Top 10 First Round Series In NBA History

NBA Playoffs

The first round of the NBA playoffs have a history of being slightly disappointing. Unlike the NHL, the NBA usually looks at its first round as television fodder for the networks to discuss future matchups in later rounds. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been memorable moments. In fact, the first round has seen some of the most dramatic moments in NBA history. Here are the 10 best first round series in NBA history.

1989: Chicago vs. Cleveland

The series that saw the beginning of how clutch Michael Jordan was at crunch time. But it wasn’t supposed to go that way. The Cavaliers were favoured to win the series, after a franchise best 57-25 record. Led by the trio of Mark Price, Ron Harper and Brad Daugherty, the Cavs were poised to make a long run in the playoffs.

The Bulls had Jordan, a rising star in Scottie Pippen, and not much else. Depth was a concern for the Bulls, who needed Jordan to be superhuman, in order to win the series.

Chicago got their wish in the first game as Jordan’s 31 points paced the Bulls to a 96-88 win. Pippen added 22 points to the Bulls cause. But the surprise was shooting guard Craig Hodges who chipped in with 15 points off the bench, which included going 3 for 4 from three-point range. The Cavs didn’t have Price in the lineup as he was nursing an injury.

The Cavs bounced back in Game 2, as Price returned to the lineup which sparked his teammates. Harper’s 31 points to go with 15 from Price and 16 points from Larry Nance, gave the Cavs a 96-88 win to even the series. Jordan did manage 30 points, but was frustrated throughout the game, thanks to strong defending from Craig Ehlo.

The scene shifted to noisy Chicago Stadium for Game 3 where the Bulls fed off their frenzied fans, to post a 101-94 victory, thanks to a 44-point performance from Jordan. MJ was simply dominant this game as the Cavs had no answer to the greatest ever.

The Bulls had a chance to wrap up the series at home, but the Cavs answered with a tight 108-105 victory to force a fifth and deciding game, despite Jordan putting up 50 points. Nance led the way with 27 points, while Daugherty’s 15 points and 17 rebounds gave the Bulls fits.

Richfield Coliseum was the site for the deciding contest, that turned out to be one of the most thrilling games in NBA history. Jordan hit a jump shot with 6 seconds left to give the Bulls a 99-98 lead. From the inbound, Ehlo and Nance played a perfect give-and-go, with Nance finding Ehlo, who drove the lane and beat Jordan to the rim, to lay it home, giving the Cavs a 100-99 lead with 3 seconds left. Chicago called timeout and decided to inbound the ball from halfcourt. Brad Sellers inbounded the ball to Jordan who pushed Nance away and slid past Ehlo to pull up from the foul line. Ehlo was desperate to get a hand in MJ’s face, but to no avail as Jordan hit the shot at the buzzer, giving the Bulls a dramatic 101-100 victory. Michael finished with 44 points and his reputation as a clutch player was born.

1991: Indiana vs. Boston

For all intensive purposes, this was Larry Bird’s last hurrah. And what a show he put on. The Celtics were the veteran team, used to the playoff pressure. The Pacers were young and full of enthusiasm and vigour.

The Celtics took the first game 127-120, thanks to a 28-point performance from Reggie Lewis. The Pacers evened the series 130-118, as Chuck Person led the way with 39 points, including 7 three-pointers.

Game 3 saw the scene shift to Market Square Arena, as the Pacers tried to feed off their home crowd. But it was the Celtics who quieted the faithful, posting a 112-105 victory, Kevin McHale came off the bench to score 22 points to lead Boston to victory.

Meanwhile, the trash talking was reaching a fever pitch. Person and Bird were engaged in a war of words that had the media salivating with delight. Both were not shy in letting their feeling be known, which made the series even more intriguing.

In a must-win Game 4, Person came up big scoring 30 points while Reggie Miller netted 27 points in a Pacer 116-113 victory, to tie the series and force a winner take-all scenario at Boston.

The famed Boston Garden had seen many memorable moments. Game 5 would add another chapter in the fabled history at the old barn on Causeway Street. Late in the second quarter, Bird banged his head against the parquet court while chasing after a loose ball. He left the game and was diagnosed with a concussion. When Bird didn’t come back for the start of the third quarter, the fans at Boston Garden grew tense and nervous as the Pacers were slowly taking control. Bird finally reappeared midway through the third quarter and proceeded to take over the contest. In the end Bird accounted for 32 points as the Celtics hung on for a 124-121 victory, and win the series 3-2. Person did score 30 points in a losing effort, but missed a key three-point attempt with 10 seconds remaining.

Bird’s back flared up in the second round, which hurt the Celtics as they fell in six games to the Detroit Pistons.

1993: L.A. Lakers vs. Phoenix

Most observers saw the Phoenix Suns as contenders for the NBA Championship in 1993. Those same observers thought the Los Angeles Lakers were past their prime, and were heading for a downfall. On paper, this looked like a mismatch.

