Top 5 NHL playoff saves of all time

Top 5 NHL playoff saves of all time

Illustration for article titled Top 5 NHL playoff saves of all time
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We always remember the goals: Bobby Orr flying through the air, Ray Bourque scoring in the Stanley Cup Finals at 40 years old, and Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! Legendary moments. But what about the goals that didn’t happen? What about the goals that were snagged away with a flash of the leather or a fantastic dive? We don’t always remember those. With a full round of the NHL playoffs done, today we’re taking a look at the top-5 NHL playoff saves of all-time.

Note: I definitely couldn’t remember all of them, so share this article with some of your favorite playoff saves of all-time. Give some credit to some of the greatest netminders hockey has ever seen.

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Honorable Mention: Semyon Varlamov robs Sidney Crosby — 2009 Game 1 ECSF

Honorable Mention: Semyon Varlamov robs Sidney Crosby — 2009 Game 1 ECSF

What better way to kick things off than a match between two of the modern-day greats: Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. In the pivotal first game of the series, with the score knotted at two, and less than two minutes to go in the second period, Sid the Kid had an opportunity to take his Pens into the final intermission up one. Varlamov said….nope.

This was only Varlamov’s 13th game starting for the Capitals. He had just broken into the league, yet he made a huge impact, introducing himself to Crosby in emphatic fashion. That save would end up being the difference in the game as Washington would go on to win, 3-2. However, the Penguins would get the last laugh as they’d pull out the series win with a 6-2 Game 7 victory in Washington.

The only reason this save does not crack the top-5 is because it seems a lot more luck-based than the other saves on this list. Varlamov just sort of pokes his stick out there hoping the puck would end up where it eventually did. Crosby has the entire left side of the net open, yet places the puck in the middle of the goal without getting any air underneath it. I’m not taking away from the greatness of this save (well, kinda). It’s just not quite as incredible as the others yet to come.

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Honorable Mention: Dominik Hasek’s 70-save performance — 1994 Game 6 ECQF

Honorable Mention: Dominik Hasek’s 70-save performance — 1994 Game 6 ECQF

Is putting an entire game here a stretch? Absolutely, but this is my list (neener neener) and I had to put the 2-time Hart Trophy winner, Dominik Hasek somewhere in here. Nobody has given us more highlight-reel-caliber saves to ogle at than The Dominator. While I couldn’t find one singular playoff save that deserved a spot in the top-5, his performance in Game 6 of the first round of the 1994 playoffs can’t go unmentioned.

This four-overtime game was a duel between two of the NHL’s all-time goaltending titans: Hasek and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur. Hasek had 31 saves through regulation, one more than his New Jersey counterpart, and wound up stopping all 70 shots fired his way en route to a 1-0 win. 70 saves is not the most by a goaltender in NHL history. That distinction is held by Joonas Korpisalo. Korpisalo of the Columbus Blue Jackets recorded 85 saves in a five-overtime game against the Tampa Bay Lightning just last season. However, Columbus would end up losing that game 3-2.

Hasek won his game, all while outdueling the winningest goaltender in NHL history. He deserves some props.

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No. 5 Martin Brodeur slams the door on Marc Staal with a little help — 2012 Game 1 ECF

No. 5 Martin Brodeur slams the door on Marc Staal with a little help — 2012 Game 1 ECF

Here’s the only save on this list that is a collaborative effort between two players, and it comes courtesy of Devils Brodeur and Anton Volchenkov. After a slap shot from the blue line is rebounded right to Rangers’ Marc Staal, Volchenkov throws caution to the wind and throws his whole body in between the puck and the open net. Volchenkov gets just enough of the puck to slow it down so the diving Brodeur can stop the deflection and cover-up.

This was an absolutely fantastic save that helped set the tone for the remainder of the Eastern Conference Finals. Nobody expected the 6-seed Devils to reach that point, but through sheer force, determination, and willingness to throw bodies in front of shooters, the Devils went on to win this series four games to two and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. This was the last playoffs of Martin Brodeur’s career, and the last time the Devils as a whole would reach the postseason for six years. Luckily, Brodeur and Volchenkov gave Devils fans a save that would satiate their thirst for playoff drama for years after.

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No. 4 Mike Richter gets the tip of his pad on Pavel Bure’s penalty shot — 1994 Game 4 SCF

No. 4 Mike Richter gets the tip of his pad on Pavel Bure’s penalty shot — 1994 Game 4 SCF

Pavel Bure had just wrapped up his second consecutive 60-goal season in 1994. He finished the season with the most goals across the league, and received more All-Star votes than anyone else that year. In Game 4 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, he had a chance to put one on the board in the most dramatic fashion — a penalty shot. His adversary was Mike Richter, who had a tremendous season as well. Richter finished 6th in the Vezina Trophy race — for the NHL’s best goaltender — and 10th in voting for the Hart Trophy.

With 13:29 left in the second period, Bure had a chance to put his Vancouver Canucks up 3-1. The Canucks had never won a Stanley Cup (and still haven’t to this day) and were looking to knot the series up at two before heading back to New York for Game 5. Meanwhile, the Rangers were looking to break their own Stanley Cup drought. It had been 58 years since the Rangers hoisted the most coveted championship trophy in sports above their heads, and as all of Madison Square Garden was watching, Richter could feel the weight of Gotham on his shoulders.

