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Top Moments in NHL Stanley Cup Playoff History

The NHL’s Stanley Cup playoff is the highest ice hockey competition level, where teams compete fiercely to clinch the highly sought-after trophy. These playoffs have produced many unforgettable memories throughout its history, leaving fans in awe.

This post will delve into some of these moments and examine their profound impact on the NHL’s playoff history.

The Comeback

The Toronto Maple Leafs etched their names in history as the first and only team to mount a comeback from a three-game deficit in the Stanley Cup Final. The series against the Detroit Red Wings in 1942 was legendary. After a raucous and controversial fourth game, it featured a toss of a woman’s shoe onto the ice and a brawl between Detroit’s coach, Jack Adams, and referee Mel Harwood. Harwood and NHL President Frank Calder had to be escorted out of the arena under police escort, and Calder subsequently suspended Adams indefinitely.

The Leafs, led by head coach Hap Day, had to overcome tremendous odds to secure their Game 7 comeback victory, leading Day to quip, “We won it the hard way.”

Mission 16W Completed

Raymond Bourque, a legendary defenseman, had enjoyed a storied career with the Boston Bruins, accumulating numerous accolades, including five Norris Trophies. However, the elusive Stanley Cup had always eluded him. In a career-defining move, Bourque joined the Colorado Avalanche in 2000, hoping to fulfill his dream of hoisting the Cup.

He aptly dubbed this quest “Mission 16W.” Bourque’s dream became a reality in 2001 when he lifted the Stanley Cup, promptly retiring on top of the hockey world. The enduring image of Bourque hoisting the Cup is an iconic moment that rivals even Bobby Orr’s famous Superman goal.

The Curse of Bill Barilko

Bill Barilko, a native of the northern region of Ontario, achieved his aspiration of joining the Toronto Maple Leafs. During his relatively short span of five seasons, Barilko secured four Stanley Cups, with his ultimate triumph occurring in 1951 when the Leafs squared off against their long-standing rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.

This championship showdown became the singular instance in Stanley Cup Finals history, where each game extended into overtime, culminating in Barilko netting the decisive goal of the series. Tragically, Barilko’s plane crashed that summer after a fishing trip in Northern Ontario. It wasn’t until 1962, when pilot Ron Boyd discovered Barilko’s body, that the curse of Bill Barilko ended, but his legacy lives on in the hearts of hockey fans.

Foggy Bottom

The 1975 Stanley Cup Final between the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers was marked by uniqueness. It was the first time two non-original six teams faced off in the Finals. Game 3, played in a thick fog due to unusual Buffalo heat and a lack of air conditioning in the arena, became the stuff of legends.

Rink officials attempted to dissipate the fog by skating around the ice with bed sheets during stoppages in play. But the oddest incident occurred when a bat flew around the players. Buffalo centre Jim Lorentz swatted it with his stick, becoming the first and only player in NHL history to kill an animal during a game. Some Buffalo fans still believe the “Evil Omen” incident was responsible for their eventual series defeat.

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The Legend of Bobby Baun

In the archives of hockey history, there are few narratives as extraordinary as that of Bobby Baun. Baun’s story epitomizes perseverance, tenacity, and the unwavering resolve of a genuine warrior. With the possible exception of Paul Henderson, this is the only player recognized for a single, game-altering performance.

This memorable moment happened during Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final, as the Toronto Maple Leafs engaged in a fierce showdown with the Detroit Red Wings. In the third period, tragedy struck when Baun absorbed a bone-jarring slapshot from the legendary Gordie Howe, resulting in a fractured leg.

After receiving a dose of painkillers and a hasty tape job, Baun defied the odds and returned to the game. Then, in overtime, with a fractured leg, he scored the game-winning goal, forcing a Game 7. Baun’s courage and heroics inspired his teammates, and he played through the pain in the decisive game, helping the Leafs secure victory and the Stanley Cup.

In another memorable episode of his hockey career, Baun served as the coach of the Toronto Toros and imposed a $500 fine on each team member when they squandered an 8-2 lead to lose a game 10-9. Remarkably, he later refunded the money but was dismissed from his coaching position.

Messier Channels Namath

Mark Messier, a renowned figure in the hockey world, left an indelible mark in the sport’s history with a bold proclamation during the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. His team, the New York Rangers, found themselves trailing 3-2 in the series, and their quest for a Stanley Cup had spanned an arduous 54 years.

In a move reminiscent of Joe Namath’s iconic assurance before the Super Bowl, Messier fearlessly ensured a triumph in Game 6. He substantiated his declaration with a stellar performance, achieving a hat trick and guiding the Rangers to a pivotal victory.

Messier’s exceptional leadership propelled the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup victory in over five decades, cementing his legacy as one of the most esteemed captains and players in the illustrious history of the NHL.

Three for the Price of One

On March 25th, 1936, at the Montreal Forum, a historic game transpired, etching its name as one of the most remarkable instances in the league’s history. This contest showcased the Detroit Red Wings in a clash against the Montreal Maroons and extended for nearly three full games (180 minutes of hockey action).

In a game where fans were asleep in their seats due to its extreme length, Detroit’s goaltender Normie Smith made an astounding 90 saves, a record that still stands. The eventual hero was rookie Modere “Mud” Bruneteau, who scored the game’s only goal in the ninth period of play.

Nearly three tons of snow were shovelled and removed during the game between periods. A newspaper advertisement aptly described the match, where players were so exhausted that they skated from memory and shot by ear, and referees could only blow feeble toots on their tin whistles.

Other Top Moments Worth Mentioning

While the history of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs is rich with iconic moments, several lesser-known gems deserve the spotlight. Take a look below:

  • Orr’s Iconic Image. Bobby Orr’s iconic overtime goal in 1970 remains one of the most famous moments in hockey history.
  • Six Boston Skaters, Four Straight Montreal Cups. In the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinal (In Game 7), the Bruins held a precarious 4-3 lead in the game’s dying moments. However, they were caught with too many men on the ice. Montreal seized the opportunity and eventually triumphed in overtime, and they went on to win the final series in five games, clinching their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
  • Le Mieux: Game 5 of the 1989 division finals. Lemieux had already recorded a hat trick in just seven minutes of play. By the second intermission, he had tallied an astonishing four goals and three assists. His empty-net goal sealed a stunning 10-7 victory for the Penguins, though they would ultimately lose the series in seven games.


These moments in NHL Stanley Cup Playoff history exemplify the extraordinary feats, courage, and drama that have made the playoffs an enduring source of inspiration and excitement for hockey fans worldwide. As we celebrate these top moments, we honour not just the players but the passion, resilience, and unyielding love for the game that defines the heart of every hockey fan. These moments are etched in the sport’s collective memory, serving as a timeless source of inspiration for generations of players and fans alike. In the NHL, the quest for greatness continues, and who knows what extraordinary moments the future holds on the ice.

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