The Suns were led by Charles Barkley, who came over from the Philadelphia 76ers in an offseason trade, to boost their post presence. Barkley had an MVP season, averaging 25.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. The Lakers were still stinging from the sudden retirement of Magic Johnson from the previous season, after he tested positive for the HIV virus.

The Lakers were running on fumes all season, but veterans such as James Worthy and Byron Scott were still around to provide experience to the younger players. The Lakers went into Game 1 at America West Arena with nothing to lose and played like it, upsetting the Suns 107-103. Sedale Threatt led the way with 35 points while Scott chipped in with 22 points.

Game 2 saw more of the same for the Lakers. They frustrated the Suns by playing solid defense, while capitalizing on Suns turnovers for easy points. Balanced scoring by the Lakers was vital as they stole the second game 86-81, to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Vlade Divac led the way with 19 points, while Scott added 17 points. Meanwhile, Barkley managed only 18 points, seven off his season average. Richard Dumas and Tom Chambers also scored 18 points but it wasn’t enough for Phoenix.

The series shifted to Tinseltown for Game 3, where Laker fans were smelling upset. No 8 seed had ever defeated a 1 seed in NBA playoff history. The Lakers were looking to become the first team to achieve that feat. But the Suns found their game in Los Angeles. Barkley led the way with 27 points and 11 rebounds in the Suns 107-102 victory, to cut the series deficit to 2-1.

The Suns carried that momentum into Game 4. Barkley led the way again with 28 points, while Oliver Miller and Kevin Johnson each added 16 points, in the Suns 101-86 victory to tie the series.

The scene shifted to the desert for the fifth and deciding game. While it was noisy inside America West Arena, the crowd was nervous as well. Could the Suns complete the comeback? Or did the Lakers have one last miracle left in them? The Suns took a 78-71 lead into the fourth quarter, and looked to be in charge. But the Lakers had one last run in them. Led by Worthy who showed his championship pedigree, the Lakers outscored the Suns 24-17 in the fourth quarter, to tie the game and force overtime. But the Suns recovered in overtime. Oliver Miller scored 8 points in the extra frame and the Lakers ran out of gas. Phoenix won 112-104, to complete the comeback and avoid being the first #1 seed to lose to a #8 seed. Barkley once again led the way with 31 points, while Kevin Johnson notched 24 points. Worthy did score 24 points off the bench to lead the way and all 5 Laker starters reached double-figures in points. But it wasn’t enough.

Phoenix continued their run all the way to the NBA Finals until they were shot down by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

1994: Denver vs. Seattle

The Seattle Supersonics had the best record in the NBA during the 1993-94 season. Many considered them prohibitive favourites to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. The Denver Nuggets were a young, inexperienced team that were given little chance against the powerful Sonics.

The first two games went according to forum. Detlef Schrempf’s 21 points paced the Supersonics to a 106-82 Game 1 victory. The Sonics built a 25 point halftime lead, and never looked back.

Game 2 saw more domination from Seattle. Gary Payton led the way with 18 points, while Sam Perkins and Ricky Pierce combined for 24 points off the bench in a 97-87 victory for Seattle, giving the Sonics a 2-0 lead. Everyone thought this series was over.

However, the Nuggets thought otherwise. With the series moving to Denver for Game 3, the young Nuggets were hopeful that their fans would provide a boost. The crowd obliged as McNichols Arena rocked as Denver scored 41 points in the first quarter, and cruised to a 110-93 victory. Reggie Williams led the way with 31 points, while Dikembe Mutombo notched 19 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks.

Game 4 saw another electric atmosphere at McNichols, and once again the young Nuggets responded. In a thrilling contest, LaPhonso Ellis led all scorers with 27 points, while Mutombo was a defensive force with 8 blocks as the Nuggets squeezed out a 94-85 overtime victory to tie the series. The Nuggets outscored the Supersonics 12-3 in the extra frame as Seattle could not buy a basket in overtime.

When the series moved back to Seattle for the fifth and deciding game, the normally boisterous crowd at the Seattle Centre Coliseum was quieted with nerves. Angst filled the old building as the Sonics wanted to avoid being on the wrong end of history. Seattle built a 10-point lead early in the third quarter, and looked like they would survive the scare. But Denver refused to die. Robert Pack came off the bench to score 23 points while Mutombo dominated the paint with 8 blocks as the Nuggets overcame all the obstacles, to shock the Supersonics 98-94 in overtime to win the series. It was the first time in NBA history that a #8 seed defeated a #1 seed. It was a devastating loss for the Supersonics who thought they were going to be champions that season.

Denver nearly did the impossible in the second round, overcoming a 3-0 series deficit to force a seventh and deciding game against the Utah Jazz. However, Denver ran out of gas, and were eliminated.

1999: Sacramento vs. Utah

The Utah Jazz were still considered title favourites in 1999, but the championship window was closing. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Kings were seen as a team on the rise, playing an exciting brand of basketball. What incurred was an outstanding first round series.

