It is the consummation of a long, grueling season of 82 games and a playoff run which takes you right into the heart of summer. It often features two teams of 23 men sporting enough facial hair to insulate an entire home. It always has helped to produce, if not solidify ,the status of a new hero or villain. Yes, this is the Stanley Cup Finals, which celebrates the incredible drive and passion of two franchise’s on the cusp of the ultimate team success in sport.
Obviously, in order to even reach the finals is quite an achievement for any franchise and can only be done if teams receive some extraordinary performances from their stars and role players.
Some men have excelled throughout the history of the Stanley Cup Finals, winning multiple titles and putting on stunning performances. These are the greats, the stars who shone brightest when the stage was at its highest level, the ones that will be remembered as more than athletes to those lives which they affected.
However, it can’t always be easy for all involved, as someone does have to lose. While legends are born through success and stardom at the highest stage in hockey, so are the legends of failure, heartache, missed opportunity and infamy. These are the true stories that are engrained in the minds of fans all over the NHL, the men who on the biggest stage in sports, fell flat on their faces when their team and city needed them most. Many of these men got the redemption in other Finals, but this was their lowest point.
15 Phil Esposito (1974)
During the 1973-74 season, Esposito had led the Bruins with an astonishing 68 goals and 145 points, both league highs for the season. He led the Bruins through the playoffs, continuing his scoring with seven goals and eleven points in the first ten playoff games. In the finals, however, he ran into Bernie Parent and the Broadstreet Bullies. Esposito was held to his lowest point total in the Finals of his career with only two goals and an assist. A far cry from his usual self, Esposito’s lack of scoring was a big reason the Flyers walked away winners of their first ever Stanley Cup.
14 Evgeni Malkin (2008)
After a breakout second NHL season with 47 goals and 106 points, Malkin’s second playoff stint was a lot better than his first. He tallied nine goals and 19 points with a +5 rating through the first three rounds, looking nearly unstoppable in a sweep and a pair of five game series wins for the Pens. However, in his first taste of the Finals, he was only able to muster a single goal and a pair of assists with a -2 rating, as the Penguins lost to the much more seasoned Detroit Red Wings. He redeemed himself in the next year, winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe award.
13 Roberto Luongo (2011)
During another stellar season in Vancouver, where he won 38 games and posted a goals against average of 2.11, Luongo led the Canucks on a deep playoff run. In the Finals, they went head-to-head with the less skilled, more gritty Boston Bruins. However, Luongo struggled against the Bruins. Although he was one win away from helping the Canucks hoist the Cup, Luongo’s stats were awful. He sported an 8.05 goals against average in the three road games in Boston with a .773 save percentage. His play, in part, unfortunately would cost the Canucks a title, as he faltered in game seven on home ice, allowing three goals on just twenty shots.
12 Marian Hossa (2009)
Hossa rode into the 2009 finals against his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, with their former rivals from the past season’s Finals, the Detroit Red Wings. He came in off another 30+ goal season and compiled himself a nice six goals and 12 points with a +5 rating through the first three rounds. However, in the finals, a year removed from scoring three goals and seven points in just six games, he was only able to produce a measly three assists upon his return, as the Wings would go on to lose in seven. Hossa went from a focal point in the series to an afterthought rather quickly. Lucky for Hossa, he has since reached the Finals and restored himself as a playoff performer with three Stanley Cup rings. But in 2009, he was nowhere to be found.
11 Olaf Kolzig (1998)
In the run up to the 1998 Finals, it was hard to find someone who was better between the pipes than Olaf Kolzig. In 17 post-season games, he recorded four shutouts and a goals against below two. However, once his Washington Capitals reached the Finals against the powerhouse Red Wings, Kolzig’s star quickly faded and gave way to eventual Conn Smythe nominee Chris Osgood. Olaf struggled to find the same form that brought his team to the cusp of a championship and his 3.25 goals against average only proves that he was unable to truly make the key plays that his team needed in the biggest moments.
10 Eric Lindros (1997)
After missing 30 games due to injury and still posting 32 goals and 79 points in his shortened season, Eric Lindros was on a roll heading into the playoffs. He continued his hot streak with 11 goals and 23 points in the first 15 games of the playoffs, culminating in his hat-trick over the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, in the Finals against Detroit, he could only muster one goal and two assists during a four game sweep at the hands of the Wings. A big drop off at a big time from the Big E.
