Top 30 Playoff Performances: 7-6

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.

7. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

2002-03 – 24 GP, 16-8, .934 sv%, 1.65 GAA, 7 SO

Team finish – won Stanley Cup Final over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 4-3

Because history is such a cruel mistress, Martin Brodeur appears at this spot, not Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Although 2003 was the season of seasons for New Jersey’s No.30 — Vezina Trophy winner, Hart finalist, cup ring, not to mention an Olympic gold medal sixteen months prior — it was his counterpart in the final, Anaheim’s Giguere who was the difference maker

Martin Brodeur set a record with seven shutouts in the 2003 playoffs, including three in the Cup Final. (C. P. Storm, Flickr)

in the Ducks’ cinderella run to seventh game of the cup final. But because the Devils did lift Stanley that year, and because Brodeur one-upped Giggy in the end (although the Ducks’ netminder still took the Conn Smythe for consolation), he’s makes our list as the Devils’ top playoff performer.

This series took place at the height of the Dead Puck Era, which Lou Lamoriello had perfectly constructed this team for, without huge salaries or superstars, aside from Marty. The Devils put the emphasis on goaltending and defence, and were content to let their forwards clog up the neutral zone rather than drive play toward net.

Broduer had seven shutouts in the spring of 2003, including three in the cup final, and allowed just 41 goals in 24 games. While he was yanked twice in the postseason (giving Mr and Mrs. Schwab a chance to see their son Corey appear in a Stanley Cup Game 6), but he repeatedly came through to make the saves that are expected of a world-class goalie. Which is all you ever want from your netminder.

The Devils faced Boston in the first round and Brodeur allowed just eight goals in five games, posting a .940 save percentage. In the conference semifinal, they played Tampa Bay and he once again allowed only eight goals in five games, including just one in a triple-overtime series clinching game in which he made 38 saves. He put up a .942 save percentage in that series.

In the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa, Brodeur was outstanding in the third period including turning away a Marian Hossa breakaway and 12 of 13 shots in total, in New Jerseys tight 3-2 win. In the cup clincher, Marty responded from a shaky Game 6 to stop all 24 shots for his third series shutout, 3-0 over Anaheim, to give the franchise its third championship.

Scott Niedermayer, Patrik Elias and Claude Lemieux are all players who provided offence during Devils cup runs over the years, but it’s hard to think of the franchise without its defensive mainstays: Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, John Madden, Bobby Holik, and above all, Brodeur. And besides Daneyko, only Broduer has played as many playoff games for New Jersey. Marty is the embodiment of the Devils dominance of the league between 1995 and the lockout.

It would impossible to laud one of the winningest teams in modern history without giving it up to their goaltender — but it’s especially appropriate in Brodeur’s case. He was the best defender on one of hockey’s all-time defensive teams — consistently one of the best goalies in the league as the Devils suffocated their opponents for three cups in nine seasons.

Runner-up – Scott Stevens, 1999-2000: 23 GP, 3-8-11, plus-9, 6 PIM, 1 PPA, 1 SHA, 2 GWG, Conn Smythe Trophy

6. Terry Sawchuk, Detroit Red Wings

1951-52 – 8 GP, 8-0, 0.63 GAA, 4 SO

Team finish – won Stanley Cup Final over the Montreal Canadiens 4-0

There were seven future hall of famers on the 1951-52 Wings, who finished atop the NHL table on the strength of Gordie Howe’s league-leading 47 goals, along with the output of the rest of his Production Line — with captain Sid Abel at centre (53 points) and Ted Lindsay on the left side (69 points).  Based on that offence, it would be easy overlook Sawchuk’s league-leading 12 shutouts, which tied the NHL record at the time.

But the Winnipeg Wonder was close to invincible in the finals, and here’s the evidence:

Semifinal vs. Toronto

Game 1 — 3-0 shutout

Game 2 — 1-0 shutout (including making crucial saves on a two-minute man advantage in the third)

Game 3 — 6-2

Game 4 — 3-1

GAA in the sweep: 0.76

Final vs. Montreal

Game 1 — 3-1

Game 2 — 2-1

Game 3 — 3-0 shutout. Sawchuk made 26 saves, including one sequence where he stopped four in a row on Habs’ winger Paul Meger.

Game 4 — 3-0 shutout.

GAA in what the Canadian Press called the “greatest sweep in the modern history of the big-league game:” 0.5.

It’s also worth nothing that in these playoffs, Howe cooled off from the regular season, and he didn’t score until Game 3 of the cup final. But who needs Mr.Hockey when your starting goaltender posts a GAA of 0.63, and doesn’t allow a goal on home ice throughout the postseason?

There’s much I could write to make the case for Sawchuk’s brilliance in the 1952 playoffs — but I’ll let Maurice Richard, held goalless in the four game sweep, do that. The Rocket doffed his cap to Sawchuk, telling reporters: “He is their club. Another guy in the nets and we’d beat them.”

It’s a weird task to rank goalies from the Original Six — after all, five starters from that era (Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower, and Gump Worsley) are all in the Hall of Fame. The pool was limited, and yes, the game was a lot different than it is today. All things relative, goaltenders in 2012 face much tougher competition.  But this was the glory days of the league, and these men were both pillars of courage and insane daredevils — wearing equipment that could be only generously be described as padding, making up their playing styles as they went along and looking like this. A goaltender’s job in any game — on any shot — is to do whatever he can to keep the puck out of the net. And in 1952, Sawchuk kept nearly everything out — which is why he makes this list.

And it wouldn’t be fair to say that anyone of that era’s ‘tenders could have backstopped the Wings to four cups in five years, like Sawchuk did. At Coincidental Minors, we give credit where it’s due — and that’s why Sawchuk, who tragically died young after a freak injury sustained in a fight with a Rangers teammate in 1970, is so high on this list.

Runner-up – Steve Yzerman, 2001-02: 23 GP, 6-17-23, plus-4, 10 PIM, 4-7-11 PPP, 2 SHA, 2 GWG

-Scott Rennie, Managing Editor

Stay Tuned for number 5

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