However, the Jazz looked like they would have an easy time of the series early on. Karl Malone delivered 21 points while Jeff Hornacek put up 18 points in Utah’s easy 117-87 victory. The Jazz were used to playoff pressure while the Kings were new to this stage.

Sacramento proved to be quick learners in the next game though. In Game 2, Chris Webber led the way with 20 points, while Vlade Divac and Jason Williams each provided 18 points apiece in Sacramento’s shocking 101-90 victory to tie the series.

Arco Arena was the scene for Game 3, and it was rocking with excitement. The building was nearly shaking as the Kings took the court and it made a difference. Divac led the way with 22 points while Corliss Willamson produced 18 points in a thrilling 84-81 victory for the Kings. Sacramento’s defense was pivotal as they confused and pressured the Jazz all over the court.

Game 4 was an outright classic. The teams exchanged leads and momentum like trading cards, while the fans heart rates were reaching a fever pitch. Utah led 86-84 with 31 seconds remaining and needed a defensive stop, to force a Game Five. But Divac had other ideas. The Kings centre posted up Malone and drove to the hoop. John Stockton came over for the double-team but was too late as Divac scooped it in plus took the foul. Divac made the free-throw for the old-fashioned three-point play, giving Sacramento an 87-86 lead with 23.3 seconds left. Utah answered right back as Stockton and Malone went pick-and-roll with Malone getting the layup, giving Utah an 88-87 lead 13.1 seconds on the clock. Sacramento answered as Divac was fouled as he drove to the basket. Divac made both free throws giving Sacramento an 89-88 lead with 7.2 seconds remaining. But Stockton had the last word, hitting a long-range jumper with 0.7 seconds left, giving Utah a 90-89 victory, to tie the series.

Game 5 was another outstanding game as the teams laid it all on the line. Utah’s experience was too much though, as Malone’s 20 points and 12 rebounds paced the Jazz to a 99-92 overtime victory. It was an exhilarating series that took the life out of Utah. They were eliminated by Portland in the second round.

1999: New York vs. Miami

The New York Knicks and Miami Heat despised each other in the late 1990s. The two franchises had met in the previous two playoffs, and both series featured brawls and bad blood. There was no shortage of hype when these two bitter rivals met in the first round in 1999. The Heat were the top seed in the Eastern Conference, thus making them heavy favourites. The Knicks had a further disadvantage as Patrick Ewing was nursing an injured knee and wasn’t at 100%.

But the Knicks were up to the challenge. In Game 1, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell each scored 22 points as the Knicks won 95-75.

The Heat bounced back in Game 2 as Alonzo Mourning poured in 26 points as the Heat won 83-73 to even the series.

Madison Square Garden was the site for Game 3 and the Knicks used the raucous New York crowd to their favour. Sprewell had a game-high 20 points off the bench, while Houston knocked in 18 points as the Knicks crushed the Heat 97-73.

The Knicks looked to wrap up the series in Game 4, and held an 8 point lead early in the fourth quarter. But Miami roared back, outscoring the Knicks 29-10 in the fourth quarter to take the fourth game 87-72, to even the series. Terry Porter came off the bench to score 16 points, while Clarence Weatherspoon chipped in with 14 points off the bench to spark the Heat.

Game 5 returned to South Florida, where the Heat were hoping that home-court advantage would be the difference. The game was a defensive struggle as both teams played stifling, physical basketball. That suited Ewing just fine, as he led the Knicks with 22 points, despite the wonky knee. But the game came down to the final seconds, as Allan Houston’s driving shot bounced off the rim, off the backboard and into the net with 0.8 seconds left, giving the Knicks an improbable 78-77 victory and the series. It was only the second time in NBA history that a #8 seed defeated a #1 seed.

The Knicks used this series as a springboard to a magical run to the NBA Finals where they eventually fell to San Antonio.

2001: Dallas vs. Utah

The Dallas Mavericks were in the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, bringing with them a young, exciting team with a brash owner. The Utah Jazz had this playoff thing down pat, as the veteran-laden team were looking for one more run at a title.

Game 1 saw both teams battle down to the wire. A pair of free throws by Karl Malone with 25.8 seconds left, gave the Jazz an 88-86 victory. The Mailman led the way with 26 points to pace Utah to victory.

Utah took control of the series in Game 2 as Malone delivered 34 points as the Jazz won going away 109-98. The Mavericks tried to keep up as Michael Finley did put up 32 points. But the lack of playoff experience seemed to hurt Dallas.

The Mavericks were hoping the friendly confines of Reunion Arena would reignite their hopes. It took until the final minute, but the Mavericks finally prevailed. Steve Nash’s turnaround jump shot with 22. 7 seconds left combined with two clutch free throws from Finley, gave Dallas a 94-91 victory.

The Mavericks were buoyed with a new-found confidence following Game 3. Dirk Nowitzki poured in a game-high 33 points while Steve Nash posted 27 points as the Mavs crushed the Jazz 107-77. The crowd at Reunion Arena went crazy as their Mavericks were playing inspired basketball for the first time in over a decade.