9 Ed Belfour (1992)
Following up making a name for himself during the 1990-91 season with 43 wins, Ed Belfour led the Hawks on a deep playoff run the very next season. He excelled in the playoffs, producing a goals against of two exactly, with a shutout, while leading the Hawks to back-to-back series sweeps in rounds two and three. In their visit to the Finals against the juggernaut Penguins, Belfour’s magic ran dry. Chicago would be swept away in four games, while Belfour struggled to the tune of a 3.70 goals against and an .875 save percentage. One positive to take from this lackluster performance was the birth of the ‘Dominator’ as Dominik Hasek made himself known around the league, while playing clean-up to Belfour’s mess in the finals.
8 Guy Carbonneau (1989)
After proving himself in the NHL as a top six forward for the Canadiens in the mid-80s, Carbonneau showed his playoff grit by earning a ring with the team in the 86 Finals. Three years later, after a solid first three rounds of the post-season, collecting four goals and nine points through 15 games, Carbonneau and the Canadiens once again faced the Flames in the Finals. This time around, he had zero impact. He was held scoreless over the six games and produced a -3 rating.
7 Joe Nieuwendyk (2000)
Nieuwendyk was coming off a second Cup victory and a Conn Smythe trophy win as he entered the 2000 NHL season. He once again would help Dallas reach the post-season and was once again expected to be a major factor in their success or failure of obtaining a cup. Through the first three rounds, he compiled a respectable six goals and nine points with a +2 rating. These stats were nothing special in comparison to his previous post-season, but his Finals were about to solidify that statement. The Stars lost in six and Nieuwendyk scored a single goal. Joe had gone from hero to zero in just one year's time.
6 Michael Peca (1999)
The young, gritty captain totaled the second highest goal and point totals on the young Sabres during the 1998-99 season. In the playoffs, Peca led the Sabres through the first three rounds with 12 points and his grit truly led them into the Finals. Unfortunately, once he arrived there, Peca’s game became very quiet. He was never as dominant defensively, or offensively, as he was going into the Finals and his one measly goal with a -3 rating provides the details on his failed performance.
5 Cam Neely (1990)
Neely had built himself into a star for the Bruins through the mid-80s and, by the 89-90 playoffs, he was a key catalyst to a deep Boston playoff run. Neely collected a fantastic 12 goals and 24 points in the opening rounds of the playoffs and also sported a +7 rating in just 16 games. However, in the Finals, Neely went ice cold, only mustering four assists in a five game series loss to the Oilers.
4 Steve Yzerman (1995)
Although he will go down as one of the greatest captains and clutch players in NHL history, it doesn’t mean he can avoid our list for the worst Finals performances. His performance in the 1995 finals was one to forget. After totaling three goals and 11 points in the first 11 games of his post-season, Yzerman headed a powerhouse Wings team into the Finals against an underdog New Jersey team. Nevertheless, the Wings captain could only summon one goal in the series, as his team was swept at the hands of the upstart Devils, leading Stevie Y to join our list.
3 Ilya Kovalchuk (2012)
Kovalchuk has always been a highly skilled offensive star. During the 2011-2012 campaign, he again registered 35+ goals and 80+ points. During the playoffs, he even turned it up a notch, recording 18 points in just the first 17 games while notching seven goals. Still, once in the Finals, Kovalchuk shrunk out of the spotlight. He would amass one goal, no assists and a -3 rating in the Devils six game loss to the L.A. Kings.
2 Rick Nash (2014)
Rick Nash’s 2014 Finals were awful, but, in all honesty, his entire 2014 Playoffs was nothing to write home about. Nash was terribly in the first two rounds, with no goals, but emerged in the Conference Finals with three goals in six games. Once in the Finals though, Nash really, really stunk. He was held pointless in the five game series against the Kings and unable to solve Jonathan Quick. It’s safe to say, in the biggest spotlight, Nash laid a huge egg.
1 Dany Heatley (2007)
Its hard to argue with this as number one. After a season in which he posted a second consecutive 50 goal season and 105 points overall, Dany Heatley was expected to be a big part of the Ottawa Senators playoff run. At first, it started terrifically, Heatley scored six goals and fifteen assists through the first three rounds of play, leading all post-season scorers headed into the Finals. Sadly, he found a way to muck it all up. In the Finals against the Ducks, he would come crashing down to Earth, collecting one goal and zero assists in the five game series. Heatley produced the quietest, ugliest and overall worst performance of any star in the Stanley Cup Finals.
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