Playoff time can bring the best out in players.
That certainly is the case for some of the greatest players in hockey, who further cemented their star status by performing at a high level when the lights shined the brightest. From greats like Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Rocket Richard, there are a number of elite performances from NHL stars once the postseason came around.
Here are the top individual NHL playoff performances of all time.
Maurice Richard -- Montréal Canadiens, 1951
Maurice “Rocket” Richard was one of the greatest goal scorers during his time and remains one of the best in NHL history. His ability to find the back of the net was on full display in 1951, as he led the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup win. In 11 games, Richard had nine goals and four assists, with three of his goals coming as OT winners. He is one of just three players to score three OT goals in a single postseason, with Mel Hill in 1936 and Corey Perry in 2017 as the other two.
Bobby Orr -- Boston Bruins, 1970
Yes, this was the year of the goal. The famous game-winning score by Bobby Orr against the St. Louis Blues capped off an incredible season for the Bruins defenseman. We’ll get to the playoffs in a second, but how about this season in total for Orr -- he won the Hart Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and the Norris Trophy, in addition to a Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup. He scored nine goals and 11 assists in the playoffs in just 14 games. It’s arguably the greatest season ever by an NHL defenseman -- and the ending is forever enshrined by the iconic airborne photo of Orr.
Reggie Leach -- Philadelphia Flyers, 1976
Reggie Leach did everything he could to try and make it a three-peat for the Flyers in the mid '70s, scoring a record 19 goals in 16 games. One-third of the infamous L-C-B line with Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber, he scored in 10 consecutive games, which remains an NHL postseason record, but the Flyers fell to the Canadiens in the Cup Finals. His 19 goals remain as the most goals scored in a single postseason by a player, tied for first with Jari Kurri, who notched 19 goals in 1985. The only non-goalie to win the Conn Smythe, but lose the Stanley Cup, Leach’s effort isn’t forgotten by Flyers fans.
Mike Bossy -- New York Islanders, 1981
A critical part of the Islanders’ run of four straight Stanley Cup wins in the early '80s, Bossy had a record year in 1981. After becoming just the second player in NHL history to reach 50 goals in 50 games, Bossy potted 17 goals and added 18 assists for 35 points in 18 games en route to the Islanders' Stanley Cup win over the Minnesota North Stars. He set records of most points (35) and power-play goals (nine), the former of which would get broken two years later by the next player on this list. But Bossy still sits tied for the eight-highest point total in a single postseason, and only three players have scored more than Bossy’s 37.
Wayne Gretzky -- Edmonton Oilers, 1985
It’s no surprise that the Great One has the greatest playoff performance of all time. His 47 points in 1985 is an NHL record, which he accomplished in just 18 games. His 2.61 points per game in that run is absolutely absurd. He won the Conn Smythe that season, his first of somehow just two in his career. It wasn’t his only phenomenal performance in the playoffs -- when it comes to single postseason point records, Gretzky has four of the top five of all time -- but it surely was his most impressive.
Paul Coffey -- Edmonton Oilers, 1985
It can’t go unnoticed what Paul Coffey -- who set the record for most points by a defenseman in the postseason with 37 -- also did in the Oilers’ 1985 run. It helps when you have a supporting cast of Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and Glen Anderson, but Coffey’s 2.06 points per game is a mark that no defenseman may ever come close to again. In fairness, Kurri should also be on this list for tying Reggie Leach’s record with 19 goals but you can only include so many of those Oiler greats.
Brian Leetch -- New York Rangers, 1994
I know, I know. How can you have Leetch in '94 and not Messier? The iconic guarantee from the captain himself! For as sensational as a moment the Game 6 performance was from Messier, that was one game, and what Brian Leetch did the entire playoffs was much more impressive.
Leetch’s play in the Stanley Cup run for New York gets overshadowed by the prominence of Messier’s promise. He finished the postseason with 11 goals and 23 assists, a total of 34 points. Only Coffey’s 37 points is a better postseason total among defensemen. Leetch had four game-winning goals on his way to a Conn Smythe win.
Mario Lemieux -- Pittsburgh Penguins, 1991
It wasn’t the regular season Mario Lemieux wanted, missing 54 games with a back injury. So it makes what he did in the playoffs even more impressive. In 23 games, Lemieux had 16 goals and 28 assists, putting him second behind Gretzky’s '85 postseason as the most points in a single postseason. Within those 16 goals, two came shorthanded and six came on the power play. It was the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups and Conn Smythe wins for Lemieux.
Joe Sakic -- Colorado Avalanche, 1996
There’s a reason why he’s referred to as “Mr. Clutch” in the hockey world. Leading the Avalanche to Stanley Cup wins in 1996 and 2001, Joe Sakic had a historic run in the '96 postseason. The captain of the Avs put home 18 goals and tallied 16 assists, a total of 34 points. His 18 goals ranked only second all time in a single postseason to Reggie Leach and Jari Kurri. At the time, his six game-winning goals that postseason set an NHL record and made him an easy pick for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Three years later, Joe Nieuwendyk of the Dallas Stars would tie Sakic’s mark of six game-winning goals, and in 2004, the next man on this list would break it.
Evgeni Malkin -- Pittsburgh Penguins, 2009
When it comes to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ success in this century, the first name that comes to mind is Sidney Crosby, and rightfully so. But Malkin is a pretty decent No. 2 center to have, and he’s been instrumental in the Penguins’ three Stanley Cups in the last 15 years, especially in 2009. During that postseason, Malkin accumulated 14 goals and 22 assists on his way to a Conn Smythe honor, a total of 36 points that puts him seventh all time in points in a single postseason. He was the first player to lead both the regular season and postseason in points since Lemieux accomplished it in 1992.