The fifth and deciding game was at the Delta Centre where the Jazz felt comfortable playing at home. However, the pressure was immense on Utah. On the other hand, Dallas were playing footloose and fancy free. The Jazz started strong and built a 48-33 halftime lead. When the fourth quarter arrived, Utah had a seemingly comfortable 71-57 lead. It looked like the Jazz would be moving on to the second round. But the Mavericks mounted a furious comeback, led by Finley who had a game-high 33 points. With 9.8 seconds remaining, Finley made a nice pass to Calvin Booth after Finley was double teamed. Booth made a quick post move and stroked it home to give Dallas a surprising 84-83 lead. The Jazz had one last chance, but Byron Russell missed a three-point attempt and Karl Malone’s jumper at the buzzer clanged off the rim, giving Dallas the upset victory.

The Mavericks didn’t last long in the next round as they were dispatched by San Antonio, but the torch had been passed from the old guard to the young guns.

2003: Portland vs. Dallas

The NBA made a big change in 2003. The first round would go from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven format. The main reason was television and revenue as more playoff games means more money. However, history was just about made in 2003, thanks to the new format.

The Dallas Mavericks got a big performance from Dirk Nowitzki in the opening game of the series, as he recorded 46 points and 10 rebounds as the Mavericks won 96-86.

Game 2 saw Steve Nash be the hero. His three pointer as well as two clutch free throws in the final minute, gave the Mavericks a 103-99 victory and a 2-0 series lead.

The series shifted to the Pacific Northwest for Game 3 where the Portland Trail Blazers were looking to turn around their fortunes. But Nowitzki took care of business for the Mavericks, scoring 42 points including 16 in the fourth quarter, giving Dallas a 115-103 victory and a 3-0 series lead.

The series looked to be over. In fact, it would have been over under the old format. But Portland had a second life and they took advantage of it. Zach Randolph collected 25 points and 15 rebounds, while Rasheed Wallace contributed 23 points in the Trail Blazers 98-79 victory.

Dallas looked to wrap up the series back home, but Portland had the momentum. A clutch three-pointer from Wallace with 1:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, to go with Randolph’s 22 points gave the Blazers a 103-99 victory, to push the series back to Portland.

The Rose Garden was jumping for Game 6, and the Blazers fed off the energy. A huge second quarter saw Portland outscore Dallas 37-14, and the Blazers never looked back, winning handily 125-103. Randolph led the way with 21 points, while Ruben Patterson came off the bench to record 20 points.

Game 7 was held at the American Airlines Arena. The crowd was pensive as they wondered if their Mavericks would be the first team in NBA history, to blow a 3-0 series lead. The game was a tight and tense affair as both teams knew was at stake. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter until the Mavericks asserted themselves, outscoring the Blazers 36-22 in the final frame. The Mavericks survived the series, winning the game 107-95. Nowitzki led the way with 31 points, but Nick Van Exel was huge off the bench, scoring 26 points while shooting 66.7% from the field. Van Exel also went 3 for 5 from downtown as his shooting was the deciding factor. The Mavericks avoided history. The Blazers gained respect.

2009: Chicago vs. Boston

Despite the rich histories of the two franchises, this was the first meeting between the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics in the playoffs since 1986. When the Bulls dominated the NBA in the 1990s, the Celtics were on the downside. When Boston ruled the roost, the Bulls were either mediocre, or just plain bad. In 2009, the Celtics were the defending NBA champions while the Bulls were the team on the rise.

Game 1 was a beauty as the Celtics looked to use home-court to their advantage. But Derrick Rose had other ideas. The Bulls point guard poured in 36 points while dishing out 11 assists as the Bulls surprised Boston 105-103 in overtime.

Game 2 was another thriller as the Bulls youth showed some moxie. Rose was injured and didn’t play, but Ben Gordon picked up the slack by scoring 42 points. But it wasn’t enough as Ray Allen’s 30 points, including a game winning three-pointer with 2 seconds remaining, were enough for Boston to escape with a 118-115 win to tie the series.

The series shifted to the United Centre but it was Boston who dominated Game 3. Paul Pierce led the way with 24 points as the Celtics won easily 107-86.

Game 4 was a classic. Ben Gordon’s three-pointer with 4.5 seconds left in the first overtime period, extended the game into double overtime. The Bulls never trailed in double overtime as they drew even in the series with a 121-118 victory. Gordon’s 22 points and Rose’s 23 points were just enough for the Bulls to eke out a victory.

Game 5 was another thriller. Despite the absence of Kevin Garnett and Allen fouling out, Pierce took the Celtics on his shoulders and carried them to victory. His jumper at the buzzer forced overtime. In the extra period, Pierce hit 3 baskets in the final 77 seconds, giving the Celtics a 106-104 victory and a 3-2 lead in the series. In total, Pierce finished with 26 points.

