During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the hockey world explodes with talk of the superstars, the great plays and the unsung heroes that come up in the clutch.
The subject that is often ignored is the gaffes that cause post-season heartbreak.
If you were a fan of the Edmonton Oilers back in 1986, than you know what I’m talking about. Heck, if you are a Washington Capitals fan and watched Game 5 against the New York Rangers, you must still be reeling from Joel Ward’s penalty that led to the tying and game-winning goals.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some playoff goats whose penalties, mistakes or overall carelessness led to the demise of their team in the quest for hockey’s Holy Grail.
Los Angeles Kings’ defenceman Marty McSorley gets caught using an illegal stick (1993)
It’s amazing that such a small detail could cause one team so many problems.
Take the case of the ’93 Los Angeles Kings for example. The team reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history, facing off against the Montreal Canadiens.
After winning Game 1, the Kings found themselves up 2-1 with just a few minutes left in Game 2. The King’s fortunes took a dramatic swing when McSorley was caught with an illegal stick.
McSorley’s infraction led to the game-tying goal in regulation, scored by Canadiens’ defenceman Eric Desjardins. Desjardins struck again in overtime to complete his hat trick and help the Canadiens tie the series at 1-1.
The Canadiens went on the win the Cup in five games.
Detroit Red Wings’ netminder Chris Osgood’s turnover proves costly against the San Jose Sharks (1994)
When it comes to NHL playoff goaltenders, Chris Osgood is one of the greats.
However, when he first came into the league, a costly Osgood turnover ended up knocking his Detroit Red Wings out of the post-season in the first round. That season, the Red Wings were a Cup favourite and had a roster capable of making a lengthy run.
As a No. 1 seed in 1994, the Red Wings were matched up against the eighth-seeded San Jose Sharks, who had made the post-season for the first time since joining the NHL in franchise history.
While the Red Wings were highly favoured to win the series, the Sharks battled hard and shocked the hockey world, taking the series to seven games.
In Game 7, Osgood left his net to play the puck. As he attempted to clear his zone, he accidentally turned it over to Sharks’ forward Jamie Baker. Baker fired it at the empty net and, because of Osgood’s bad positioning, scored.
The goal turned out to be the game winner in what was a huge upset in that post-season.
Edmonton Oilers’ defenceman Steve Smith scores on his own net (1986)
There is no worse feeling in hockey than scoring on your own net.
In 1986, Edmonton Oilers’ defenceman Steve Smith did it at the worst possible moment. His own goal occurred in Game 7 of the 1986 Smythe Division Finals as he tried to play the puck from behind the net to clear it out of his zone. Unfortunately for Smith, the puck ended up hitting Oilers’ Hall of Fame netminder Grant Fuhr and into the back of the net.
The Flames would go on to win the series and eventually on to the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Montreal Canadiens.
Vancouver Canucks’ netminder Dan Cloutier cannot stop a long-distance Nicklas Lidstrom slapshot (2002)
Goaltenders play a huge role in the NHP Playoffs, helping their respective teams get to the Promised Land.
With that said, a goaltender can also be a huge liability at the most important time of the season. In 2002, the Vancouver Canucks found that out the hard way.
In the first round against the Detroit Red Wings, Canucks’ netminder Dan Cloutier allowed a weak and untimely goal to Red Wings’ defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 3. At the time, the Canucks had a 2-0 series lead but this goal changed its momentum.
While Cloutier had several successful regular seasons with the Canucks from 2001-2004, the goal from center ice is what many Canucks’ fans remember most about him.
St. Louis Blues’ netminder Roman Turek becomes centre ice victim to Owen Nolan’s slapshot (2000)
The St. Louis Blues were the best team in the NHL heading into the 2000 post-season,.
This didn’t matter the San Jose Sharks. The eighth-seeded Sharks took a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 but the Blues were able to win Games 5 and 6, extending the series to seven games.
With terrific fans and a potent lineup set to go at the Kiel Center for a do or die Game 7, the Blues seemed primed to make a long run, should they get past the ambitious Sharks.
Unfortunately for the Blues, goaltender Roman Turek allowed a 90-foot slapshot goal from Sharks’ power forward Owen Nolan to get by him with less than 12 seconds to go in the first period.
The Sharks would go on to win the game by a score of 3-1, knocking out the heavily favoured Blues.
The famous “Too many men” call against Don Cherry and the Boston Bruins (1979)
If you’re an avid hockey fan, you know that there are a total of 10 players on the ice (12 if you include the two goalies), five on each side.
In the 1979 Stanley Cup Playoff semi-finals, Boston Bruins’ fiery coach Don Cherry and his players forgot that rule for just a slight moment against Scotty Bowman and the Montreal Canadiens. It is a play that may have cost the Bruins their second Cup in seven years.
With a one-goal lead in Game 7 and less than two minutes to play, the Bruins were penalized for having too many men on the ice.
Canadiens’ great Guy Lafleur would end up scoring the tying goal to send the game to overtime where Yvon Lambert scored the game winner.
The Canadiens would advance to the Stanley Cup Final, beating the New York Rangers in five games.
Vancouver Canucks’ goaltender Roberto Luongo melts down in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final (2011)
As mentioned earlier, good goaltending can take a team all the way to a Stanley Cup win.
Heading into Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks were up 3-2 in the series and one game away from winning their first Cup. They played well in Game 5 and seemed primed to win Game 6.
But Luongo let his team down in a big way, allowing three goals in the first nine minutes of the game.
The goal would chase Luongo from the Canucks’ crease and ultimately ended their hope of winning a Cup, as the Bruins went on to win both Game 6 and 7 to capture their first Cup since 1972.
Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender Michael Leighton allows soft Cup-Winning goal (2010)
Goaltending and the Philadelphia Flyers just don’t get along in the NHL post-season.
Just ask Ron Hextall, Garth Snow, John Vanbiesbrouck, Robert Esche, Roman Cechmanek, Sean Burke or Brian Boucher. Most recently, Ilya Bryzgalov became another Flyers’ netminder added to that list.
However, an even larger heartbreak for Flyers’ fan came in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Flyers were down 3 games to 2 and looking to fight off elimination.
After Flyers’ forward Scott Hartnell tied the game at 3-3 with 3:59 to go, it appeared they had a good chance of forcing a Game 7.
Unfortunately, that did not happen as Flyers’ netminder Michael Leighton allowed the overtime winning goal to Patrick Kane. Kane put the puck through Leighton’s feet from the side of the net, ending the Blackhawks’ 49-year Cup drought.