There is nothing better than playoff hockey.
Fans are getting that experience right now, with the 2021 NHL playoffs in full form. Overtimes, comebacks, upsets, it has everything.
There have been some great series since the turn of the century, but which ones stand out the most? Here are the top 10 NHL playoff series since 2000, in chronological order.
New Jersey Devils vs. Colorado Avalanche: 2001 Stanley Cup Final
There may never be as great of a pair of goaltenders battling for the Stanley Cup than there was in the 2001 Stanley Cup Final. Patrick Roy’s Colorado Avalanche went against Martin Brodeaur’s New Jersey Devils in the last time the Stanley Cup Final consisted of two teams that finished as the No. 1 seeds in their conference.
After exchanging wins in the first four games, the Devils took Game 5 to go up 3-2. But Roy and the Avalanche did not back down, as Roy posted a 24-save shutout in a Game 6 win and then made 25 saves in the Game 7 win to bring the Avalanche their second Stanley Cup Final win and spoiling the Devils’ chance at back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. It also marked the first and only Stanley Cup win for the great Ray Bourque, who retired after the championship victory.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings: 2002 Western Conference Final
For six games, this was one of the most tightly contested series of all time. It had everything you want as a hockey fan, as the Colorado Avalanche were trying to get back to the final for the second straight year, while the Detroit Red Wings were trying to spoil the Avalanche’s run. Three overtimes, no game decided by more than two goals and sensational goaltending from Roy and Detroit’s Dominik Hasek (another fantastic goalie matchup).
Then Game 7 happened, and it’s arguably the reason why this series is so infamous. After you could not have asked for a more entertaining playoff series, the Avalanche completely fell apart in Game 7. Tomas Holstrom scored less than two minutes in for the Wings, followed by Sergei Federov making it 2-0 less than two minutes later. Before you knew it, the Red Wings had a 4-0 lead after just one period. Detroit hadn’t scored four goals in a game since Game 1. They went on to win the game 7-0, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, where they defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games. It is the largest margin of victory in a Game 7 in NHL history.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Calgary Flames: 2004 Stanley Cup Final
Which side are you on when it comes to the Martin Gelinas no goal in Game 6? Did the puck cross the goal line or no? It remains one of the NHL’s biggest mysteries to this day, and it might have cost the Calgary Flames the 2004 Stanley Cup.
With the Flames up 3-2 in the series and the game tied 2-2 in the third, Calgary’s Oleg Saprykin drove towards the net and threw the puck at Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. The puck bounced out in front, deflected off the skate of Martin Gelinas and appeared to be very close to crossing the goal line. It was called no goal on the ice and wasn’t reviewed, so the game remained tied. The Lightning won Game 6 thanks to a double overtime winner by Martin St. Louis, and Ruslan Fedotenko’s two goals in Game 7 were enough for the Lightning to win their first Stanley Cup. If that game happens in today’s day and age, with all of the video reviews available, maybe the Flames would have two Stanley Cup wins.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: 2009 Stanley Cup Final
A rematch of the Stanley Cup championship just the year prior, it was a see-saw battle that went the full seven games. The 2008 series honestly could have made this list, but it only went six games and everyone knows seven is better than six.
The Pittsburgh Penguins battled back from being down 2-0 and 3-2 in the series and forced a Game 7 with a 2-1 win in Game 6. The Detroit Red Wings almost tied the game 2-2 with less than 30 second left as Johan Franzen found himself with a loose puck near the crease and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury out of position. But Pittsburgh’s Rob Scuderi blocked not one, not two, but three Franzen shots with his skates to preserve the 2-1 win. Flash forward to Game 7, and once again Pittsburgh had a 2-1 lead. Detroit had an offensive zone faceoff with 6.5 seconds left. After winning the faceoff, the Red Wings threw the puck on net, Fleury kicked the rebound right to an open Nicklas Lidstrom, who desperately shot it with two seconds left. However, Fleury launched himself, blocking the shot and securing the Stanley Cup victory.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Washington Capitals: 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Ah yes, the infamous Jaroslav Halak series. Going against the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, the Montreal Canadiens came into their opening round series as extreme underdogs. And things looked bleak, as after Halak made 45 saves in the 3-2 OT win in Game 1, the high-flying Capitals offense proceeded to reel off wins in the next three games, scoring 17 goals in the three victories. Halak was chased in Game 3 and didn’t start Game 4, but he was given the nod in Game 5 with the Habs’ backs against the wall. And boy, was it the right call.