Bure skates up, dekes backhand to forehand, and with lightning-quick reflexes, Richter sticks out the right pad and makes the stop. Everyone at Pacific Coliseum lets out a sigh of disappointment and they go quiet. The Canucks were winning that game, but the tide of momentum had shifted back in New York’s favor. Richter’s Rangers would come back and win, 4-2. And seeing as how the series went to seven, that save was probably much more influential than we realize.

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No. 3 Evgeni Nabokov flashes the leather on Brad Richards — 2008 Game 6 WCSF

No. 3 Evgeni Nabokov flashes the leather on Brad Richards — 2008 Game 6 WCSF

The San Jose Sharks have long been ridiculed for choking in the playoffs. 2008 was no different. The Sharks were the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed and needed all seven games to take down 7-seed Calgary. After that, the Sharks promptly dropped the first three games of the conference semi-finals against Dallas. After San Jose took Games 4 and 5, the Sharks and Stars headed to overtime in Game 6 tied at 1.

The Sharks were tired of being labeled as choke artists, but coming back from a 3-0 series deficit was near impossible. It had only been done by two other NHL teams: the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders. Dallas had been outplaying San Jose all game, and finally, it seemed like the marathon of a game would come to an end on the stick of Brad Richards.

Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was on the wrong side of the ice when the shot came off. Richards saw the light, and as you can tell from the footage, so did every fan at American Airlines Center. Arms were being raised and cheers were being roared. In fact, the only sight we didn’t see was the goal light going off, because Nabokov had snagged the puck out of the air just before it crossed the line.

San Jose would go on to lose that game, and their postseason woes have continued to this day. But man, for a second, every hockey fan in the Bay Area had hope that destiny was on their side. How else could you explain that miraculous save?

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No. 2 Brian Boucher blows Elias’s mind, while losing his helmet — 2000 Game 3 ECF

No. 2 Brian Boucher blows Elias’s mind, while losing his helmet — 2000 Game 3 ECF

What is it with rookie goalies making remarkable saves? Brian Boucher was just a newbie in the league when he led the league in Goals Against Average (1.91), leading his team to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Devils. Despite being so green to the league, Boucher was playing like a seasoned vet and was looking to guide his team to a 2-1 series lead.

After a giveaway in the offensive zone, the Flyers were on their heels as Patrik Elias moved up the ice with a hungry look in his eyes and the puck on his stick. Elias would go on to score 7 goals across this postseason, but not on this particular play. Elias had Boucher dead to rights after a fantastic deke to the left. Boucher fell for it, but did not give up on the play. In desperation, and without being able to see the puck, Boucher threw his glove hand back over the goal line and stopped Elias from lighting the lamp. Boucher got up as quickly as he could and realized he’d lost his mask. The rookie, like a boss, quickly got his mask and put it back on all while the play was still happening.

This wasn’t the best mask moment of Boucher’s career. Hell, it wasn’t even Boucher’s best mask moment of the series, as he’d go on to make a save with his mask on in Game 6. But it was undoubtedly the best save of his career. It’s funny, nowadays Boucher is better known for being the netminder who allowed Ovechkin’s famous ‘on-his-back’ goal in 2006, but it was Boucher who was making the fantastic plays on his back in 2000, robbing Elias and helping guide the Flyers to a 2-1 series lead...even if his team would wind up losing the series in seven.

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No. 1 Ron Hextall stops Dave Lumley with a miraculous save — 1987 Game 6 SCF

No. 1 Ron Hextall stops Dave Lumley with a miraculous save — 1987 Game 6 SCF

Through the mid-1980s, there was no NHL team more feared than the Edmonton Oilers. Led by future Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, the Oilers had won two of the previous three Stanley Cups heading into the 1986-1987 season. Ron Hextall, much like several other goalies on this list, was finishing up his rookie season, but unlike the others, Hextall took home the Vezina Trophy for being the league’s top goaltender that season. He led the league in total saves and save percentage, but Edmonton was his biggest test yet.

With his Flyers down 3-2 in the series, this was a must-win for Hextall and company in front of their home crowd. With the game on the line, the Oilers had a 2-on-0 and were closing in on Hextall. The puck ended up on the tape of Dave Lumley’s stick and with a wide-open net, somehow, someway, Hextall still managed to get his arm in the way, stopping the breakaway.

This save was so incredible that after the game, Gretzky referred to Hextall as “probably the best goalie I’ve ever seen in the National Hockey League.” When you earn that kind of praise from someone nicknamed “The Great One,” you know you did something right. That save left Flyers fans erupting in the Spectrum. It left Oilers’ fans’ mouths agape, and it earned his team the victory in Game 6. The Flyers would lose Game 7, but because of his incredible performance throughout the series, Hextall would take home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the postseason. Hextall became the fourth player ever to win the award despite playing for the losing team. Only one other player (Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003) has earned the award under the same circumstances since. To this day, Hexy is still beloved in Philadelphia, and I’m sure this save has a lot to do with it. After all, it’s the greatest postseason save in NHL History.

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