By Jason Karnosky, AllPuck.com
These type of lists are usually organized by season. But with a new calendar year upon us, this list singles out the top five NHL games played between Jan. 1, 2010 and Jan. 1, 2011.
Here we go …
April 26, 2011: Vancouver 2 vs. Chicago 1 (OT), Game 7, Western Conference Quarterfinals
With the exception of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, no game during the 2011 calendar year was anticipated more than the winner-take-all affair between Vancouver and Chicago in the first round of the playoffs. But unlike the Game 7 between Boston and the Canucks, this one more than lived up to its billing.
The series figured to be over quickly once the Canucks raced out to a three games to zero lead over their hated nemesis. However, the defending champions clawed all the way back to force a decisive seventh game on the back of three dominating victories — chasing Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo out of the net twice in the process.
In the final tilt, Vancouver’s Alex Burrows drew first blood less than three minutes in. From that point forward, the Canucks held on for dear life as the Blackhawks threw everything they could at the much-maligned Luongo.
With less than two minutes left in the game and Vancouver on the power play, the series finally seemed over. However, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews’ dramatic short-handed goal with 1:56 remaining forced one more period of hockey to decide a winner.
With Chicago carrying all of the momentum, Burrows turned the tables on the Blackhawks, scoring at 5:22 of overtime. The goal erased Vancouver’s lingering stain of two straight playoff defeats at the hands of Chicago and provided the boost the Canucks needed to push all the way to the Finals.
“We needed to get over this hump,” Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler told reporters after the game. “It was pretty sweet beating them.”
April 27, 2011: Boston 4 vs. Montreal 3 (OT), Game 7, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Though most hockey fans remember the Bruins’ dramatic come-from-behind Stanley Cup finals series victory against Vancouver, many likely forget that in the first round of the playoffs Boston faced another two games to zero hole against archrival Montreal.
After winning Game 3 in Quebec, the Bruins won back-to-back overtime games to push the Canadiens to the brink. Back at home at the Molson Centre, Montreal rocked Boston 2-1 to force a decisive game in the Hub.
Early in Game 7 Boston dominated, picking up a pair of goals by Johnny Boychuk and Mark Recchi. Montreal answered with two special-teams strikes to forge a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes.
Halfway through the third period, Bruins forward Chris Kelly’s third goal of the series looked to hold up as the game-winner, but Habs defenseman P.K. Subban’s power-play point blast with 1:57 remaining re-plugged the bottles of champagne.
Bruins forward Nathan Horton finally eliminated Montreal when his cannonading blast beat Carey Price during the sixth minute of overtime play. It was Horton’s third goal of the series and his second in extra time.
“When you score two overtime goals in a series, you understand how big a piece of the puzzle (Horton) has been for our hockey club,” Boston coach Claude Julien told reporters after the series.
April 19, 2011: San Jose 6 at Los Angeles 5 (OT), Game 3, Western Conference Quarterfinals
Unlike the previous two games on this list, Game 3 of San Jose and Los Angeles lacked 60-plus minutes of dramatics. In its place was one of the most stunning comebacks in NHL history.
Just under 21 minutes into the game, Los Angeles was cruising with a 4-0 lead on the back of goals by Willie Mitchell, Kyle Clifford, Michal Handzus and Brad Richardson.
But sensing the Kings were skating on their heels, San Jose went on the offensive and turned the tables in the second period, burying the next three goals in a 10 and half minute span to cut the deficit to 4-3.
Kings forward Ryan Smyth briefly restored a two-goal lead at the 13:47 mark of the second period, but goals by Sharks forwards Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski in the final two minutes of the middle frame knotted the game at five apiece.
Things stayed that way for three minutes and nine seconds of overtime until San Jose forward Devin Setoguchi put the finishing touches on the stunning turnaround. The Sharks went on to win the series in six games.
“The second you hang your head and feel sorry for yourself, then it turns into six, seven, eight nothing,” Setoguchi told reporters after the game. “We got that goal in the second period (by Patrick Marleau) and all of sudden the light turned on that we can do it.”
May 27, 2011: Boston 1 vs. Tampa Bay 0, Game 7, Eastern Conference Finals
When a hockey game reaches the closing minutes without a goal being scored, tensions and nerves for each team tend to rise. One mistake can prove the difference between winning and losing.
Now imagine that intensity and pressure taking place in a Stanley Cup playoffs Game 7. That is exactly what the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning faced in the Eastern Conference Finals. Scoreless after 52 minutes, both the Bruins and Lightning knew the next goal would likely prove the difference.
Leave it to the drama king Horton to provide one, finishing off a pass from teammate David Krejci on a 3-on-2 rush with 7:33 remaining in regulation.
Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas made the goal stand up, stopping 24 pucks to earn his second shutout of the series and send Boston to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1990.
“This is a great moment (and it’s) been a long time for Boston,” Thomas told reporters after the game. “(But we) can’t be too happy too long, though, unless you are the last man standing.”
Two weeks later Thomas became that last man, winning a record third Game 7 in one playoffs, as Boston captured its first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
October 27, 2011: Winnipeg 9, Philadelphia 8.
With such a dramatic 2011 playoffs, most of the regular season games that took place over the calendar year failed to measure up. One throwback game in October came close.
When the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers took the ice at the MTS Centre on Oct. 27, neither team had any idea what would be in store. Over the next 60 minutes the two teams would combine for 17 goals — including seven in a third period when the lead changed hands three different times.
Just over four minutes into the game, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell gave Philadelphia a 1-0 lead. But the Jets would respond with the game’s next five goals, eventually taking a 6-4 lead after two periods.
Philadelphia countered with three goals in a span 1:53 of the third period to retake the lead at 7-6, but the Jets moved back in front after goals by Alex Burmistrov and Mark Stuart.
With 3:39 remaining in regulation, Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk retied things at eight all, but in this crazy game, that proved to be more than enough time for Winnipeg to counter.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd did exactly that with 1:06 left on the clock, finishing off a short one-timer to give the hosts a bizarre 9-8 victory — just the franchise’s third since relocating from Atlanta to Manitoba during the off-season.
“It’s the strangest game I’ve been a part of, (kind of) like an NFL game,” Jets coach Claude Noel told reporters afterwards. “We can’t make a lot of logic out of what we did there.”