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Thursday, April 25, 2002
Updated: May 1, 2:57 PM ET
Readers: NHL playoff performances

From the Page 2 mailbag

Even though the first round isn't quite over, there have been several fantastic performances in the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs. But those players will have to continue their pace for nearly two more months if they want to rank among the best of all time.

Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy picked up his third Conn Smythe Trophy in 2001.
Earlier this week, Page 2 listed our top 10 playoff performances in NHL history, and we asked you to send us your choices for the best performer.

After going through more than 350 e-mails, here is how Page 2 readers ranked their picks. Be sure to vote in the poll at right to crown the No. 1 Stanley Cup playoff performer of all time.

1. Patrick Roy 1993 (38 letters)
As a native Southern California, I was enthralled with the winning ways of The Great One and his rag-tag team from the 1992-93 Los Angeles Kings. However, all happiness ended when they encountered the wall that is Patrick Roy, then of the Montreal Canadiens, in the Stanley Cup final.

The cocksure goaltender single-handedly (with some help from Marty McSorley's stick) won the series with his overtime brilliance, which had also powered Les Habs through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Roy's success in the net and especially in overtime will forever be the standard of modern playoff goaltenders; and his famous wink will always remind me of how SoCal came thhhiiiiiisss close to the Cup, but was foiled by the greatest playoff performer ever.
C. Eldridge

You have two Roy performances mentioned ('01 and '86) but you forgot his best playoff run (and the best run of all time) for the Canadiens in 1993.

Forget all the fancy stats, Roy carried a rag-tag team of unproven rookies, grizzled veterans and unskilled role-players to a Stanley Cup on the strength of his 10 (count 'em) OT wins.

Ten overtime wins, no OT losses. That is one record that will never be broken.
Paul Glass

2. Mark Messier and Brian Leetch 1994 (29 letters)
Messier is only No. 9 on your list? You're kidding, right? Fellas, do you have a bunch of Icelander and Devil fans working in P.R. up there in Bristol? Too many old Whalers fans still hanging around?

Five words. "I guarantee we'll win tonight." And then what did the greatest captain of any sport, of any time period, do? He only goes out and throws a hat trick on Mar-Tan Bro-Deur and the Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. A hat trick, boys!!!

To top it off, he lifts the Holy Grail above his head on a June night. The sign in the Garden said it all that night -- "Now I can die in Peace."

Messier carried that team. He owns the city now and forever because of that spring of 1994.
Chris D
Rockaway, N.J.

Mark Messier's guarantee of victory before Game 6 of the conference finals in the 1994 Rangers-Devils series was one of the most audacious claims in sports history and ranks him with Joe Namath and Muhammad Ali as one of the select few athletes who guaranteed and delivered victory when defeat seemed all but certain.

The Rangers had the burden of 54 years of playoff futility hanging over them as they fell into a 3-2 series hole with Game 6 across the river in the Meadowlands swamp. Messier's guarantee of victory is on the back pages of all the tabloids, providing ample locker room bulletin board fodder for the Devils. The Devils quickly jump to a 2-0 lead in the first period and many a Rangers fan simply took it as a sign that the hockey gods would not allow the Rangers to win. Then, a miracle happened. Messier put a hockey team with more than a half-century of futility on his back and willed the Rangers to victory. His hat trick alone does not do justice to how he played in that game: the infamous glare, the barking at his opponents, teammates, referees, fans ... he played as if his life depended upon victory. Frankly, after that game, I had no doubt that the Rangers would win the Cup, because I knew Mark Messier would not allow defeat.

Brian Leech had a great playoffs and deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy, but Messier's "guarantee" and otherworldly play in Game 6 is what cemented his status as one of the great leaders in all of team sports and, perhaps, the greatest team leader in hockey history. His performance was unforgettable.
Rich Lafont
New York

Terry Sawchuk
Terry Sawchuk had four shutouts in 1952.
3. Terry Sawchuk 1952 (22 letters)
In the Original Six, only the best 120 players on the continent played, so you certainly faced the best of the best in the playoffs. For a young 22-year-old Sawchuk to pitch four shutouts, three one-goal games, and one two-goal game is nothing short of phenomenal. The only thing he didn't do was string three shutouts together. Besides, the tradition of throwing the octopus on the ice began that year.
Mike Taylor
Santa Clarita, Calif.

