lot of pressure inside that room," Baker told the San Jose Mercury News. "We weren't going there thinking, 'Well, it's OK if we lose.' This is our job. We had the same goal they did, and it's just that the hockey world didn't expect us to be there."

1994 Eastern Conference Finals: Rangers 4, Devils 3
The New York Rangers were convinced that 1994 was the year they were going to end a Stanley Cup drought that dated to 1940. They won the Presidents' Trophy for the second time in three years and lost just one game in winning the first two rounds against the Islanders and Washington.

1994 Eastern Conference Finals:
Rangers 4, Devils 3
Game 1 Devils 4, Rangers 3 (2 OT)
Game 2 Rangers 4, Devils 0
Game 3 Rangers 3, Devils 2 (2 OT)
Game 4 Devils 3, Rangers 1
Game 5 Devils 4, Rangers 1
Game 6 Rangers 4, Devils 2
Game 7 Rangers 2, Devils 1 (2 OT)
But the New Jersey Devils, who had finished second to the Rangers in the regular season, were looking for their first Cup and were just as convinced that this was their year. The teams split the first four games before the Devils smoked the Rangers 4-1 in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, giving them a chance to win the series at home.

It looked like they were going to do just that when they jumped to a 2-0 lead in Game 6, with only Mike Richter's heroics in goal keeping the Rangers in the game – that is, until Mark Messier backed up his words with deeds. Messier had guaranteed that the Rangers would win Game 6, and he made it happen by scoring a hat trick to rally his team to a 4-2 win.

However, the Devils had no intention of going quietly in Game 7. They trailed 1-0 but forced overtime when Valeri Zelepukin scored with 7.7 seconds remaining in regulation, stunning the sellout crowd at the Garden that had been prepared to celebrate their team's first trip to the Final in 15 years.

The game went through a scoreless first overtime and into a second before Stephane Matteau, whose goal in the second OT won Game 3, picked up the puck behind the net, swooped around and slid a wraparound that slithered through the legs of Martin Brodeur – triggering an eruption at the Garden.

"Matteau came in with a lot of speed," Brodeur said afterwards. "I never saw anything. I went down to cover the lower part of my net. Next thing I know, everyone was cheering. I said, 'Uh oh, that's it.' "

Two weeks later, the Rangers completed another seven-game series win, this time against Vancouver, to end their Cup drought.

2009 Stanley Cup Final: Penguins 4, Red Wings 3
To say the Penguins and Red Wings knew each other well when they met for the Stanley Cup in June 2009 would have been an understatement: The teams had met for the Cup the year before, with the more experienced Wings taking home their fourth championship in 11 years by winning in six games.

2009 Stanley Cup Final:
Penguins 4, Red Wings 3
Game 1 Red Wings 3, Penguins 1
Game 2 Red Wings 3, Penguins 1
Game 3 Penguins 4, Red Wings 2
Game 4 Penguins 4, Red Wings 2
Game 5 Red Wings 5, Penguins 0
Game 6 Penguins 2, Red Wings 1
Game 7 Penguins 2, Red Wings 1
But the Penguins had an extra year under their belts when they met the Wings in the first rematch since the Islanders and Oilers in 1983-84. As was the case the year before, the Wings won the first two games in Detroit – but this time, the Penguins held serve by taking Games 3 and 4 at home. The Wings rolled to a 5-0 victory in Game 5, but again the Penguins showed the kind of pluck that makes champions by holding off the Wings 2-1 at home in Game 6.

That sent everyone back to Detroit for a seventh game, with the Wings expected to do what home teams almost always do in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final – win. The last road team to capture the Cup by winning Game 7 on the road was the 1971 Montreal Canadiens, who won in Chicago.

But the Penguins held the Wings off the scoreboard in a scoreless first period, then took the lead 1:13 into the second on a goal by Maxime Talbot. The pesky center scored again midway through the period for a 2-0 lead.

Then it was time for the Penguins to hang on. Detroit pressed throughout the third period and got one goal back when Jonathan Ericsson scored with 6:07 left in regulation. The Penguins lost Sidney Crosby in the third period with a knee injury, but kept the Wings off the board thanks to the heroics of Marc-Andre Fleury, who capped a virtuoso performance by robbing Nicklas Lidstrom with his blocker an instant before the final horn.

"Everything it took to win, we did it," Crosby said. "Blocking shots. Great goaltending. Different guys stepping up. I mean, we did exactly everything it takes to win."
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