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Here Are 10 Show Stopping Playoff Performances

This is the time of year where legends are made- and here are some of the most legendary playoff performers in NHL history.

This is the time of year where legends are made. Great players take their game to another level, masked bandits steal games, and character guys step into leading roles.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs is the furnace in which legends are forged… or whatever. My point is, every playoffs someone seems to steal the show with a career defining performance. So, here it is, the official, indisputable Top 10 list of players who stole the show in the playoffs.

10. geno's in good company

Evgeni Malkin established himself early as one of the best players to ever wear a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey sweater. And in 2009 he added his name to an elite list of playoff performers when he exploded for 36 points and a Conn Smythe Trophy in Pittsburgh’s first Stanley Cup victory since 1992. Only Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, and Mario Lemieux have scored more points in a single playoff.

9. eight and oh, so good

There’s rising to the occasion and then there’s whatever Terry Sawchuk did back in 1952. Back then, there were only two rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but don’t let that take away from Terry’s ‘52 performance. He won eight straight games to capture the Cup, allowing only five goals, and posting four shutouts. Those numbers would turn heads even if it happened during the regular season.


8. winner, winner, jordan binner

He was sixth on the St. Louis Blues’ goaltending depth chart to start the 2018-19 season. By the end of the season he was number one.

Jordan Binnington’s rise from minor league obscurity to game-changing superstar was just one of the many incredible storylines from the Blues’ unbelievable 2019 cup run. In his first NHL start, Binner posted a shutout for the then-last-place St. Louis squad. That helped turn the basement dwelling Blues into a juggernaut and mount the greatest comeback in NHL history, going from worst to first.

Binnington won a Blues rookie record 23 games, in 2019, and kept it going throughout the playoffs.

7. thomas the tank

The Boston Bruins had a good season in 2010-2011, but nobody expected them to win the Stanley Cup. But, great players kick it up a notch when everybody least suspects it.

Enter: Tim Thomas.

Tim Tom stood on his head throughout the entire 2011 playoffs, posting two game seven shutouts, and a .940 playoff save percentage — the highest of any goaltender to win 16 games in a single postseason. He also set a record for highest save percentage in the Stanley Cup Finals with a mind boggling .967. That all paved the way for him to become the oldest player to ever win the Conn Smythe trophy, earning the MVP hardware at the ripe old age of 37.

6. drywall

Crazy fact: Ken Dryden only lost 89 games in his entire career — playoffs included.

And it all started in 1971, when the rookie Dryden took over the starting goalie position for the Habs just six games before the end of the regular season. He’d go on to face Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito in the first round, upsetting the heavily favored Bs, and backstopping the Canadiens to their 17th league title. All before he won rookie of the year honors the following season.

5. lightning strikes

The most important goal in any hockey game is the game-winning goal. And back in the 2004 Playoffs, Tampa’s Brad Richards potted seven — yes, SEVEN — game winning goals. That’s an NHL record, and a performance good enough to have earned Richards the Conn Smythe Trophy.


4. reggie leach

I mentioned the Riverton Rifle a while back in a blog about the best hockey songs. Well, there’s a reason songs were written about Reggie Leach. He was a postseason beast.

Leach shares the record for most goals in a single postseason with 19 tallies in the 1976 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That performance earned Reggie the Conn Smythe Trophy, making him only the fifth player in history to win Playoff MVP honors while playing for the losing team. What a performer!


3. the great one's greatest hit

You knew you’d see this name on the list eventually. Wayne Gretzky basically stole the show for the entirety of the 1980s, but his 1985 campaign is the most outstanding offensive display in NHL playoffs history. In just 18 games, The Great One amassed 17 goals and 30 assists for 47 points, securing his first Conn Smythe Trophy, and his second Stanley Cup.

Nestled within this incredible feat was a smaller accomplishment — a seven point outing against divisional rivals the Winnipeg Jets. Yeesh!

2. mr. game 7

While you would expect that the league’s premier regular season performers would make an appearance on this list of playoff show-stealers, our number one slot belongs to a guy who somehow, some way transformed into a premier performer when it counted most, not unlike a superhero.

Justin Williams only eclipsed the 60 point mark in the regular season twice in his 19 year career, but he will go down as one of the greatest playoff performers to ever lace ‘em up. He’s tied for the most game seven goals (7) in NHL history, and he holds the all-time game seven points record with 15, all of which has earned him the nickname “Mr. Game 7”.

With 35 points in 26 postseason games, Williams took home the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014 after leading the Los Angeles Kings to their second Stanley Cup championship in three years. He had 48 points during the 2013-14 regular season.

Now that’s Big Game Energy.

1. jigging into the record books

One of the most exciting things in playoff hockey is watching a hot goalie put his team on his back and carry them through a round or two. Or in JS Giguere’s case four.

Jiggy put on an absolute clinic in the 2003 postseason, letting in only six goals in the first round, and upsetting the heavily favoured Red Wings in four straight. He also posted three shutouts en route to a Conference Final sweep of the Minnesota Wild, allowing one measly goal in the entire series (a playoff record).

While the Ducks eventually lost in the Final to the New Jersey Devils, JS left the ice that season with the Conn Smythe Trophy in-hand, and one of the greatest playoff performances of all-time under his belt.

Epilogue: Four years later, JS Giguere and the Ducks would return to the Stanley Cup Finals, this time winning the whole dang thing against the upstart Ottawa Senators.

the 2024 stanley cup playoffs: Who will
steal the show this year?

As I said, this list is indisputable. Some of you might be upset that Roy’s rookie playoff campaign wasn’t included, or that Joe Sakic’s 18 goal post season was snubbed, but I stand by my rankings.

That said, we’re still early in this year’s playoffs, and Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon are having pretty good campaigns so far. So are Guentzel and Zibanejad. It’ll be interesting to see if any of those guys can keep it up and crack the future Top 10 playoff performances list.

It’s also playoff time for the new Professional Women’s Hockey League. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll have our first women’s playoff entry. My money’s on Montreal’s Marie-Philip Poulin making some noise this year. Will it be enough?

If you want more authoritative and definitive lists like this one, sign up for my 4 Shots with Keener newsletter. Each and every week I rattle cages with my hilarious and insightful commentary on hockey jerseys and hockey culture. Don’t be left out. 

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danny briere, one of the greatest playoff performers in nhl history

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