Game 6 will go down as one of the greatest games ever played. Despite 51 points from Allen, the Celtics couldn’t close out the Bulls. The game went back and forth all the way to triple overtime, where the Bulls came up with the big plays. Joakim Noah stole a Pierce pass, and raced down the court for an emphatic dunk, plus the foul. Noah completed the three-point play giving the Bulls a three-point lead. Then it was Rose’s defense that shone as he blocked a potential game winning shot from Rajon Rondo, that preserved a 128-127 victory for the Bulls, tying the series 3-3.

The question is, what would these two teams do for an encore? Game 7 was back in Boston where the Celtics were just looking to survive. The Bulls tried as Gordon did have a game high 33 points, but Allen’s 23 points to go with Pierce’s 20 points and Eddie House contributing 16 points off the bench, gave the Celtics a 109-99 victory and the series.

Boston survived, but ran out of gas in the second round, as they fell in seven games to Orlando.

2012: L.A. Clippers vs. Memphis

Two franchises with checkered pasts met in the first round in 2012, and they produced the best series of that year. The Clippers were finally starting to win, thanks to the likes of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The Grizzlies were led by Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.

Game 1 featured one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history. The Clippers were trailing by 27 points in the third quarter. By the time the fourth quarter arrived, the Clippers were down 95-71. Everyone thought the Grizzlies had the first game in the bag. But the Clippers mounted an incredible comeback, as Nick Young scored 19 points and the Grizzlies only made one field goal in the last nine minutes as the Clippers won 99-98, before a stunned crowd at the FedEx Forum.

The Grizzlies did bounce back in Game 2, as Gay recorded 21 points while O.J. Mayo notched 20 points off the bench as Memphis won 105-98 to tie the series.

The Staples Centre was the scene for Game 3. Once again, the Grizzlies blew a lead. Ahead by 7 going into the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies surrendered the lead to the Clippers as Paul’s 24 points and 11 assists led the Clippers to an exciting 87-86 victory.

Game 4 went into overtime, where Paul and Griffin took over. Griffin’s 30 points to go with Paul’s 27 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists paved the way for the Clippers to emerge victorious 101-97.

Faced with a must-win the Grizzlies returned home for Game 5. Marc Gasol led the way with 23 points while Randolph chipped in with 19 points as the Grizzlies prevailed 92-80.

Game 6 went down to the wire. The Clippers were minus Paul due to injury and it cost them. The Grizzlies got another 23 point performance from Gasol to go with 18 points from Randolph, as Memphis overcame an 8 point fourth quarter deficit, to win 90-88 to tie the series.

The Grizzlies looked to have the momentum as they went home for Game 7. But the return of Paul to the Clippers lineup was the deciding factor. The Clippers point guard put up 19 points and 9 rebounds, while Nick Young contributed 13 points off the bench to give the Clippers an 82-72 victory and the series. It was a tough loss for Memphis to take while the Clippers were starting to emerge from the Lakers shadow in Los Angeles.

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Top 10 First Round Series In NHL History

Stanley Cup Playoffs

The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is often the most thrilling time in the sport. Upsets are plentiful and the action is intense. The NHL playoffs might just be the best playoffs in all of sport and the first round is a big reason why. Here are the 10 best first round matchups in NHL history.

1982: Los Angeles vs. Edmonton

The 1981-82 season was dominated by The Great One. Wayne Gretzky had a storybook season for the Edmonton Oilers, shattering the NHL records for goals, (92) assists, (120) and points (212) in a season. Gretzky’s incredible performance propelled the Oilers to first place in the Smythe Division, and were considered heavy favourites in their first round series against the Los Angeles Kings. This should have been a mismatch. The Kings finished a whopping 48 points behind the Oilers in the standings. Instead, it turned out to be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NHL.

The Kings won a wild game one by the score of 10-8. It remains the highest scoring playoff game in history.

The Oilers won game two in overtime to even the series.

Game three will forever be remembered as “The Miracle On Manchester.” It looked like the Oilers were taking over the series, as they built a commanding 5-0 lead through two periods. It was so bad that Kings owner Jerry Buss left the Fabulous Forum following the middle frame. But the Kings mounted an unbelievable comeback. Goals from Jay Wells, Doug Smith, Charlie Simmer, Mark Hardy and Steve Bozek in the third period forced overtime. Bozek’s tying goal came with just 5 seconds remaining in the third period. The overtime didn’t last long. Just 2:35 in, Smith won the faceoff, and drew it back to Daryl Evans who immediately fired a slapshot over the glove of Grant Fuhr and into the top corner. It remains the largest comeback in NHL playoff history.

The Oilers were stunned, but recovered to win game four to force a fifth and deciding game in the Alberta capital. But it was the Kings who dominated the proceedings, trouncing the Oilers 7-4 and advancing to the next round. The Edmonton media was harsh in their criticism of the young Oilers, calling them “weak-kneed wimps.” It’s a series that no Kings fan will ever forget and Oiler fans don’t want to remember.

1989: Vancouver vs. Calgary

The Calgary Flames entered the 1989 playoffs with the best record in the NHL, and prohibitive Stanley Cup favourites. The Vancouver Canucks finished 43 points behind the Flames in the Smythe Division.

