Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The 21 Best Games of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Reliving the most memorable moments of the most recent NHL postseason …

By: Jimbo X

There's no doubt about it — the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the best yearly rite in sports. Better than the Super Bowl, better than March Madness, better than International Fight Week, yup, even better than the New Japan G1 tournament. And that, naturally, is for a lot of reasons.

To me, the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has always been something of an unofficial start to spring, ushering us from the cold, icy pointlessness of winter (ostensibly, everything in-between the Pro Bowl and WrestleMania) into the firm grips of legitimate summertime, complete with warm weather, a full slate of early blockbuster popcorn movies and, of course, Lebron James finding a new way to hunch the proverbial pooch over in *his* playoffs bracket.

Really, I've been smitten with the Stanley Cup Playoffs ever since I first got ESPN2 and was able to watch the 1993 postseason on TV. Soooooo many unforgettable moments.

The curse of McSorley's stick in '93. The Rangers beating the Canucks in '94. All the fans throwing plastic rats on the ice in '96. Steve Yzerman's series-winner rattled off from mid-ice in '97. The no-goal that was a goal that gave Dallas the Cup in '99. The all-star '02 Wings murder-death-killing the Avs in Game 7. J.S. Giguere's all-time performance in '03 … that culminated with him crying his eyes out while the Devils kissed the cup in one of the single-most heart-rending things I've ever seen in pro sports. Tampa Bay's phantom goal in Game 6 of the '04 Finals. ALL of the seven-game series in 2006. The fans chanting "GO PENS GO!" in 2008 while the Red Wings celebrated another Stanley Cup win on Pitty ice … only for the Penguins to return the favor against Detroit a year later. Vancouver literally exorcising the demons of the past against Chicago in 2011 … and then sitting their entire city on fire about two months later. The Kings' miracle runs in 2012 and 2014. Watching Sid the Kid punch a black dude in the face on live TV last year and not only not being called a racist for it, but not even getting a penalty for it, neither.

As much as I love football, boxing and MMA, there's just some kind of magical aura to playoffs hockey that nothing else in sports can compete with. It feels hopelessly ethereal and transcendent from time itself simultaneously, and every year I can't wait to stay up all night watching hairy Canadians (but not the Canadiens) shoot it out in triple and quadruple overtime affairs where not a single fan leaves their seat and spectators practically live and die on each and every wrist shot, with the ping of vulcanized rubber hitting crossbar no doubt causing many an old-timer’s ticker to call it quits right then and there.

Of course, the 2017-2018 edition was no exception, and with the zambonis in deep storage until October, what better time to reflect and reminisce on the absolute best games the postseason-that-was had to offer? Sock on your Wayne Gretzky jersey and start humming the theme song from NHL ‘94, fuck-boys … it’s time to indulge in some instant nostalgia.

April 13, 2018
Vegas Golden Knights 2, Los Angeles Kings 1

Friday the 13th certainly wasn't unlucky for the Golden Knights, as the expansion team won a grueling goaltending dual against divisional rivals L.A. Alex Tuch got Vegas on the board first with a power play goal around the 15 minute mark of the first period, and Paul LaDue answered in kind for the Kings with a power play goal of his own around the 15 minute mark of the second period. That would be all the scoring allowed over the next 45 minutes, until the moment Erik Haula beat Jonathan Quick at - you guessed it! - the 15 minute mark of 2. O.T. to give Vegas a 2-0 series lead ... which, as we all know by now, quickly turned into a clean sweep.

April 16, 2018
San Jose Sharks 8, Anaheim Ducks 1

No less than EIGHT different players scored in San Jose's game 3 throttling of in-state rivals Anaheim. Martin Jones eventually finished the game with 45 saves, while Ducks' goaltenders John Gibson (19 saves on 24 shots) and Ryan Miller (9 saves on 12 shots) did their best respective imitations of Swiss cheese all night long.

April 17, 2018
Washington Capitals 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Four out of the six games between the Caps and the Jackets went to overtime, and this double OT thriller was easily the most exciting of the quadrilogy. Down 2-1 late in the third period, Artemi Panarin knotted it up with a goal with four minutes left in regulation. After 29 minutes of extra hockey, Lars Eller lit up the lamp around the midway point of 2 O.T. The win was the big tide turner in the series; after Columbus walked away with overtime victories in the first two games, the Caps then went on to sweep the Jackets in the next four games.

April 20, 2018
Winnipeg Jets 5, Minnesota Wild 0

Well, it only took 19 years, but the Atlanta Thrashers FINALLY won a playoff series. Winnipeg rounded out their 4-1 near-sweep of the Wild with a cinco-goose egg shellacking on home ice, which saw the Jets leap out to a 4-0 lead in the first period ... complete with Jacob Trouba hitting the game-winner just 30 seconds into the action.

