Last season, the NHL didn’t fail to disappoint. It produced several games that won’t make this list- and will be very New York Rangers heavy- but Gary Bettman and NBC were incredibly happy with the NHL’s quality of games last year and generated excitement that carried into the post-season. Hopefully, Bettman isn’t stupid enough to lockout the NHLPA because then we won’t see great games like these.
Sidney Crosby returns with a 4 point night - Almost a full calendar year out of the NHL, Sidney Crosby returned against the New York Islanders. To comply with the publicity, the Islanders started a rookie goaltender as Crosby lit them up. Crosby opened the scoring the 5:28 mark of the first period en route to a 2 goal, 2 assist, 4 point game. Welcome back Sidney… until he went back on the IR after two weeks. Crosby would return later in the season with a clean bill of health only to fall just short of the best record in the East.
Vancouver returns to Boston - On January 7th, the Vancouver Canucks returned to the scene of their demise as the Defending Stanley Cup Champs took on the team they humiliated last June. Showing the moxie that they should have brought to Boston last year, the Canucks bullied the Bruins and won a tight 4-3 game. Sparked from a mean hit by Brad Marchand, the Canucks sprung out to a 4-1 lead, only to see the Bruins cut it to 4-3 by the second minute of the third. Boston native Cory Schneider got the win instead of the starter Roberto Luongo, which is just another note for their goalie controversy.
Red Wings home winning streak snapped - By February, Joe Louis Arena hosted games that meant one thing: two points for the Red Wings. Granted, the shootout era gave teams a greater chance of getting two points. However, after 23 straight wins at home, the Red Wings greeted the division leading Vancouver Canucks. In a see-saw game, the Red Wings’ Justin Abdelkader scored to give the Wings a 3-2 lead and the Wings were poised make it 24 straight. In the final minute of regulation, defending Art Ross Trophy winner Daniel Sedin scored to tie the game at 3. In the shootout, goalies Roberto Luongo and Jimmy Howard traded saves before Vancouver’s Alex Burrows end the streak with a snap shot. In the coming weeks, Vancouver would spring to the top of the Conference and Detroit would fall to the middle of the pack in the West.
LA/Vancouver game 1 - The game that may have changed the fortunes of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Fresh off winning the Presidents Trophy for the second season, the Canucks Alex Burrows scored the opening goal of the series on a turnaround shot, but the Kings answered quickly on Mike Richards wrist shot. The Kings, who were the #3 seed days days before falling to San Jose and dropping to the eighth seed, proved to be quite a test. After trading goals in the second period, LA’s Mike Richards fed a pass down low that hit Jeff Carter’s skate and bounced directly to the newly acquired Dustin Penner to give the Kings the lead they would not let go.
2012 Winter Classic - Hyped by the exceptional 24/7 series, the Rangers and the Flyers didn’t disappoint anyone with the game. In the NHL’s Regular Season showcase, the Winter Classic saw the Flyers jump out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Braden Schenn and Claude Giroux, but Rangers Mike Rupp kept the Rangers afloat until big ticket free agent Brad Richards deposited a rebound past Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for the lead. However, there’s a final minute that had more action than most playoff series. An offensive flurry, a duel penalty call, a 5-on-4 that generated a Penalty Shot (that Henrik Lundqvist stopped) and a final flurry that ended the skirmish with… a skirmish. The NHL couldn’t have asked for more, but then Rangers winning head coach John Tortorella wondered aloud in the press conference conspiracy theories that garnered MORE attention during the week.
Boston/Washington game 7 - After hearing about how they couldn’t win in the playoffs, the Capitals came out and scored first in the opening period against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Keeping momentum from Game 6, the Bruins pressed all the way and tied the game on Tyler Segin’s rebound goal. Unfortunately, the game’s ending brought more controversy than celebration. Capital Joel Ward shoved the puck past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas to win the series in Overtime for Washington, but the Bruins fans took to Twitter to insult Ward for the color of his skin. As great as his game-winning-goal was, the criticism was unwarranted. Remember this, because it comes up again.
Flyers/Penguins Game 1 - As the “favorite” team by many to hoist the Stanley Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins stormed out of the gate to take a 3-0 by the end of the first period. Someone forgot to tell the Flyers that they were supposed to not be a threat. The Flyers tied the game on goals by Daniel Briere (2) and Braden Schenn. In Overtime, the Flyers Jakub Voracek snuck a puck past Pens goalie Marc Andre Fluery, giving the Flyers a 1-0 series lead that they would not relinquish as they ousted Sidney Crosby in 6 games.
Washington/NY Rangers game 5 - The Rangers/Caps series had already seen 3 one-goal games and a triple-overtime, but nothing prepared fans for Game 5. After the Rangers took a 1-0, the Capitals took a 2-1 on a late third period Power Play goal by Jon Carlson. That’s where the game got really interesting. In the final minute of the game, Caps First-Round-hero Joel Ward was called for a FOUR minute High Stick. As a result, the Rangers went to a Power Play that tied the game off a rebound, where Brad Richards batted the puck past Braden Holtby and Carlson. In Overtime, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal drilled a slap shot past Holtby for the win en route to a series win. AFTER the game Capitals fans took to Twitter to insult Joel Ward using numerous racist remarks- another blemish on the NHL.
LA/Phoenix game 5 - After Phoenix pushed LA to a Game 5 by staving off elimination, the Kings sought to punch a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 19 years. As the King and Coyotes didn’t give to other much room and made the most when they got their chances, Overtime was inevitable. After 16 minutes in the extra session, there was still no winner, but on a delayed offsides call, LA captain Dustin Brown collided with Phoenix defenseman Mikail Rozsival. As Rozsival was carried off the ice, the refs determined that the play was not a penalty. A minute later, LA’s Dustin Penner fired a rebound between the pads of Coyotes’ goalie Mike Smith and win the series for LA. There were a couple of slow handshakes with Dustin Brown to complain about his hit. Most awkward handshake since Martin Brodeur and Sean Avery.
Devils/LA game 2 - Trailing 1-0 and not being able to score on LA goalie Jonathan Quick, frustrated New Jersey. Finally, they were able to score when Ryan Carter beat Quick with a high wrist shot. Then the teams surged. Martin Brodeur and Quick turned aside several shots for the rest of the third period and start of Overtime. The most impressive save was Quick’s denial of Ilya Kovalchuk’s point-blank one-timer. Three minutes into overtime, King forward Jeff Carter gathered a loose puck along the boards, walked into the slot and fired a wrist shot past Martin Brodeur’s stick side. LA befuddled a home team again and took a 2-0 series lead that culminated with a Stanley Cup.
Game of the YEAR:
Devils/NY Rangers game 6 - 18 years to the day of the “Mark Messier Guarantee”, the Rangers and Devils played another epic Game 6 that was similar in a lot of ways to it’s predecessor. The Devil took a 2-0 on goals by Ryan Carter and Ilya Kovalchuk, but the Rangers would tie it on goals by Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan. This game was finally the goaltending matchup NHL fans were waiting for as Devils goalie Martin Brodeur excelled as did Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The save of the game came midway through the third period when Rangers star Brad Richards fired a rebound that Brodeur stacked his pads and glove to stop. The game entered Overtime and a Rangers’ turnover led to a goal-mouth scramble. Rangers’ top defenseman Dan Girardi drifted to the opposite end of the end, where Devils rookie Adam Henrique swept in the series winning goal. Though the Devils lost to the Kings, this series lived up to the potential of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.