Yet it was the Canucks who won game one thanks to Paul Reinhart’s overtime winner.

The series remained tight with each team trading momentum from game to game. The Canucks were playing footloose and fancy free, while the Flames looked tight and nervous. The pressure was intense in the Stampede City.

It game down to a seventh and deciding game at the Olympic Saddledome. The game was a classic as both teams were fighting for their lives. The game went into overtime as a nervous Calgary crowd looked on. The Canucks had the best scoring chances. But Mike Vernon stood on his head, robbing Tony Tanti and Petri Skriko. Vernon’s shining moment came when Stan Smyl found himself all alone on a breakaway. The Canucks captain attempted to go top shelf, but Vernon snared it with his glove, keeping the Flames alive. Finally, with just 39 seconds remaining in the overtime period, the Flames found the winning goal as Jim Peplinski’s pass was redirected off Joel Otto’s skate into the net. Hockey Night In Canada’s Bob Cole described it best. “Not a picture goal. It was centred by Peplinski. It hit a skate in front. And it’s over!” The Flames went on to win the Stanley Cup that season.

1990: Winnipeg vs. Edmonton

For years the Winnipeg Jets were continually haunted by the Edmonton Oilers. The two teams had met in the playoffs on five separate occasions, with the Oilers winning all five playoff series. In fact, the Jets had only registered one victory in 19 playoff games against the Oilers. However, things were looking different in 1990. Wayne Gretzky was no longer an Oiler, and many thought the Jets were on the rise, while the Oilers were on the decline.

The Jets took the first game 7-5, and built a 3-1 series lead, thanks to a thrilling double overtime victory in game four.

The Oilers rebounded to win game five, which setup a sixth game that proved to be the turning point.

The Oilers built a 3-0 lead early in the sixth game and looked to be in control. But the Jets fought back and tied the game early in the third period. White Noise was being felt inside the Winnipeg Arena as the fans were going crazy. But one went too crazy.

With the Jets having all the momentum, an unknown fan threw a popcorn box on the ice, halting play. It was the break the Oilers needed, as it gave them time to recuperate. Jari Kurri blasted the winning goal past Bob Essensa with just under seven minutes to play in the third period.

The Jets never recovered, going down meekly in game seven 4-1. The Oilers went on to win their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years.

1991: Edmonton vs. Calgary

The Battle of Alberta has produced some of the most memorable moments in playoff history. The most recent came in 1991, when the Oilers and Flames met in the first round. While both were considered contenders, neither were prohibitive favourites to win the Cup. Still, the hockey in this series was outstanding.

After splitting the first two games in Calgary, the Oilers won the next two in Edmonton to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

The Flames stayed alive by winning game five, which set up a crucial game six. The Oilers opened the scoring in the first period, but the Flames evened things up in the second. After a scoreless third period, the game went into overtime.

Just over 4 minutes into the overtime period, Mark Messier’s cross-ice pass was intercepted by Theoren Fleury, who broke in all alone and slid a shot through Grant Fuhr’s legs to tie the series. Fleury’s celebration was a sight to behold, as he slid across the ice of the Northlands Coliseum as the shocked Oiler faithful looked on.

Game seven proved to be just as memorable as the Flames jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. But the Oilers fought back thanks to two Esa Tikkanen goals to take the lead midway through the third period. The Flames managed to tie the game thanks to Ronnie Stern’s first ever playoff goal with just 2:10 remaining in the third period. In overtime, Tikkanen struck again as his sharp angle shot somehow eluded Mike Vernon and into the net for the series winning goal. These two franchises haven’t met in the playoffs since, which is a crying shame.

1992: Hartford vs. Montreal

This series proved to be the ultimate demise of the Hartford Whalers. But some bounces going the other way could have changed the NHL forever. Despite playing in front of small crowds at the Hartford Civic Centre, the Whalers managed to win all three games at home, the most dramatic being game six as Yvon Corriveau netted the overtime winner to force a seventh and deciding game.

The fabled Forum in Montreal was the scene for the climatic contest that was filled with thrills and spills. The Canadiens grabbed an early 2-0 lead, but the Whalers bounced back and tied the game in the second period. The third was scoreless which forced overtime. The Canadiens had some great chances in the first overtime period, but Frank Pietrangelo was brilliant in the Hartford net. In double overtime, Corriveau found himself all alone on a breakaway. His shot clearly beat Patrick Roy, but nailed the crossbar. The Habs raced right back down the ice, where Russ Courtnall’s low shot found its way past Pietrangelo for the series winner. The Whalers would never play another playoff game again, as the franchise moved to North Carolina in 1997.

1994: Vancouver vs. Calgary

The Vancouver Canucks were still smarting from their 1989 heartbreak at the hands of the Calgary Flames, and were desperate for revenge. Five years later, they would get their chance.

The Canucks sent an early message, thrashing the Flames 5-0 in the series opener.

