Top 30 Playoff Performances: 2

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.

2. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins

1990-91 – 23 GP, 16-28-44, plus-14, 16 PIM, 6 PPG, 2 SHG, Conn Smythe Trophy

Team finish – won Stanley Cup Final over the Minnesota North Stars 4-2

What hasn’t been said about Mario Lemieux in the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Lemieux could always be counted on to lead his team, but after missing a large portion of the 1990-91 season with a back injury, many would have excused him had his performance level slipped. Given that the Pittsburgh Penguins had missed the playoffs in 1989-1990, the expectation level might not have been as high either.

The Penguins obviously suffered without Lemieux in the regular season, sitting outside the playoff picture early in the season while he recovered. Lemieux’s return and the addition of several key players through trades saw the Penguins not only get into the playoffs, but also win the Division title. Despite only 26 games played, Lemieux finished the season fifth in team scoring with 45 points.

The Penguins started the playoffs against the New Jersey Devils, and eventually defeated them in seven games. Though Lemieux did finish the series with a minus-3, he recorded 3-5-8 and was held off the scoresheet just once, in a 4-2 loss in Game 5.

The hard fought series against the Devils was followed up by a short five game series against the Washington Capitals. Lemieux had 2-7-9 in that series, including three assists in a 7-6 Game 2 victory and two points in back-to-back wins in games 3 and 4. He also finished the series a plus-3 but was just getting warmed up.

In the Conference Finals, the Penguins would fall behind 2-0 against the Boston Bruins. On the strength of Lemieux’s leadership, and a solid showing by Tom Barrasso, the Penguins stormed back to win four straight and make their first franchise appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. Lemieux recorded 6-9-15 and a plus-9 in the series and had multiple points in five of the six games including four in game 5.

As a team that had missed the playoffs in seven of the eight seasons prior to 1990-91, the Penguins had a chance against the underdog Minnesota North Stars to do something that seemed unlikely only one season prior – win the Stanley Cup.

The North Stars held the Penguins close through four games. Considering how the North Stars had already upset both the Presidents’ Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks and defending champion Edmonton Oilers, the 2-2 series split going back to Mellon Arena was reason for concern, as was the fact Lemieux missed game 3 due to his continuing back woes.

It was Lemieux, though, who would end up capping the season for the Penguins. His ability to dominate the ice would be the much need boost to stave off another upset by a team that finished 20 points back of the Penguins. A season that started with injury, ended with Lemieux hoisting both the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy. He scored a goal in every games he played in the Cup Final and added seven assists for 12 points and a plus-5 in five games.

So it has to be asked again, what hasn’t been said about Lemieux in the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs? The simple answer is that it has all been said – and said a hundred times. Lemieux finished with 44 playoffs points – only one back of his regular season totals, and three back of Wayne Gretzky’s record of 47 points set in 1985. He consistently led his team to victory in a calm, but overpowering way that only a player of his caliber could do. His play earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy, the first of two straight making him just the second player after Bernie Parent to be named playoff MVP in back-to-back years.

But why say it, when you can show it? Lemieux’s domination, confidence, and leadership were displayed in 1991, when he scored one of the most iconic, and memorable, goals in NHL history.

1991 was a truly remarkable performance by Lemieux, and if you don’t believe me, just take a look at this and try to say otherwise:

Runner-up – Evgeni Malkin, 2008-09: 24 GP, 14-22-36, plus-3, 51 PIM, 7-9-16 PPP, 3 GWG, 1 OT, Conn Smythe Trophy

-Sean Meister, Contributing Writer

*Stay Tuned as we unveil our top choice as the greatest individual playoff performance tomorrow. 


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