Top 30 Playoff Performances: 5

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.

We will now bring you one a day as we enter the top five.

5. Brian Leetch, New York Rangers

1993-94 – 23 GP, 11-23-34, plus-19, 6 PIM, 4 PPG, 4 GWG, Conn Smythe Trophy

Team finish – won Stanley Cup Final over the Vancouver Canucks 4-3

There are many moments etched in the minds of New York Rangers fans from their 1994 Stanley Cup run. Mark Messier’s guarantee before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, Stephane Matteau’s double-overtime goal in Game 7 and Mike Richter’s stop on a Pavel Bure penalty shot with the Canucks up 2-1 in Game 4 of the Cup Final were all significant, but in the end it was defenseman Brian Leetch whose steady play throughout the playoffs earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy and allowed for arguably the greatest moment in the greatest arena in the world.

The native of Corpus Christi, Texas became the first, and so far only, American to be named playoff MVP and his consistent supply of offense and steady defense paced the Rangers through 23 playoff games to put an exclamation point on the best season in the iconic franchise’s history.

Always a great offense-minded defenseman, he became just the fifth blueliner to record 100 points in a season in 1991-92, he enjoyed a very good season in 1993-94, totaling 23-56-79 even though Sergei Zubov led the team in scoring with 12-77-89. But Leetch, a two-time winner of the Norris Trophy, upped his game to new heights in their run through the playoffs.

The first two rounds could not have been any easier as it took only nine games to eliminate the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. Leetch had two goals, eight points and was a plus-11 in a sweep as the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers dominated the Islanders who finished 28 points behind them, outscoring the eighth seed 22-3.

In the second round against Washington, Leetch recorded three goals, nine points and a plus-4 in five games, but they were about to face adversity for the first time in the Eastern Conference Final as they took on the New Jersey Devils who were second in the NHL with 106 points.

Leetch would be held without a point three times in the series, all losses for the Blueshirts. He was a minus-3 in a 4-3 Game 1 loss and combined minus-1 in Game 4 and 5. But with the Rangers on the brink of yet another major letdown, Leetch posted assists on Messier’s tying and winning goals and was a plus-4 in Game 6 and then scored their only regulation goal in Game 7 on an extraordinary effort.

The Stanley Cup Final started with a loss to the Vancouver Canucks despite Leetch’s two assists, but they came out victorious in three straight as he totaled four goals, seven points and a plus- 5 in Games 2-4. What followed was his worst stretch of the playoffs as Vancouver battled back to tie the series. Leetch had one assist and was a minus-5 in 6-1 and 4-1 losses, but bounced back and scored the opening goal in Game 7 as New York won its first Stanley Cup since 1940.

Leetch’s 11 goals and 34 points are the second highest totals ever recorded by a defenseman in the playoffs, second only to Paul Coffey who went 12-25-37 in the 1985 playoffs, and his plus-19 is tied with Chris Chelios of the 1992 Blackhawks as the highest rating ever.

If it seems like Leetch was on the ice for seemingly every Rangers goal that postseason, that’s because he very nearly was. Jim Cerny of the Rangers’ website talks about Leetch’s Conn Smythe effort and how vital he was that spring:

Leetch’s offensive numbers were outstanding. He recorded a league-leading 34 points in 23 post-season games, earning points in 19 of those contests. Leetch established new Rangers records for most points, most assists (23), and most game-winning goals (4) in a single post-season. And his 11 goals were a Rangers playoff record for defensemen, although he finished one goal behind teammate Mark Messier for the overall club lead during the ’94 playoffs.

Looking deeper into the numbers, though, one can only scratch the surface of Leetch’s importance to the Rangers in their run to the Cup. Of the 81 goals scored by New York during that magical spring, Leetch was on ice for 61, or better than an incredible 75 percent. And of the 22 power-play goals recorded by the Blueshirts in the 1994 post-season, Leetch was on ice for 19, an amazing 87 percent total for the Rangers point man.

Due to his importance to the team, coach Mike Keenan not only played him as often as possible, but Leetch was targeted by the opposition at every opportunity.

And all of these numbers don’t take into account the incredible amount of ice-time Leetch chewed up during the 1994 post-season. By this point in his career, Leetch was among the most fit players in the entire National Hockey League, and it showed in the spring of ’94.

Routinely playing better than 30 minutes per game, with games every other night on the schedule, Leetch never seemed to falter physically, even though he was the target of constant abuse from the opposition. And on the nights the Rangers were forced to play double overtime against the Devils or a single overtime against the Canucks, Leetch’s time on ice shot well over 40 minutes and even approached 50.

The closest any defenseman has come to Leetch’s 34-point output since then is Chris Pronger who put up 5-16-21 with Edmonton in 2006.  Three defensemen, Scott Stevens in 2000, Nicklas Lidstrom in 2002 and Scott Niedermayer in 2007, have taken home the Conn Smythe Trophy since Leetch, they the three averaged just under four goals and nine assists for just under 13 points and combined were just a plus-17. There hasn’t been a defenseman since Leetch who was anywhere close to being as dominant and few before him were any better which is why he ranks number five on our list.

Runner-up – Mark Messier, 1993-94: 23 GP, 12-18-30, plus-14, 33 PIM, 2 PPG, 1 SHG, 4 GWG

-Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor

*Stay tuned for number four tomorrow.


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