Part of the reason we watch sports is to view the spectacle of a team overcoming the odds to defeat a heavily favored opponent. Hockey history is filled with these occasions, and they have given us beloved stories from the 1980 Miracle on Ice to the stunning Stanley Cup run of the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings. However, on the other side of all of these stories are the teams that suffered defeat, and the players that failed to live up to the expectation of their fans. Players that lose in these situations routinely can earn the reputation of being chokers.
Hockey is a team sport, and in many situations it is difficult to blame an individual for a particular loss, but over the course of many careers the inability to succeed in big spots stands out against their typical production. A player that is capable of putting up points on a nightly basis suddenly goes silent in a big playoff series. A hot goaltender can all of a sudden give up soft goals that would have been easily stopped just a few days prior. These rapidly changing performance levels have changed the course of hockey history.
The rich history of hockey has been shaped by players willing to take charge at crucial points in big games. These games almost always involve players on the other side faltering in these big moments. The Miracle on Ice may have never happened if Viktor Tikonov had not pulled Vladislav Tretiak during the first intermission. What if Joe Thornton had a legacy of being a playoff superstar and the San Jose Sharks dynasty had taken off? These losing efforts have shaped the game just as much as the victors, but along the way have earned the label of choker.
15 15. Evgeni Nabokov
14 14. Alexander Semin
13 13. Marc-Andre Fleury
12 12. Alexander Ovechkin
11 11. 2009/10 Boston Bruins
10 10. Keith Tkachuk
9 9. Marty Turco
8 8. Keith Jones
7 7. Current Era Toronto Maple Leafs
6 6. Roberto Luongo
5 5. Joe Thornton
4 4. 1996-97 Philadelphia Flyers
3 3. 1974-75 Pittsburgh Penguins
2 2. 1941-42 Detroit Red Wings
1 1. Steve Smith
Steve Smith played for 16 seasons in the NHL, but is still best remembered for an incident that occurred during his rookie year. In Game 7 of the Smythe Division Final, Smith collected the puck in the corner of his own zone and while attempting to play a pass across the ice, played the puck off the back of Grant Fuhr into his own goal. Smith fell to the ice in embarrassment, and the Oilers lost the series as a result. In spite of Smith and the Oilers recovering to win three of the next four Stanley Cups, the incident is still remembered as one of the biggest chokes in hockey history.
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