Friday, April 29, 2022

30 years ago, the NHL delivered the greatest single night in playoff history

If I asked you to come up with the perfect night of NHL playoff hockey, what criteria would you go by?

Maybe you’d start with star power. In that case, you’d probably want to see that year’s MVP, or the Vezina winner, or the Norris winner, and hell why not also the Norris runner-up. Maybe you’d rather just have arguably the most skilled player of all time, or the player he’d soon pass the torch too. Or you might want to see a superstar pull off something that nobody had ever done before. If you were especially greedy, maybe you’d insist on all of those guys.

Or maybe you’d skip the individual names and go for team-based storylines. You could start with a team in collapse, or an underdog chasing their first series win in forever, or a favorite facing down a decade-long drought, or one that was barely hanging on as a franchise and needed a win to survive. Maybe you’d want a long-running rivalry that had produced a constant string of playoff matchups, or a brand new one that never had before. You’d probably want the Presidents’ Trophy winners in there, and maybe the runners-up too. You’d definitely want the defending Stanley Cup champions to be involved, and also the next winner. Hell, why not the next four. You’d want drama, and overtime, and bad blood, and high stakes.

Or maybe you’d skip all of that and just insist on two words: Game 7. The best two words in playoff hockey, because it means a true winner-take-all showdown. One team survives and moves on to chase a championship, and one goes home with their hearts broken. A Game 7 is the best. Or maybe more than one.

Could I interest you in all of the above?

Good. Let’s look back on the single greatest night in the history of the NHL playoffs. Let’s head back almost exactly 30 years, to May 1, 1992, and let’s savor the chaos of something we’d never seen before, have never seen since, and probably never will again: Four separate Game 7 showdowns all happening at the same time.

Eight teams, eight stories

The 1992 playoffs almost hadn’t happened, with a player strike on April 1 marking the first work stoppage in NHL history and threatening to scrap the season. The strike lasted ten days, pushing the playoffs back (and setting the stage for decades of lockouts to come), and the postseason officially began on April 18.

Back then, the NHL defaulted to scheduling each conference on alternating days – no weird gaps, no random back-to-backs, just the knowledge that your team would play every second night for as long as they could last. The Campbell went first in 1992, and served up four very good series. Two of those went six games, and two more went the full seven, with those two deciding games being played on April 30; the Canucks beat the Jets and the Wings outlasted the Stars. Not a bad night of hockey.

But the next night was the main event, because the Wales conference saw all four series go the distance. That meant four Game 7s on one night. And with the Wales being the forerunner to the Eastern Conference, all four of those games were in the same time zone. Eight teams, eight seasons on the line, four winner-take-all showdowns, and all of it happening at the same time. We’d never seen it before, and we’ve never seen it since. May 1, 1992 delivered something unique in the history of the league.

Penguins vs. Capitals. Sabres vs. Bruins. Whalers vs. Habs. And Rangers vs. Devils. It was about to get wild.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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