Five Greatest Ice Hockey Matches of All-Time

Wayne Gretzky is arguably the greatest ice hockey player to have ever lived but he was on the wrong end of the scoreline in one of the best games of all time.

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With what’s sure to be another memorable edition of the NHL playoffs fast approaching, what better time to flick through the pages of hockey history to pick out our five favourite matches to ever take place on the ice.

5 – 1994 Stanley Cup finals, Game 7: New York Rangers 3, Vancouver Canucks 2

There are few sweeter phrases in the NHL than Game 7; a one-off showdown to decide who advances in the playoffs, or, on rare occasions, who lifts the Stanley Cup. Only 17 times since the switch to a best-of-7 series in 1939 has Lord Stanley’s mug been decided in the seventh and final game, and the majority have been damp squibs.

That can’t be said about Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in 1994 though. The Canucks had fought back from 3-1 down in the series to force a decider but fell 2-0 behind early on, only to halve the deficit in the second period.

Mark Messier’s power play goal put the Rangers 3-1 ahead but Vancouver hung in the game, Trevor Linden’s second of the night forcing a nervy finale. The Rangers would hold on to win the game, ending a 54-year wait for a Cup and denying the Canucks their first title.

4 – 1987 Patrick Division Semifinals, Game 7: Islanders 3, Capitals 2 (4 OT)

What’s better than a Game 7? A Game 7 that goes all the way to overtime just to sprinkle on a bit more drama. Before the introduction of shootouts for the 2004-05 season, overtime was the only way to decide a playoff game and the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders were so closely matched, they needed four periods of overtime in order to find a winner.

In the end, it was the Islanders who won the longest hockey game since 1943, which would eventually earn the title of the Easter Epic. Pat LaFontaine’s slapshot proved the decisive moment for the Isles at 1.43am local time as they finally got the better of brilliant Caps netminder Bob Mason following 68 minutes of overtime.

3 – 1972 Summit Series, Game 8: Team Canada 6, Soviet Union 5

Canada’s men have won Olympic gold – the pinnacle of international hockey – nine times. And yet, for hockey fans of a certain age, their victory over the Soviet Union in Moscow in September 1972 is the crowning achievement with some going as far as to call it the country’s greatest sporting feat.

The series was shrouded in controversy and as it wore on, the temperature on the ice kept rising. With the series level at 3-3-1, a decider was needed and proved a fitting way to wrap things up. Trailing 5-3 entering the third period and with emotions running high – Canada coach Harry Sinden had tossed a stool and a chair on the ice after one of his squad was ejected – the odds were stacked against the visitors, only for them to level the match. With 38 seconds remaining, Paul Henderson netted the winning goal to clinch the series for Canada.

2 – 1982 Smythe Division Semifinals, Game 3: Los Angeles Kings 6, Edmonton Oilers 5

Not a series decider but arguably the most memorable night in NHL history, the Miracle in Manchester was a game for the ages. The Oilers, led by ‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretzky, who scored 92 goals that season, had been expected to sweep aside the Kings having nearly doubled their points tally in the regular season.

All was going to script with Edmonton 5-0 up after two periods and Gretzky running the show. But what came next was hockey’s greatest-ever comeback, the Kings rallying to score five times with the game-tying effort coming with five seconds to play. In overtime, Kings rookie Daryl Evans finished the job on the night before LA went on to win the series 3-2.

1 – 1980 Winter Olympic semifinal: United States 4, Soviet Union 3

Could it have been anything else at the top of this list? The Miracle on Ice is hockey’s defining moment and provided the world with one of sport’s most famous underdog stories. The Soviet Union arrived at Lake Placid as heavy favourites to win the gold having won five of the last six Olympic tournaments, while they hadn’t lost an Olympic game since 1968.

The Soviets had assembled a squad packed full of talent, coached by national icon Viktor Tikhonov. In contrast, the United States squad was made up entirely of amateurs, all of who were in college, and the gap between the two rosters was obvious when the Soviets beat the US 10-3 in an exhibition game before the tournament.

But when the two sides clashed in the semifinals, the US managed to turn the tables, coming from 3-2 behind in the third period thanks to goals from Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione. The States then had to dig in with goaltender Jim Craig ending the night with 36 saves as the fans in the arena reached fever pitch. Not only did they beat the Soviets but they managed to back up that success by beating Finland in the gold medal match a few days later. A truly remarkable story.

Chris is broadcast and written journalist with a wealth of experience, across a number of different sports. As well covering football on the radio, he is a regular online and print contributor on the likes of rugby union, American Football and Formula One.
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