April 22, 2018
Pittsburgh Penguins 8, Philadelphia Flyers 5

Defense? Who needs defense? In this very "Blades of Steel"-like outing, Sean Couturier of the Flyers managed to muster a hat trick DESPITE having a torn MCL, but that STILL didn't make him the game's most productive scorer. Jake Guentzel of the Pens would notch a goal with less than a minute left in the second period — with three more goals in the third, including one in the first 30 seconds of play and two that were just ten seconds apart en route to Pittsburgh's series-ending 8-5 victory.

April 23, 2018
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Boston Bruins 1

Just hours after some Armenian dude killed ten people in Toronto with the patented VAN OF PEACE, the Maple Leafs made the hometown crowd proud with a decisive 3-1 Air Canada Centre stand against Boston. After falling behind 1-0, William Nylander and Mitch Marner put the Leafs up 2-1, with Tomas Plekanec's empty netter late in the third helping Toronto stave off elimination and force a game 7 against the Bruins.

April 25, 2018
Boston Bruins 7, Toronto Maple Leafs 4

And two days later, the Bruins dash the dreams of the Leafs in one of the most painful ways possible. After two periods of play Toronto leapt out to a 4-3 lead … only for the Bruins to bounce back in the third and score four unanswered goals — including an empty netter in the final minute — to solidify the 7-4 comeback victory on home ice.

April 28, 2018
San Jose Sharks 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3

Two days after Vegas blanked San Jose 7-0 in game one, the Sharks came back with vengeance in their eyes. Brent Burns registered goals at the two and 14 minute marks of the second period while Logan Couture snuck one past Marc-Andre Fleury to make it a 3-2 San Jose lead heading into the third period. Nate Schmidt beat Martin Jones at the 13 minute of period number three-o to make it a 3-3 deadlock, and after 25 minutes of bonus hockey, Logan Couture notched his second goal of the night five minutes into 2.O.T. to give San Jose the W.

April 29, 2018
Nashville Predators 5, Winnipeg Jets 4

Ryan Johansen got the Preds up early with a goal less than 30 seconds into the first period. Goals from Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Scheifele gave the Jets a 2-1 lead heading into the second period, only for P.K. Subban and Viktor Arvidsson to fire back and make it a 3-2 game for Nashville prior to the third stanza. Brandon Tanev tied it 3-3 with a goal five minutes into the third, only for Ryan Johansen to make it a 4-3 outing barely 30 seconds later. Mark Scheifele, however, tied the game with a dramatic goal with roughly a minute left in regulation. After a scoreless fourth period, Kevin Fiala made himself hero of the day when he knocked the double overtime game winner for Nashville past Connor Hellebuyck.

April 30, 2018
Vegas Golden Knights 4, San Jose Sharks 3

San Jose took a 1-0 lead when Timo Meier scored on Marc-Andre Fleury 7 minutes into the second period — only for Colin Miller, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to score three unanswered goals for Vegas over the next eight minutes. Evander Kane made it 3-2 with a goal at the eight minute mark of the third period, and with time running out, Tomas Hertl scored a dramatic goal with barely two minutes left in regulation to make it a tied game. Alas, San Jose's noble comeback attempt was squelched by William Karlsson, who landed the overtime kill shot for the Knights about eight minutes into extra hockey.

May 04, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Boston Bruins 3

A pretty boring series overall — after the Bruins took game one 6-2, T.B. went on to win the next four games — this was pretty much the only saving grace of an otherwise totally forgettable second round matchup. Knotted up 2-2 heading into the third frame, Patrice Bergeron scored his second goal of the evening about six minutes in. Alas, the Bruins lead was short-lived, as Steven Stamkos made it 3-all with about seven minutes left in regulation. It didn't take long for Tampa Bay to end it in overtime, though — Daniel Girardi rattled a good 'un past Tuukka Rask barely three minutes into play to give the Lightning a 3-1 series lead.

May 07, 2018
Washington Capitals 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1

It's the "Toshiaki Kawada finally pinning Mitsuharu Misawa in a singles match that actually matters" moment the NHL has been waiting on FOR YEARS. Oddly enough, Ovechkin at long last got his W against Sid the Kid in a game in which neither he nor his generational arch-rival actually lit up the lamp. Instead, it was Evgeny Kuznetsov, of all people, who came through with the series clincher for the Caps, slapping the vulcanized rubber through Matt Murray's guard about five minutes into overtime to give Washington their first conference finals appearance in 20 years.

