With the 2015 Western finals series between the Ducks and Blackhawks being hailed as a classic after only five games, we decided to rank the 10 best third round showdowns since the NHL went to a two-conference format for 1974-75.
May 26, 2015
1 of 10Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images
10. Islanders vs. Flyers 1975
After the Isles, in their first ever playoffs appearance, made history by dumping the Penguins as only the second NHL team to come back from a three games to none deficit, they almost did it to the Flyers. They were shut out twice in dropping the first three games of the Campbell Conference finals and needed OT in Game 4 to avoid being swept. They won the next two, with Clark Gillies famously taking on Philly's infamous enforcer Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, to extend the series and enrich heart specialists in Philly, but the defending Cup champion Flyers were too much in Game 7. Rick MacLeish scored two first-period goals to power a 4-1 victory.
2 of 10Elsa/Getty Images
9. Bruins vs. Lightning 2011
The Lightning battled back from deficits of two-games-to-one and three-games-to-two, forcing Game 7 with a rally—Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards totaled three goals and eight points—and a gutty defensive effort in a 5-4 win. No penalties were called during the finale in Boston as goalies Tim Thomas of the Bruins and Dwayne Roloson of the Lightning dueled save for save. Nathan Horton gave the B’s the 1-0 win by scoring with 7:33 left in the third period.
3 of 10Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
8. Hurricanes vs. Sabres 2006
Playing under new post-lockout rules, these two speedy dark horse teams went seven games with five decided by one goal. Momentum swung wildly. Games 5 and 6 went to overtime and Game 7 was forced by Danny Briere’s power play goal in a nail-biting 2-1 win by injury-riddled Buffalo. In the finale, the Hurricanes rallied from a 2-1 deficit as rookie goalie Cam Ward made 22 saves, captain Rod Brind’Amour broke a 2-2 tie by beating Ryan Miller at 11:22 of the third period, and the Carolina hung on to win 4-2 with Jason Williams adding an insurance goal in the final minute.
4 of 10Steve Dykes/Rocky Mountain News/AP
7. Red Wings vs. Avalanche 1996
The Red Wings came in as heavy favorites, having won an NHL-record 62 games during the regular season, but it was the second-ranked Avalanche who advanced and went on to win the Cup. The six-game set was defined by a vicious head shot delivered by Claude Lemieux against Detroit's defenseless Kris Draper in the first period of the finale. Colorado won the game 4-1, but the gruesome injuries suffered by Draper provided the Franz Ferdinand moment that ignited an epic rivalry between the two Western Conference foes.
5 of 10Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images
6. Rangers vs. Islanders 1979
This went only six, but the rivalry's intensity earns it a spot among the all-time greats. The Isles, led by Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy, were the top regular season team and expected to easily handle their arch-rivals but they twice needed OT to get to Game 5, which the Rangers won, 4-3. In the decisive Game 6, Ron Greschner and Don Murdoch scored 3:42 apart in the second period and goalie John Davidson continued to shine while leading the Rangers to a clinching 2-1 win that handed the Isles a bitter defeat that inspired the birth of their dynasty the next season.
6 of 10Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images; David E. Klutho for Sports Illustrated
5. Kings vs. Maple Leafs 1993
Peak Wendel Clark vs. the Great One at his best. The seven games were Old Testament violent, the hockey intense and emotional. Toronto's star forward was a wrecking ball, winning an in an epic tilt with enforcer Marty McSorley in Game 1, then scoring a memorable hat trick in Game 6 that could have clinched the series. Instead a missed high sticking call on Gretzky gave the Kings life and kept him in the game long enough to score the OT winner, setting up Game 7 in Toronto. Gretzky again rose to the occasion, netting a hatty of his own in L.A.'s 5-4 win. He later called his performance the best of his NHL career.
7 of 10Tom Pidgeon/AP
4. Red Wings vs. Avalanche 1997
This wasn't so much a series as a resumption of hostilities. Picking up where their bloody regular season war had left off, the Wings and Avs went at each other for six brutal games. Detroit was the better of the two this time around, building up a 3-1 lead highlighted by a 6-0 Game 4 win that saw coaches Marc Crawford and Scotty Bowman almost come to blows between the benches. The Avs stormed back to win Game 5 by an identical 6-0 score but that's where their momentum ended. Sergei Fedorov returned from an injury midway through the game to score the winning goal as Detroit eliminated the champs, 3-1.
8 of 10Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
3. Rangers vs. Devils 1994
Mark Messier's legendary vow, an epic goaltending duel between Mike Richter and Martin Brodeur, one of hockey's most enduring calls: “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!” The Blueshirts and Devils swapped leads early in the series until New Jersey took control with a 4-1 beatdown in Game 5. The loss prompted Messier to famously guarantee a Rangers win in Game 6, one he personally delivered with three goals and four points. The finale was a tight-checking affair that extended to 2-OT before Stephane Matteau swung out from behind New Jersey’s net and punched New York's ticket to the Cup finals, beating Brodeur on the wraparound.
9 of 10John Iacono for Sports Illustrated
2. Canadiens vs. Bruins 1979
Arguably the greatest series in hockey's greatest rivalry. Montreal had vanquished Boston in the Cup finals the prior two years and was it the height of its Flying Frenchmen glory. The Bruins were immersed in their Lunchpail AC ethic. The home team won the first six games, setting up an unforgettable clincher at the Montreal Forum. The B’s carried a 4-3 lead late into the third and were on the verge of victory when linesman John D'Amico made the most famous call in NHL history: Boston, too many men on the ice. Guy Lafleur tied it on the power play and Yvon Lambert scored the OT winner, sending the Habs on their way to a fourth straight Cup.
10 of 10David E. Klutho for Sports Illustrated
1. Blackhawks vs. Kings 2014
The rematch of the 2013 West finals featured four one-goal games. Up 3-1 in the series, the Kings rallied to send Game 5 into double OT. On the brink, the Cup champion Blackhawks were rescued by Michal Handzus at 2:04. In Game 6, the Kings led 3-2, but Patrick Kane, who scored twice, set up the knotter and then netted the winner with 3:45 left in the third period as Chicago prevailed 4-3. Game 7 was a riveting classic in which the Kings came back twice to set up a breathlessly intense OT full of non-stop action that was ended by L.A. defenseman Alec Martinez’s deflected wrist shot from the blue line at the 5:47 mark.
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