However, that seemed to wakeup the Flames as they took the next three games, two of those in Vancouver.

Calgary looked to wrap up the series at home in game five, but Geoff Courtnall’s overtime winner sent the series back to Vancouver.

Game six also needed overtime. A too many men on the ice penalty by the Flames proved costly, as Trevor Linden scored on the ensuing power-play to tie the series, and force a seventh game.

Flames fans were nervous as game seven approached but were comforted with the fact that five years earlier, they conquered the Canucks. But history would not repeat itself.

Late in the first overtime period, the Flames broke in on a two-on-one. Theoren Fleury made a perfect pass to Robert Reichel who thought he had a sure goal. But Canucks goalie Kirk McLean slid over and made an amazing save to keep the Canucks alive. Early in double overtime, Jeff Brown’s pass sent Pavel Bure alone on a breakaway. Bure made a lovely move around Mike Vernon, slipping it home and giving the Canucks the victory. This series started an improbable run for the Canucks who made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, before falling to the New York Rangers.

1997: Edmonton vs. Dallas

After ruling the NHL in the 1980s, the Edmonton Oilers fell on hard times in the 1990s. The Oilers had missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, which made their future in Edmonton shaky. Attendance was falling and the Canadian Dollar was frightening low.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars were enjoying success for the first time since the franchise relocated from Minnesota in 1993. These two teams met in the first round in 1997, and it sparked a great rivalry that would last the next seven years.

After splitting the first two games in Dallas, the series shifted to Edmonton where fans were extremely excited in finally seeing playoff hockey return. But the Stars quashed the excitement by building a 3-0 lead. That lead would last late in the third period, where the Oilers mounted a comeback.

Doug Weight got the Oilers on the board with 4 minutes remaining. 1:44 later, Andrei Kovalenko cut the Oiler deficit to one with a power-play marker. 12 seconds later, Mike Grier tipped home a Dan McGillis point shot to tie the game. Edmonton Coliseum was rocking as the Oilers had all the momentum going into overtime. Kelly Buchberger completed the miracle with the overtime goal, giving the Oilers the series lead.

The teams then traded victories, which led to a decisive seventh game at Reunion Arena. The game turned out to be a classic as the teams engaged in a thrilling contest. In overtime, the Stars Joe Nieuwendyk had a wide open net, and a sure goal. But Curtis Joseph dove over, and robbed Nieuwendyk. The Oilers capitalized on that second life, as Todd Marchant broke in all alone and beat Andy Moog stick side to give the Oilers the upset victory. Edmonton was back and the franchise remains in the Alberta capital.

2004: Calgary vs. Vancouver

It seems whenever the Flames and Canucks face each other, the action is fantastic. 2004 might have been the best of them all. The Canucks were slight favourites, but were battling the distraction of the Todd Bertuzzi suspension after his sucker punch ended Steve Moore’s career. The Flames were in the playoffs for the first time since 1997, and were considered a sleeper by most experts.

The Flames held a 3-2 series lead heading home for the sixth game. The “C of Red” was ready to greet their heroes and the Red Mile was ready to celebrate a series victory. But the Canucks had other ideas. Vancouver jumped to a 4-0 lead midway through the second period. But the pesky Flames wouldn’t roll over and die.

Calgary scored the next 4 goals to tie the game midway through the third period. The Pengrowth Saddledome was going wild as the Flames could sense they had the Canucks on the ropes. But the Canucks held the fort and forced overtime. In fact the fort was held through two overtime periods.

Finally, in triple overtime, Brendan Morrison ended the marathon forcing a seventh game, thus silencing the Flames faithful. Game seven proved to be even more dramatic.

With the Flames clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the third period, Jarome Iginla had a chance to seal the deal as the Canucks pulled the goalie for an extra attacker. Iginla who had scored twice already, missed the net on the backhand attempt. As he tried to get back to defend the Canuck attack, Iginla tripped over a stick which gave the Canucks room. Markus Naslund drove to the net, and Matt Cooke pounced on the loose puck and flipped it home with 5.7 seconds to tie the game. However, early in overtime, Martin Gelinas banged home a rebound past Alex Auld, to give the Flames an astonishing victory. The series sparked an incredible run for the Flames who made it all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, before succumbing to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

2011: Chicago vs. Vancouver

The Chicago Blackhawks had been the Vancouver Canucks nemesis the previous two seasons. The Hawks had eliminated the Canucks in 2009 and 2010 which left some bitter feelings on Canada’s West Coast.

It looked to be different in 2011 as the Canucks came into the first round series against the Hawks as heavy favourites. Vancouver jumped out to a 3-0 series lead and looked like they would run away with the series.

But Chicago, who had won the Stanley Cup the previous season wouldn’t go away that easily. The Blackhawks fought back, chasing Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo in games four and five. Corey Schneider got the start in game six, but had to leave the game due to an injury. Luongo came in, but the Blackhawks prevailed on a Ben Smith overtime winner.