May 10, 2018
Winnipeg Jets 5, Nashville Predators 1

Another year, another President's Trophy winner getting bounced in the second round. Goals from Tyler Myers and Paul Stastny gave the Jets an early 2-0 lead (thus resulting in Pekka Rinne being pulled from goaltending duties) but when P.K. Subban absolutely CRUSHED a power play goal, it seemed like the tides were bound to turn. Well … not so much, seeing as how that would be the ONLY goal of the night for the Predators. Another power play goal from Stastny, plus a two-goal performance from Mark Scheifele, ultimately made it an impressive 5-1 road shellacking for the former Thrashers … in turn, paving the way for the first conference finals held in Winnipeg since the heyday of the friggin' World Hockey Administration.

May 12, 2018
Winnipeg Jets 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2

The Manitobans hopped out to a three-goal lead before the eight minute mark of the first period, with Connor Hellebuyck ultimately making 19 saves on 21 shots. Indeed, the Jets looked so crisp, so fresh and so fast that it seemed like they were on course to possibly sweep the Cinderella Knights out of the playoffs. Which, of course, meant they would be eliminated from the WCF eight days later, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there …

May 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Washington Capitals 2

Washington won the first two games of there series in convincing fashion, and Tampa Bay battled back to even it two games apiece heading into game five of the ECF. Cedric Paquette notched up a goal less than 20 seconds in for Tampa Bay, and the Lightning (who, amazingly, have made an appearance in three out of the last four Eastern Conference Finals) held a 3-0 lead early in the second period. Goals from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin provided some drama, but the Bolts would nonetheless prevail in the Amalie Arena home stand, skating away with a 3-2 win … and a 3-2 series lead.

May 20, 2018
Vegas Golden Knights 2, Winnipeg Jets 1

After dropping the first game of the series, the Knights went on to chalk up three consecutive wins over Winnipeg over the course of six days. Game five took place on a Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg, with Alex Tuch getting Vegas on the board first with a goal around the five-minute mark of period numero uno. Josh Morrissey tied it up with a Jets goal around 17 minutes in, but a Ryan Reaves score around the midpoint of the second period was all Vegas needed to walk away with the victory … and, improbably, a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals their very first year in existence.

May 21, 2018
Washington Capitals 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 0

With their backs against the wall the Caps did something they haven't done since drafting Ovechkin 14 years ago … for once, they *didn't* choke. After a scoreless first period, T.J. Oshie broke the deadlock, with Devante Smith-Pelly adding to the shutout about ten minutes into the third period. And, of course, Oshie *would* be the one to notch the empty netter in the final minute of play, wouldn't he?

May 23, 2018
Washington Capitals 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 0

Ovechkin scored about a minute into the game, with Andre Burakovsky racking up two goals in the second period. The Caps managed to maintain their 3-0 lead, all the way until the bitter end when a Nicklas Backstrom empty netter gave Washington the 4-0 series-clincher; Braden Holtby finished the affair stopping 29 out of 29 pucks.

May 26, 2018
Vegas Golden Knights 6, Washington Capitals 4

The first game of the 2018 SCF was definitely the wildest and wackiest. Colin Miller put Vegas on the board at the 7-minute mark of the first, only for back to back goals from Brett Connolly and Nicklas Backstrom less than a minute apart making it a 2-1 game for the Caps … only for William Karlsson to sneak one past Braden Holtby with two minutes left in the first to tie it up. The second ended in 3-3 deadlock following push-and-pull goals from Reilly Smith and John Carlson, and the third began with Tom Wilson beating Marc-Andre Fleury roughly a minute in to make it 4-3 Washington. From there, though it was ALL Vegas, as Ryan Reaves and Tomas Nosek notched up three more goals to give the Knights the impressive come-from-behind win.

May 30, 2018
Washington Capitals 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2

This was the exact opposite of the first game of the championships series, with goaltending taking center stage instead of game uno's Blades of Steel-like offense. Goals from James Neal and Lars Eller, respectively, made it 1-1 after 20 minutes of ice time, with Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik putting the Caps ahead 3-1. A late power play goal from Shea Theodore made it a 3-2 game at the end of the second period, as Fleury and Holtby held steady — successfully blocking a combined 21 shots on goal — in the third and final frame.

June 07, 2018
Washington Capitals 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3

And this is how the Knights' remarkable freshman season ends … with a heart-breaking, at-home loss with the other guys skating around with Lord Stanley on THEIR ice. After a scoreless first period, both teams exploded, with goals from Nate Schmidt, David Perron and Reilly Smith giving the Knights a 3-2 lead heading into the third. A Devante Smith-Pelly goal about 10 minutes in, however, made it a tied game, and at about 12 and a half minutes in, Lars Ellers rattled off what would prove to be the Cup-clinching goal of the game, as the Caps held on to a one-goal victory … and their first championship celebration after 43 long and arduous seasons of sheer suck.


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