Terry Sawchuk's 1952 playoff has not been equaled nor will anyone come close to it. It is akin to Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak. To win eight games out of eight, allowing only five goals and earning four shutouts in Original Six hockey is amazing. Sawchuk averaged between 25 and 30 shots a game, earning the Stanley Cup and certainly the Conn Smythe, had it been awarded in those days.
Tom Clyde
Trenton, Ontario

4. Ken Dryden 1971 (17 letters)
As a Bruins fan, I can say that to this day I would like to take him by the throat and throttle the life out of him.

The Big Bad Bruins were robbed of the chance to take their place among the great hockey dynasties of all time by a rookie goaltender. A mountain of a man, to be sure.

Just beating that particular Bruins team earns him highest of honors.
Brendan Hanlon
Westwood, Mass.

You guys missed the whole point of his performance. The 1971 Bruins were defending Stanley Cup champions (and would win it the next year as well) and had absolutely embarrassed the rest of the league during the regular season.

Until Gretzky & Co. showed up, these guys were what scoring was all about. Dryden, an untested college grad (Ivy Leaguer!), stoned the Bruins. Completely and totally dominated them, physically and mentally. Had the Canadiens made the playoffs the next year, he would have beaten the Bruins again. Here in the Hub of U.S. hockey, this is still an unbelievable occurrence, to have stopped that Bruins team.
Rick Mahoney
Mansfield, Mass.

5. Billy Smith 1983 (15 letters)
All Smith did en route to winning the Vezina and helping the Islanders sweep Edmonton for Cup No. 4 was:

  • Hold Edmonton's potent offense to six goals in four games

  • Hold Wayne Gretzky without a goal (four assists) in the series

  • Drive the Oilers nuts with "friendly slashes" of Gretzky and Glenn Anderson

  • Deal with the Edmonton media that put his face in a bulls-eye with bullets around it.

    He was simply awesome and '83 was some of the best goaltending I have ever seen. Ever.
    Matt Levy

    6. Patrick Roy 1986 (11 letters)
    It was his coming-out party. I can remember, game in, game out, Patrick stood on his head, and every game announcer would be astounded as they called the game: "Who is this guy?"

    It was electric, and he was unbeatable behind a team that was not far from mediocre otherwise.
    Patrick Jonas
    Spring Valley, Ohio

    The Oilers had the best team in the NHL by far that season, but were upset by the Flames in the conference finals. The Canadiens had nobody that year, other than an incredible rookie netminder who stood on his head to bring home the Cup.

    And this is coming from someone who has been a Habs-hater his whole life, so it must be true.
    Arvind Balaram

    Wayne Gretzky
    Wayne Gretzky's 47 points in 1985 are still a playoff record.
    7. Wayne Gretzky 1985 (nine letters)
    Forty-seven playoff points in 18 games is unbelievable, even for Gretzky. Those stats alone could win Lord Stanley's treasure.

    Simply amazing.
    Kurt Beutel
    Upland, Calif.

    He didn't get the name "The Great One" for pulling off almost great performances.
    David S.
    New Oxford, Pa.

    8. (tie) Bobby Orr 1970 (eight letters)
    Bobby Orr's performance in the 1970 Stanley Cup (along with the entire season) is an accomplishment that may never be duplicated.

    The guy held down the Bruins defense while leading the team's offense. That's like Pedro hitting .300 with 25 dingers for the Red Sox. It's Babe Ruth status. And that is where Bobby Orr's performance in 1970 (along with his entire career) should be -- in the upper echelons of the sports world.
    New Hampshire

    8. (tie) Ron Hextall 1987 (eight letters)
    As a rookie, he took a team, without two of its best players -- Tim Kerr and Dave Poulin, to the seventh game of the finals against probably one of the best teams in the history of the league. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the losing goalie.

    You can't ask more of a player than that.
    Mike Farrell

    10. Patrick Roy 2001 (seven letters)
    During and after the Vancouver series, media across the continent stated Roy was washed up. One thing people should know is, never tell Roy he can't do something.

    He shuts out the Kings in Game 2 and took off from there. Your goalie has to be your best performer in the playoffs, and Roy single-handedly beat St. Louis and New Jersey with stellar performances. He proved he's the best to ever play in net because, unlike Hasek, he can get it done in the postseason when it matters most.
    Matt Geiszler
    San Diego