What things do you look for in choosing the best NHL playoff series of the past decade?
The nail-biting action of sudden-death overtime? Grudges that inspire handshake line death threats?
(Please don’t say “lots of neutral-zone trap.” Even Jacques Lemaire would probably rather go fishing or something than watch that.)
During the weekend, the NHL and NHLPA made some traction toward a possible return to play, according to Pierre LeBrun. Even so, it’s pretty clear that if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happen, it will require some juggling.
Would it all really be worth it? That’s an extremely fair question to ask. Even so, all of this free time and the possible resumption of play give us a chance to think about how great, baffling, and nerve-wracking playoff hockey can be.
Let’s look at the six best NHL playoff series of the decade. In no way am I combining certain ones and generally cheating, kind of making it more than six series. I would never do that.
6. Sharks, Golden Knights engage in one wild Game 7
Personally, I don’t think it’s out of place to put last year’s Golden Knights – Sharks series on this list. And, yes, it can make it on this list based on the strength of that bewildering Game 7 alone.
In a vacuum, that Game 7 already inspires wonder.
Cody Eakin got whistled for that controversial major penalty when he bloodied Joe Pavelski. In mere minutes, the Golden Knights’ 3-0 Game 7 lead vanished as the Sharks scored a ridiculous four power-play goals. Almost as remarkably, Jonathan Marchessault showed that Vegas wouldn’t just quit, sending it to overtime. Then barely-used Barclay Goodrow scored a tremendous series-winner:
Sprinkle in added context and that Game 7 gets spicier.
Both Eakin and Pavelski are now on other teams. The Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant this season, replacing him with DeBoer, who Gallant called a “clown” during that series. Heck, even Goodrow is out of San Jose now.
5. Flyers complete “reverse” sweep against Bruins, Round 2 in 2009-10
It’s hard to believe it, but Pro Hockey Talk came into existence during the 2009-10 season, forming around the 2009-10 trade deadline. Let me tell you: the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs served as a playoff run that’s tough to top.
Beyond Patrick Kane‘s funky overtime goal becoming the first Stanley Cup-clincher for PHT, Jaroslav Halak and the Habs served up two stunning upsets to the Capitals and Penguins in respective seven-game series.
(The baffled face of Bruce Boudreau became quite the gift for meme enthusiasts.)
But the sheer chaos of the second-round series between the Bruins and Flyers takes the cake.
The Flyers became what was then the third (and now the fourth) NHL team to rage back from a 3-0 series deficit. Even according to those standards, Philly poured in extra drama.
It was almost a little too on-the-nose. Just like in the series, the Bruins took a jarring 3-0 lead in Game 7. Also like the series, the Flyers refused to roll over, eventually winning Game 7 4-3 in overtime thanks to a Simon Gagne goal.
4. Bruins torment Maple Leafs in Game 7’s, especially in 2012-13
Aside from a respectable first-round series loss to the Capitals in 2016-17, every Maple Leafs season since 2005-06 ended in one of two ways:
- Missing the playoffs.
- Or losing to the Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.
We didn’t know it yet, but the “it was 4-1” nightmare ended up being the most horrific part of a terrifying trilogy. After serving as the slasher movie villain who wouldn’t die in 2012-13, the Bruins kept hunting down the Maple Leafs in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
(Nazem Kadri definitely served as the horror movie character who investigates that strange noise. Or maybe he was the person who did something last summer? I can’t decide.)
That Game 7 on May 13, 2013 remains dizzying. The Maple Leafs were up 4-1 5:29 into the third period, yet that lead unraveled during a series of events that remains hard to believe. Ultimately, Patrice Bergeron ended the series at 5-4 with an overtime-winner.
Again, repeated Game 7 letdowns open up these old wounds, and create new ones for Maple Leafs fans. Ouch.
3. Another seven-game series between the Capitals and Penguins (2016-17)
How about we just cobble together all of the great series the Capitals and/or Penguins were in during the decade? When in doubt, go with Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.
After all, they both faced the Lightning in seven-game series. For sheer brutality and inanity, you could absolutely argue that the Flyers beating the Penguins in six games in 2011-12 should be a top-five series. And, of course, it was epic when the Capitals finally slayed the Penguins dragon in 2017-18.
But in boiling down this list to a manageable size, let’s go with another series that went seven between these two teams.
A truly fantastic Capitals team seemed to “choke,” falling behind 3-1 in the series. It’s easy forget that they defiantly forced a Game 7, though, because the Penguins ended up winning 2-0. Some rare tough moments for Braden Holtby set the stage for that redemptive run to win the Stanley Cup in 2018.
2. A riotous 2011 Stanley Cup Final series between the Canucks and Bruins
For a long time, I thought this series should be number one. It tops the list if you weigh memorable moments most heavily.
No doubt, the riots in Vancouver after Game 7 were ugly. It was also hard to look away.
The messiness started before all of the property damage, though. Tim Thomas didn’t want to “pump Roberto Luongo’s tires.” Brad Marchand was, well, Brad Marchand to the Sedin twins. An Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton backfired for the Canucks.
There was just so much going on. And, going by my tiebreaker standards, the Canucks also finally beat the Blackhawks earlier in that postseason.
But the actual hockey was hit-or-miss, at least compared to the best-of-the-best. Just look at the anticlimactic Game 7 itself, which the Bruins won 4-0.
Still, that was some wild stuff.
1. Kings beat Blackhawks in best NHL playoff series of the decade (2013-14)
As tempted as I was to go with riots and deflated tires, the epic back-and-forth between two of the best teams of the decade ultimately swayed me.
From 2009-10 through 2014-15, the Blackhawks and Kings won five of the six Stanley Cups. That 2014 Western Conference Final ended up being the peak of that rivalry.
From a Game 5 that required double overtime, to a Game 7 that also stretched beyond regulation, the hockey was truly sublime.
No doubt, the Kings pulling off the fourth-ever “reverse sweep” helped sway me, too. Los Angeles didn’t just come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks. They absolutely roared back, winning those last four games by a combined score of 19-5.
Drew Doughty claimed he saw fear in the eyes of his Sharks opponents. Can you blame him for saying that after such a rally?
It turned out that the Kings would not be denied that postseason, and I cannot deny that their battle with the Blackhawks was the best of a strong decade of playoff series for the NHL.
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.