November 19, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
You're going to disagree with this list.
It's not a prediction; it's a fact. Think about how many regular season, playoff, international, college, minor league and junior league games have been played in the last 10 years. Think about how many times you walked out of an arena during some random battle between two teams thinking, "That's the best hockey game I've ever seen." Think about the build-up, the storylines, the hype before now-classic (or, at the very least, near-classic) games, and how those contests lived up to them.
The 10 games we've selected here came from editorial debates, chats with fellow fans, some polling of the Twitter puckheads and our own recollections of classic games. We're confident they're all among the best for various reasons: Sometimes because of their context or legacy, and sometimes because they were just fantastically entertaining hockey games.
We imagine the comments will be filled with additions and suggestions, and that's how it should be with this list. Other rankings can be solidified statistically or through other analytical means; this one is a bit more subjective. We all have different frames of reference and criteria for great games; try telling a Team Canada fan that the Swedish gold medal above was a more rewarding game than the Canadians' in 2002.
With that, our 10 best games of the last decade are ...
10. Lightning thwart Calgary's Cup clincher (Stanley Cup Final; June 5, 2004)
Before 2004, the last time a team rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the Stanley Cup Finals was the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, when they finally gave Ray Bourque a ring and defeated the New Jersey Devils.
Before Game 6 in 2004, Bourque famously reached out to the Tampa Bay Lightning with advice on how to extend their series with the Calgary Flames, who held a 3-2 lead and had a chance to win the Cup on Canadian soil in Game 6.
Whatever he said, it worked, as the Bolts won on a Marty St. Louis goal in double overtime, 3-2, and eventually won the Cup in Game 7 at home. The teams traded scores in a four-goal second period; in the third, Martin Gelinas's "phantom goal" will forever live in playoff infamy. That controversy aside, it was a physical and entertaining game symbolic of the rest of this underrated series.
9. Toews nets shootout hat-trick in world juniors (World Junior Championships, Jan. 3, 2007)
A close game that eventually reached an unbelievable overtime followed by one of the most memorable shootouts in world junior hockey championship history.
The U.S. and Canada battled to a 1-1 tie in the 2007 tournament semifinals in Leksand, Sweden, with the late Luc Bourdon(notes) knotting the score at 12:09 of the third. In the 10-minute, 4-on-4 overtime, Carey Price(notes) stopped 12 American shots and the Canadians thwarted a 4-on-3 power play to force a shootout.
International rules allowed players to appear multiple times in the shootout, which ended up going 14 players deep between the rivals. Thus, Jonathan Toews(notes) and Peter Mueller(notes) had a fantastic duel, with Toews scoring on all three of his attempts and Price stopping Mueller to end the heart-pounding game. We're going to look back at this one fondly when some of these players are NHL superstars well into the next decade.
8. Chicago's historic comeback vs. Calgary (NHL Regular Season; Oct. 13, 2009)
How many fans left their seats to beat the traffic as the Chicago Blackhawks surrendered five goals in the first 11:43 of their game against the Calgary Flames this season? All they ended up missing was a six-goal comeback by the home team that tied an NHL record and set a Blackhawks' franchise record. Brent Seabrook(notes) won the game just 26 seconds into overtime, giving Chicago a 6-5 victory in perhaps the wildest regular season game in the decade. At least played indoors.
7. Double hat-tricks for Ovechkin, Crosby (Eastern Conference semifinals; May 4, 2009)
"Sick game. Sick goals by me and him."
That was Alex Ovechkin(notes) after the Washington Capitals' 4-3 win in
Game 3 Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, which featured hat tricks from both Ovechkin and rival Sidney Crosby(notes) of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The notion that this showdown between the League's two greatest stars would meet expectations was hard to believe; that they'd blow them away with this mano-a-mano offensive duel was unfathomable. Ovechkin would break the game open by completing his hat trick in the third period; Crosby got his with a defiant goal late in the period.
It was like watching two ballers playing H-O-R-S-E on the playground, and one of the greatest superstar battles in recent memory -- even if the lingering memory is still Sidney complaining about there being too many hats on the ice.
6. Heritage Classic (NHL Regular Season; Nov. 22, 2003)
Obviously, the first regular season outdoor game in NHL history makes this list for the sheer spectacle of it all: The minus-22 degrees Fahrenheit temps with the wind chill; the legends game between Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens greats that looked like "Field of Dreams" if it had been filmed on an Alberta pond; and, of course, the aesthetics of 57,000 fans freezing their behinds off while Jose Theodore(notes) wore a toque over his mask.
Oh, and it was a pretty tight game, too. Richard Zednik(notes) scored the Habs' first and final goals, as Montreal won in the blustery elements by the score of 4-3. His second goal came 1:02 after Jarret Stoll(notes) cut the lead to 3-2.
The Cold War between Michigan State and Michigan in 2001 might have inspired this game; but its success was certainly a harbinger of the Winter Classic juggernaut we currently have on New Year's Day. As a total experience, the Heritage game was a classic.