The Canucks returned home for game seven with all the pressure on the world on their embattled goalie. This game would also need overtime. Luongo came up with a huge save in the extra period as he stoned Patrick Sharp. After just five minutes into overtime, Alexandre Burrows stole a clearing attempt, and wired a shot past Corey Crawford for the series winner. Jim Hughson of Hockey Night In Canada noted: “Finally, after three seasons and 19 playoff games against Chicago. For Vancouver, it’s a wonderful day for an exorcism.”

2013: Toronto vs. Boston

The Toronto Maple Leafs were in the playoffs for the first time in 9 years, but faced a formidable opponent in the Boston Bruins. The Big Bad Bruins were two years removed from a Stanley Cup and were looking to reach the mountain top yet again. The Leafs were looking to quench the thirst of their long-suffering fans who last tasted Stanley Cup sweetness in 1967.

But it was the Bruins who took control of the series, leading 3-1 heading back to Boston.

The Leafs look doomed until goalie James Reimer started standing on his head. Reimer turned aside 43 shots as the Leafs won game five 2-1.

In game six, Reimer was outstanding yet again, making 29 saves in another 2-1 victory for the Leafs.

Game seven saw the Leafs build a 4-1 lead midway through the third period. Then an epic collapse.

The Bruins scored three times in the final ten minutes, with the equalizer coming with only 50.2 seconds remaining. Boston completed the comeback in overtime when Patrice Bergeron netted his second of the game to push the Bruins to the second round. It was more heartbreak for Leaf fans who have endured more misery than perhaps any other fan base in the NHL. Boston made it all the way to the finals but fell to Chicago in the championship series.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973

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Liverpool Tops City. Takes Control Of The Premier League

 

Coutinho celebrates goal

The biggest league game in Merseyside in the last 20 years, was nothing short of a classic. With the silver anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster two days away, Liverpool recorded a stirring 3-2 result over challengers Manchester City, to take a 7 point lead over the Sky Blues, and remain in top spot of the table of the English Premier League.

96 Wreath

Before the match started, Liverpool legends Kenny Daglish and Ian Rush were presented a wreath from Manchester City legends Mike Summerbee, Joe Corrigan and Tony Book that was shaped with the number 96, the amount of lives lost at Hillsborough. After a minute of silence, the crowd came to life and Liverpool fed off the passionate and rousing support from the Liverpool faithful.

Raheem Sterling goal

With Liverpool attacking the famed Kop end in the first half, Raheem Sterling found the back of the net in the sixth minute, making Vincent Kompany look like an amateur before sliding one past Joe Hart.

Skrtel goal

 

The Reds continued to swarm City, and it resulted in a second goal in the 27th minute as Martin Skrtel headed home a Steven Gerrard corner, doubling the advantage for Liverpool.

Manchester City were stunned, but started to find their legs, as Liverpool sat back to protect the 2-0 lead. Led by David Silva, City began to push forward and challenge the Liverpool goal. But Simon Mignolet and the Liverpool back four held their ground, and the Reds went into halftime with a two-goal cushion.

Silva celebrates goal

City manager Manuel Pellegrini made a key substitution in the 50th minute, as James Milner came on for an ineffective Jesus Navas. The English International made an immediate impact along the right flank, giving the Liverpool defence fits with darting runs and precise passing. Milner’s influence led to City’s first goal in the 57th minute as Milner found Silva in the 6 yard box, which the Spanish International neatly converted to put City on the board.

City continued to put pressure on Liverpool’s shaky defence. Right back Glen Johnson was being overrun on numerous occasions by Silva which led to chaos in the Liverpool penalty area. It led to Johnson conceding an own goal in the 62nd minute which levelled the score, as Silva’s cross deflected off Johnson and Mignolet into the corner of the net.

Coutinho's goal

With the Anfield crowd on edge, City sensed they could take over this game. However, a costly mistake by Kompany in the 78th minute proved to be dire. As the Belgian central defender tried to clear a ball away from the City penalty area, he badly misplayed the ball off his toe, clearing it right to Philippe Coutinho, who took advantage of the situation and screamed one past Hart into the bottom right corner of the net. Anfield erupted with noise as the Reds had regained the lead.

City desperately tried to equalize but couldn’t penetrate the Liverpool defence. Not even the sending off of Jordan Henderson for a clumsy challenge on Samir Nasri couldn’t turn the tide into City’s favour. When the whistle blew for full-time, the Liverpool supporters were in full voice singing “We’re Gonna Win The League” as captain Steven Gerrard urged them on.

The Kop

Liverpool will travel to Carrow Road to face a desperate Norwich City side next week. The Canaries are in a relegation battle and points are at a premium. If Liverpool get a positive result from that fixture, it sets up an even bigger fixture with rivals Chelsea at Anfield in a fortnight’s time. An away fixture to Crystal Palace and a home date with Newcastle United will close out the season. If Liverpool runs the table, they will win their first league title since 1990, a drought that the loyal supporters of Liverpool FC are aching to end. Today’s victory over Manchester City could go a long way in quenching that championship thirst.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973 

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