The Canadiens’ backstop became nearly unbreakable in the next three games, allowing just one goal in each contest as the Canadiens completed the comeback and stunned the Capitals. Halak had 37 saves in Game 5, 53 saves in Game 6 and 41 in Game 7. The Canadiens became the first No. 8 seed to ever knock off the No. 1 seed after being down 3-1, a feat that has yet to be repeated.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins: 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Look away, Boston Bruins fans. It was one of the worst collapses (or comebacks, depending which side you’re on) in NHL postseason history and still is today. The Bruins were up 3-0 in the second round of the playoffs and were one goal away from a clean sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers before Simon Gagne kept the Flyers alive with the OT winner in Game 4. Wins in the next two games for Philadelphia forced the pivotal Game 7.
In eerily similar fashion to the series, Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period of Game 7 and seemed like the epic fight to force a Game 7 would be all for nothing. But then the Flyers made it 3-1 before the end of the first frame and tied it after two periods. Gagne, the same hero in Game 4, came up huge again with a goal in the third to give the Flyers the lead and the eventual series win. It was just the third time at that point that a team had successfully completed a 3-0 comeback in NHL history.
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Epic collapse Part 2! This time, the Bruins were on the right side of history. After being up in the series 3-1, the Bruins lost back-to-back games as the Toronto Maple Leafs forced Game 7 in Boston. And everything looked like the Maple Leafs would be able to complete the comeback, as they built a 4-1 lead with under 11 minutes left in the game.
But like the Flyers did to the Bruins three years prior, the B’s refused to go down. After cutting the lead to 4-2, the Bruins scored two goals with the goalie pulled in a span of 31 seconds to tie the game and force overtime. Patrice Bergeron then sunk the dagger in the Maple Leafs with an overtime goal to end Toronto’s season in stunning fashion.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks: 2013 Western Conference Semifinals
The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks all of a sudden were facing elimination as the No. 7 seed Detroit Red Wings built a 3-1 lead over the Blackhawks in the conference semifinals. Chicago had managed just two goals in Games 2, 3 and 4, struggling to solve Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard and losing three games in a row for the first time all season.
After a 4-1 Game 5 win, the Blackhawks were down 2-1 heading into the third period of Game 6. A three-goal explosion in the final frame brought the Blackhawks an eventual 4-3 win and forced a Game 7 back in Chicago. Brent Seabrook snapped a wrist shot by Howard’s glove less than four minutes into overtime in Game 7, as the Blackhawks escaped the series with a win and eventually took home their second Stanley Cup championship in four years.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks: 2014 Western Conference Final
It was the Los Angeles Kings’ third straight Western Conference Final appearance and second straight series in the same setting against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Kings built a 3-1 series lead thanks to the combination of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson and almost sealed the deal in Game 5. But Michal Handzus was able to deliver the OT winner for Chicago and the Blackhawks stayed alive. Another 4-3 win in Game 6 meant Game 7, and the game would, of course, be decided in overtime.
About seven minutes in, Kings defenseman Alec Martinez threw a shot from the point that was tipped by Blackhawks Nick Leddy and went over the shoulder of Corey Crawford for the Kings win. L.A. then won its second Stanley Cup in three years, defeating the New York Rangers in five games. And guess who got the Stanley Cup-clinching double overtime goal in Game 5? Alec Martinez. What a playoff performance for him.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. San Jose Sharks: 2019 Western Conference Quarterfinals
This series is on here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s the controversial call on Vegas Golden Knight Cody Eakin that sent the San Jose Sharks on a five-minute power play down 3-0 late in the third period of Game 7. It was a weird faceoff play where Eakin appeared to shove San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, who then ran into Paul Statsny and fell to the ice, smacking his head and starting to bleed everywhere. It was a controversial call that the league later said was a mistake, but it was too little, too late.
The Sharks rallied and scored four goals on the power play to not just come back from the 3-0 deficit, but take the lead. Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault would tie the game and force OT, sucking the life out of the Shark Tank, but the rink erupted again in the extra period as Barclay Goodrow sent the Sharks into the semifinals. While it was a questionable call that helped end the Golden Knight’s season, they had blown a 3-1 series lead, and gave up four power play goals in the span of just over four minutes. Vegas certainly didn’t do any favors for itself, but the call on Eakin will forever cloud over the series.