Top 30 Playoff Performances: 18-16

Throughout the Stanley Cup Final, Coincidental Minors will be releasing a series ranking each team’s greatest individual playoff performance.

We polled our staff to determine each team’s top individual postseason effort, then ranked those players 1-30.

Want to know who had your favorite team’s greatest playoff performance and where they rank among each team’s best, then stay tuned to find out only on Coincidental Minors.

Click here for 30-28, here for 27-25, here for 24-22 and here for 21-19.

18. Pavel Bure, Vancouver Canucks

1993-94 – 24 GP, 16-15-31, plus-8, 40 PIM, 3 PPG, 2 GWG, 1 OT

Team finish – lost Stanley Cup Final to the New York Rangers 4-3

If you were a kid in the early 1990s, the Russian Rocket was one of the first enigmatic superstars that you knew was something special, who you pretended to be during road hockey.

Pavel Bure was one of the most electrifying goal scorers in NHL history. (Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr)

And if you are of that generation, that cohort of NHLers is quickly becoming instinct. Your precious, hockey-loving youth slipping away — and Bure was one of its poster children. It’s weird to think that Bure only played 12 NHL seasons. And it’s even weirder to think Bure might have been the most dynamic scorer in the game, and he came and went so fast.

The Vancouver Canucks went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final and Bure was scoring threat on every shift.  In the first round, he posted eight points in the Canucks comeback, seven-game victory. In Game 6, on an overtime powerplay, Trevor Linden buried a loose puck after Bure’s point shot for the game winner. In Game 7’s third overtime, Bure scored a goal that most of us have seen a thousand times. (But to be fair, as stellar as that goal was, Jeff Brown’s thread-the-needle pass to send Bure was simply ridiculous.)

Bure finished Vancouver’s five-game series win over Dallas in the next round with six goals and points in each game. And history has largely forgotten that he assassinated Stars defencemen Shane Churla in Game 2, and it’s hard to imagine a cup run if Bure had been suspended for that headshot.

And Bure kept that momentum up in the conference final against Toronto, mystifying the Leafs defence and goaltending for four goals and seven points in another five-game win. No.10 wasn’t the only reason the Canucks had such an easy time vanquishing the Buds, but the Rocket was operating on a level far above his opponents. Here’s Globe and Mail sports columnist Stephen Brunt writing after the ‘Nucks 4-3 win in Game 2, because I could not say it better:

The Leafs’ greatest artists, even the splendid Doug Gilmour, are more of the house-painting variety, providing high value for honest toil, but nothing to take your breath away. Bure is a nonpareil, a van Gogh, a Picasso, a Charlie Parker. Like those other great No. 10s – Pele, Maradona, Roberto Baggio, not [The Leafs’ defencemen] Bill Berg – he is someone who sees in his game a world of possibilities that just never occur to others.

But, Bure’s brilliance aside, the Canucks just didn’t have enough of the whatever-it-is needed to win four games in the Stanley Cup Final.

Bure’s offence did miss a beat — he lost his 16-game point streak in the Canucks’ Game 2 loss against the Rangers — although reports said he was suffering from strep throat, and he did hit a crossbar. In Game 3, another loss, Bure potted his 14th goal of the playoffs, but soon after received a game misconduct for high sticking. In Game 4, yet another consecutive loss, Bure was stoned on a penalty shot by Mike Richter. But in the must-win Games 5 and 6, Bure had four points, extending the series to seven. Where of, of course, the Rangers won their first Cup in front of the MSG faithful. Bure was held off the scoresheet.

Hockey is like a subway. It just keeps moving, players get on and get off, we watch, we don’t. Every year, some player elevates his game in the playoffs and we all turn our heads. The Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and Robert Luongo might have brought the Canucks to 60 minutes from the promise land in 2011, but Bure was Vancouver’s first postseason hero — and maybe even the franchise’s first superstar.

And not only was he leading the league in postseason goals in 1994, he was also carrying the torch for a whole group of imported Europeans who played the game so differently. Great careers come and go. Pavel Bure came and went. But not before etching himself into the memories of a group of hockey fans that were coming of age in the 1990s.