5. Bruins, Canadiens trade leads in underdog upset (Eastern Conference quarterfinals; April 19, 2008)
The Montreal Canadiens were a 104-point regular season conference champion who entered this series with an 11-game winning streak against the Boston Bruins. The B's were a No. 8 seed that stumbled into the playoffs. The Habs held a 3-1 series lead until the Bruins smacked them, 5-1, at Bell Centre. Expectations were high that the Canadiens would dispatch their pesky rivals in Game 6; they were wrong.
In one of the most brutal, unpredictable playoff games of the decade, the Bruins erased four Montreal leads and scored four goals in the third period for a stunning 5-4 win in Boston. Marco Sturm(notes) scored the game-winner with 2:37 left in regulation. Montreal would go on to win the series, but this game remains an instant classic.
4. Canada defeats US women for gold (Winter Olympics; Feb. 21, 2002)
Yes, love for the ladies.
The context: It was a gold medal game in Salt Lake City, with the Canadian women seeking their first Olympic title (and the first for a Canadian hockey team in 50 years). The stakes, via CTV:
The Canadians had watched the U.S. skate off with gold in Nagano in 1998. Then after eight straight losses to the Americans leading up to the 2002 Games, the taunting was ripe at the Games.
Some U.S. women had scribbled on photos of Canadian players in the athletes' village, and the Canadians heard reports of insulting comments. Rumours fueled the Canadian fire - although they were later proven to be untrue - that the Americans were disrespecting the Canadian flag in the U.S. dressing room.
So yeah, there was some passion heading into this one. Truth be told, it was a fugly game: A penalty-laden affair that lacked flow thanks to a whistle-happy referee (an American, which only fueled Canadian ire). It was a slugfest, if the term can be applied to a fight-less form of puck.
That said, the Canadian women played through 12 penalties and gutted out what was a thrilling 3-2 victory over their bitter rivals. What this one lacked in artistry it made up for in contentious drama.
3. BU's dramatic comeback wins NCAA title (Frozen Four, April 12, 2009)
Any game that legendary Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker calls "the greatest comeback I've been involved in" merits consideration on the list, right?
Down two goals to Miami University with less than a minute left in the NCAA hockey championship game in Washington, D.C., Nick Bonino assisted on one goal and then scored the game-tying goal with 17 clicks left. The title-clinching goal came at 11:47 of overtime, and it was a soul-crusher for Miami: Colby Cohen's shot deflected off a sprawling Kevin Roeder on defense and then floated over the glove of goalie Cody Reichard.
BU won the game, 4-3, in overtime for an instant Frozen Four classic. It was a championship game, so that plays into it being here; which is to say that we offer no disrespect to Holy Cross's "miracle" against Minnesota in 2006, which is a strong honorable mention.
2. Sweden keeps gold from Fins (Winter Olympics; Feb. 25, 2006)
The 2002 gold medal game between Canada and the U.S. will no doubt be remembered more fondly, what with the buried loonie on American ice and the 50-year Canadian gold medal wait finally ending. But the 2006 gold medal game in Turin was simply a better hockey game, and played at the highest level by a galaxy of star players on Sweden and Finland.
The all-Nordic final wasn't exactly what fans had anticipated, but Russia took out Canada and Finland eliminated Russia, while Sweden knocked off Czech Republic. Finland was seeking its first Olympic gold; Sweden was looking to avenge the enormous upset to Belarus in 2002.
The classic battle had a combined 36 NHL players involved, and the game-winning goal was a Hall of Fame effort: Peter Forsberg(notes) won the faceoff, passed to Mats Sundin(notes), who then passed to Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) for the tally early in the third:
Henrik Lundqvist(notes) of the New York Rangers made the lead stand up with some stellar play in the third. No overtime, no last-second heroics. Just two incredible hockey teams playing on an elite level on the biggest stage.
1. Sykora calls his shot against Detroit (Stanley Cup Final; June 2, 2008)
There were longer overtime games. There were more meaningful victories. There were better individual efforts. But as a total package of entertainment, star power and clutch performances, no game better symbolized the post-lockout NHL than this 4-3 triple overtime victory by the Pittsburgh Penguins over eventual Stanley Cup champions the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 at the Joe.
Goals by Pavel Datsyuk(notes) and Marian Hossa(notes). Moments of great defense, great offense and brutal physical play. Maxime Talbot's improbable goal with 34.3 seconds left in regulation that tied the game at 3-3. Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) stopping 24 Detroit shots in three overtime periods and 55 for the game. And then, at 9:57 of the third OT, Petr Sykora(notes) happened:
Helping to elevate this game to elite status? The fact that Sykora called his shot between periods.
If nothing else, this game helped turn the 2008 finals into thriller, which created plenty of buzz for the 2009 rematch that saw the Penguins take the Cup. But no matter who won this game, the drama and dynamics made it the best of the decade.