Top 30 Playoff Performers: 4

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.

4. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques

1995-96 – 22 GP, 18-16-34, plus-10, 14 PIM, 6 PPG, 6 GWG, 2 OT, Conn Smythe Trophy

Team finish – won Stanley Cup Final over the Florida Panthers 4-0

The first season of the Colorado Avalanche was a special one for a number of reasons. It was the first season that the team played in Denver, after being located in Quebec City and called

Joe Sakic’s 18 goals scored in the 1996 playoffs are the second highest total of all-time. (FrenchKheldar, Flickr)

the Nordiques for 23 years. The team was moved after years with limited post-season success and financial woes, at the tail end of and following the Peter Stastny era, and found a new home in the state of Colorado, which hadn’t enjoyed hockey since the days of the Colorado Rockies, who moved to New Jersey in 1982. The team did perform admirably in their final year in Quebec City, finishing first in the Northeast Division, but losing in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Rangers.

So perhaps it wasn’t such a surprise when the Avalanche’s first season was such a success. They finished the season with a 47-25-10 record, good enough to place them second in the Western conference. The team was lead by Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, who both turned in stellar seasons, notching 120 and 116 points respectively. Two months into the season, the team acquired Patrick Roy from the Montreal Canadiens, after Roy had a mid-game falling out with Habs coach Mario Tremblay. This, combined with the stellar play from Sakic and Forsberg, as well as a deep line up that contained both grit and scoring ability, meant that expectations were high for the team’s post-season.

The road to the Stanley Cup finals was by no means an easy one. In each round leading up to the finals, the Avs played 6 games against skilled teams. In the first round, the team faced off against a strong Vancouver Canucks squad that, albeit lacking Pavel Bure due to a knee injury, had maintained most of the nucleus of players that went to the 1994 Stanley Cup final. The series featured lots of close games, 4 of which were decided by one goal. In the next round, the team stared down a very talented Chicago Blackhawks team, whose line-up boasted such names as Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte and Ed Belfour. Then in the conference final, the Avs had to get past the President’s Trophy winning Detroit Red Wings, undoubtedly the best team in hockey at that time after setting a regular season record with 62 wins. The team was offered a reprieve, surprisingly, in the Cup final, as they faced an over-achieving Florida Panthers squad that was carried by their goaltender, John Vanbiesbrouck.

Throughout the Avs playoff run that year, a number of players stepped up. Valeri Kamensky continued on his solid regular season, and contributed a point per game. Peter Forsberg scored at about that rate, as well. Sandis Ozolinsh, acquired early in the season, had his most productive playoff run with 19 points. Then-rookie Adam Deadmarsh, along with wily veteran Mike Ricci, also pitched in with 17 points apiece. And that’s not to mention the contributions of guys like Mike Keane, Adam Foote and Claude Lemieux. But it was the team’s captain, Joe Sakic that stood out.

“Burnaby Joe” lead the team in scoring during that playoff run, by a large margin. He put up a staggering 34 points in 22 games that year, highlighted by 18 goals. This would prove to be Sakic’s best showing in the playoffs, and also came in what was his first deep run in the NHL post-season. More impressive is Sakic’s six goals on the man advantage. While a strong power play is not necessary to post-season success in the NHL, as this year’s LA Kings and last year’s Boston Bruins have proven, it certainly does help. It was especially important for the Avalanche that year, who were involved in so many close games, to capitalize on every chance they had.

Perhaps most impressive about Sakic’s performance in the 1996 playoffs is the amount of game winning goals he scored. Sakic scored a total of six times in the playoffs with the game on his stick. That is not only an example of steely composure and a killer instinct, but is also indicative of the type of leader Sakic was. Some team captains lead by example in the dressing room or on the bench, others choose to sacrifice their body to set a team standard, but Joe Sakic was the type of captain that was willing to put his team on his back, and do what needed to be done to win games. No time in his career was that “by any means necessary” attitude more evident than in the 1995-96 playoffs.

Granted, the Colorado Avalanche don’t have a tremendous amount of playoff experience, partly due to their team being so new, relatively speaking. But in those glory days of the organization, the Avs line up was a veritable embarrassment of riches. Think of the names that adorned the back of Avalanche jerseys over the years. Forsberg. Blake. Foote. Selanne. Kariya. Fleury. One name stands out above them all, though. That name is Sakic, and in addition to being perhaps the team’s best player ever, he’s also their most dominant playoff performer.

Runner-up – Patrick Roy, 2000-01: 23 GP, 16-7, .394 sv%, 1.70 GAA, 4 SO, Conn Smythe Trophy

-Stephen Lethbridge, Contributing Writer

*Stay tuned as we reveal number three tomorrow

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