Runner-up – Kirk McLean, 1993-94: 24 GP, 15-9, .928 sv%, 2.29 GAA, 4 SO

17. Brad Richards, Tampa Bay Lightning

2003-04 – 23 GP, 12-14-26, plus-5, 4 PIM, 7-5-12 PPP, 7 GWG, 1 OT, Conn Smythe Trophy

Team finish – won Stanley Cup Final over the Calgary Flames 4-3

When a Chinese media conglomerate purchases Coincidental Minors, and we end up re-doing this list in the future, Steven Stamkos should be the Lightning’s representative in the countdown. While Brad Richards is a lot of things, he’s not a generational or dynamic talent. But the funny thing about playoff hockey is while it creates myths out of men, but it also overvalues crafty playmakers from Prince Edward Island.

This isn’t to say that Richards isn’t a top NHL talent — because he is — but I think he’s been trading on past accolades for most of his career. Maybe GMs look at Richards and think about not what he is, but what he’s capable of. And that’s all because of what Richards in the 2004 playoffs.

I think for a lot of people, this playoff is more remembered for the Red Mile and when Martin Gelinas won the Cup for the Flames in Game 6. But in fact, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Cup that year, and Richards was the Conn Smythe winner.

Now, I’m not one to believe in idea of a ‘clutch player’ — I think it’s a weird way to underestimate the importance of both luck and talent. But if there is such thing as a clutch player, Brad Richards was the most clutchiest of the all-time clutch in 2004. Not only did Richards set an NHL record with seven game-winning goals in the playoffs, he also assisted on three more — meaning he was in on 10 of Tampa Bay’s 16 game-winning playoff goals.

Then-Bolts coach John Tortorella would be outside of his head to have Richards on the bench when his team need a goal — but that’s the chicken and egg thing. Was Richards scoring because he was clutch? Or clutch because he was scoring?

But like I said, playoff hockey invents things that weren’t there before. Richards’ line: with Freddie Modin and Martin St.Louis on the wings bottled that lightning (yikes, sorry) perfectly. On their own, in different seasons, they are all very, very talented hockey players — but I’m not sure they are anything special. But for a few weeks in the spring of 2004, Richards was the best playmaker on what might of been hockey’s best line. And that’s why he makes this list.

Runner-up – Dwayne Roloson, 2010-11: 17 GP, 10-6, .924 sv%, 2.51 GAA, 1 SO

16. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

2009-10 – 22 GP, 7-22-29, minus-1, 4 PIM, 5-10-15 PPP, 1 SHA, 3 GWG, Conn Smythe Trophy

Team finish – won Stanley Cup Final over the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2

Jonathan Toews had made a lot of believers in Canada before he turned 20 years old. So when the Winnipeg product made 2010 his year, it’s unlikely anyone north of the 49th Parallel was really surprised.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews celebrates with the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy after leading the Blackhawks to their first championship in 49 years. (Chicago Man, Flickr)

It started at the 2010 Winter Olympics where Toews, not yet 22, was top forward on the gold medal winning Canadian hockey squad, and ended with the former North Dakota Fighting Sioux accepting the Conn Smythe trophy after his Blackhawks defeated the Flyers for the Cup in June.

Toews is significant because he led Chicago to their first cup in the post-expansion era, but also because he helped prove the rule the Cap Era, that few bad years could pay off with a bucket load of cheap, top talent. Not unlike the Penguins before them, this meant going from a stretch of basement finishes to winning the Central Division in 2010 and the second seed in the west. Toews, the third overall pick in the ’06 draft had 68 points that season, and was the league’s best player in the postseason.

The offensive stats were there, of course — Toews didn’t lead the playoffs in scoring that year, but was damn close — 29 points in 22 games, second only to Philadelphia’s Danny Briere. But what made Toews such a difference maker in these playoffs was his remarkable two-way play. While Dave Bolland and John Madden might have been coach Joe Quenneville’s go-to checking centers through those playoffs, Toews was relied on to play tough minutes and was the opposite of a defensive liability.

Behindthenet.ca‘s data for Toews’ postseason shows him finishing over 50 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone, and a corsi relative number of just over 19 — not only did Toews pick up points, he helped the Hawks drive play and maintain possession. When the columnists began comparing No.19 as the next Mark Messier, they weren’t just making it up.

But what sets Toews’ performance in 2010 apart from other players on this list is his age. It’s not like rookie-age players don’t excel in the postseason, because they have. But there’s usually some sort of limit or drawback to it. Twenty-two-year-old captains — performing at a world-class level on both ends on the ice? It doesn’t happen often. It shouldn’t happen. But because it did this one time, the Hawks had their first cup since 1961.

Runner-up – Bobby Hull, 1970-71: 18 GP, 11-14-25, 16 PIM, 6 PPG, 4 GWG

-Scott Rennie, Managing Editor

*Stay tuned for 15-13

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