The ridiculous grind of NHL season came to a close when the Kings finally managed to send the Devils back to hell on their third try at closing up their 3-0 series lead in LA. When the blood dried and the dust settled, Kings goalie Johnathan Quick not only had the honor of taking a lap with the best trophy in sports, but earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Playoffs’ most valuable player. The dude was a wall in net for Los Angeles all year, but somehow managed to go even harder in the postseason, winning four games for each loss and allowing an average of only one and a half goals per game. And people thought Tim Thomas was all that in 2011…
Anyway, in the wake of such straight-up dominance, it’s only fitting to have look at some other guys from the past couple decades who came through when the stakes were raised:
5. Scott Stevens (Defenseman, New Jersey Devils) // 2000
Stevens is one of the most downright intimidating players in any sport, ever. He was the monster who patrolled the Devils blueline from 1991 to 2004, dolling out vicious punishment (with a smile) to anyone stupid enough to come up the ice unawares, and it was during the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs that number four in red was at his terrifying best. Yeah, he was fourth on the Devils in points that postseason, but like the rest of his career in New Jersey, it was his defense that set him apart from the rest.
Matched diligently against Hall of Fame competition like Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros and Mike Modano, Stevens shut down all of them in turn, Captaining the Devils to the second of the three Stanley Cups they would win with him at the helm. Stevens’ Smythe-winning run will be best remembered, however, for essentially ending Lindros’ career in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, with one of the most devastating checks in hockey history. Keep your head up, kid.
4. Hideki Matsui (Designated Hitter, New York Yankees) // 2009
Godzilla is probably the only player on this list not destined for his sports’ Hall of Fame, but it doesn’t stop his play in the 2009 World Series from being one of the greatest performances of all time. Originally an outfielder, Matsui was moved to the bench as a designated hitter and was coming off the worst offensive regular season of his career…
Because of his position, Matsui started only three games against the defending champion Phillies, but made every appearance count, going 8 for 13 with eight RBIs, including a staggering six in the Yankees’ clinching game. He’s also one of only three players with a .600 batting average in the World Series. I’d consider Babe Ruth and Lou Gherig some pretty elite company.
3. Tom Brady (Quarterback, New England Patriots) // 2002, 2004
As a long-suffering Buffalo sports fan and hater of all things scooter related, it pains me to give the #3 spot to the biggest reason I went my entire teenage years without seeing the Bills beat the Pats. Brady’s body of work in the playoffs during the early 2000s, however, speaks for itself.
Nine consecutive wins, three rings in four years, 1700+ yards of offense and thirteen touchdowns are pretty impressive figures, but most important was Brady’s play with the game on the line. He held down the fort on the final drive in the 2002 and 2004 Super Bowls, setting up Adam Vinatieri for game ending field goals in each and earning a little extra hardware for his trouble. Not too shabby for the 199th pick in the 2000 Draft. Chad Pennington/Gionvanni Carmazzi/Chris Redman/three-others say whaaaaa?
2. Patrick Roy (Goaltender, Montreal Canadiens/Colorado Avalanche) // 1986, 1993, 2001
Three Vezina Trophy’s as the league’s best goalie, 1000 wins and eleven All-Star Games are impressive feats for any backstop, but Patrick Roy’s case for best netminder of ever begins and ends with his playoff heroics. Wayne Gretzky might be “The Great One” but he doesn’t have three Conn Smythes. Neither does Lemieux, Orr, Howe or Messier. Roy, on the other hand, was so damn good in the postseason that it even gave him some hearing trouble. The late 80s/early 90s incarnations of the Canadiens had no business sniffing titles, but Roy twice dragged them to Lord Stanley, including posting a GAA of 1.93 in ’86, way before goalies got to look like the Michelin Man.
When the Habs repaid him by keeping him in net for an 11-1 shellacking against the Red Wings, he demanded a trade, got shipped to Colorado, and picked up right where he left off, winning two more Cups and another Smythe with the Avalanche. In addition to the three Smythes, Roy has the NHL record for playoff games, wins and consecutive playoff OT victories. Can you say clutch?
1. Michael Jordan (Shooting Guard, Chicago Bulls) // 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998
Who were you expecting, the Easter Bunny? In addition to the monster numbers (5987 playoff points) the highest playoff scoring rate in NBA History (33.4 ppg), six titles, and six Finals MVPs (not to mention a competitiveness that frightened his teammates into performing); you’ve got shots like this. And this. And this one. And this game. And this one.
Really, Jordan made a career out of heroics that made the impossible reality, triumphing through sheer dedication and willpower in the face of of overwhelming odds and adversity. The type of stuff that made you watch five hours of the same episode of Sports Center just to see again. Any one would be a transcendental moment for a lesser player. For His Airness, it was just another day at the office. And isn’t that what greatness is?- Pool Captain