My father has a Bill Gallo cartoon from the New York Daily News hanging up in his basement that features hand-drawn caricatures of players from the New York Islanders' four consecutive Stanley Cup champions. As with any championship team, there were the players added to elevate a very good club to legendary status (Butch Goring, for example); and there were the homegrown Islanders, that were there in the humble beginnings and there for the greatest glories.
Bob Nystrom was one of those latter players, drafted 33rd overall in 1972 by the Islanders. There are many reasons why he went on to become known as "Mr. Islander," but chief among them is what occurred at 7:11 of overtime in Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals against Philadelphia:
Securing the Isles' first Stanley Cup made Nystrom an instant legend in my father's eyes. Twenty years later, I saw another legend born in Game 6 of the Finals: Jason Arnott, scoring in double-overtime to defeat the Dallas Stars and securing the New Jersey Devils their second Chalice. I remember Arnott getting emotional after the game, talking about how he took a stupid penalty at the end of the first overtime and how the goal was redemption; about how he scored it in honor of his fallen teammate Petr Sykora, sent to the hospital earlier in the evening by Derian Hatcher. And I remember watching that goal again on the big screen at the Devils' parking lot celebration, as the fans began cheering a good 15 seconds before Arnott's tally in anticipation of history.
When Brenden Morrow scored his fourth-overtime goal to clinch the semifinal series against the San Jose Sharks, the floodgates opened in the hockey nostalgia business: Ranking the greatest overtime games, listing the most famous overtime game-winners. Looking back at these incredible moments, it's rather stunning that anyone would want to tinker with the current overtime format. There's nothing better than a Stanley Cup Playoff overtime; and outside of winning the Cup itself, I imagine there's nothing more rewarding for a player than to score the final goal to end one. So what's your favorite OT game? Who's your most cherished OT hero?
David Amber of ESPN cooked up another Top 10 list -- that's actually about a Top 32 list when everything is tabulated -- and focused on the best playoff overtime games of all-time. There are four games listed at No. 1 under the heading "Marathons," and I'm not sure there's any arguing about this one:
April 18, 1987: New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals
One of the greatest hockey moments I can remember was staying up to watch "Hockey Night in Canada" on Easter weekend for Game 7 between the Islanders and Capitals. New York had fought back from a 3-1 series deficit and had to go into Washington for the deciding game. With about five minutes left in the third period, Bryan Trottier scored to tie the game at 2 and send it to overtime. Little did I know, no one would score for what seemed like an eternity. One overtime period passed, then a second, then a third. Goalies Kelly Hrudey (Islanders) and Bob Mason (Capitals) were clearly exhausted, but they somehow didn't let a puck get past them. So, for the first time since 1951, a game went to quadruple overtime. Finally, at 1:58 a.m. ET, Pat LaFontaine fired a shot from the point to beat a screened Mason, ending what is now known as the "Easter Epic." The final tally: Hrudey 73 saves, Mason 54 saves, 40 exhausted players and thousands of weary, but appreciative, fans.
Earl Sleek of Battle of California found another outstanding ranking on a site called Mahalo.com that listed the best OT game-winning goals. But before we get to that, Sleek had some thoughts of his own on what makes for a great sudden-death tally:
a) The prettiness or grittiness of the goal
b) The game up to that point (were goalies unbeatable to that point?)
c) The importance of the game and perhaps what followed
d) The game-winning hero
Based on that criteria, I am leaning towards Steve Rucchin's overtime winner in G4 of the first round of the 2003 playoffs, the goal that completed the sweep of the defending champion Detroit Red Wings. It wasn't the prettiest of goals, but it was the only time I ever saw defenseman Keith Carney carry the puck behind the opponent's net, and Rucchin was as appropriate a hero as Anaheim had on that squad. It was a huge statement goal, one that vanquished the Red Wings curse that had swept Anaheim in both previous playoff appearances, and helped propel the upstart Ducks all the way to the seventh game of the cup finals.
The Mahalo.com list of the greatest playoff OT goals is a page full of some classic YouTube videos, and covers nearly every dramatic overtime playoff tally from the video age. It's amazing to think one lucky shot in an extra session can get someone like David Volek mentioned in the same breath as someone like Bobby Orr, but that's hockey for you.
Of course, one thing to keep in mind here is that one fan's pleasure is another fan's pain. And I'm not sure if it got any more painful than this: