Most Dominant Stanley Cup Performances of All Time
Reggie Leach was unstoppable in 1976. The charismatic right-winger for the Philadelphia Flyers – aka the Broad Street Bullies – was at the peak of his powers. He led the NHL in scoring with 61 goals, which is still the team record to this day, and he added a league-record 19 in the postseason to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
There was just one problem: the Montreal Canadiens. Leach scored four goals in the 1976 Stanley Cup Final, but the Habs won all four games to dash Philly’s hopes of a Cup three-peat. That means we can’t include Leach on our top five list of the most dominant Stanley Cup performances of all time here at Bodog Sportsbook.
Instead, we’ve chosen the five players who have, in our opinion, come through the biggest when it mattered the most. Ranking their accomplishments beyond that would be splitting hairs, so we’ll list them in chronological order, starting with arguably the most unlikely Stanley Cup hero of them all.
1945: Frank McCool, Toronto Maple Leafs
The league’s talent level was understandably low during World War II. Each of the league’s Original Six teams saw their rosters trimmed, with the Maple Leafs especially hard-hit; GM Conn Smythe himself enlisted for duty at age 44, having fought valiantly in World War I, and Smythe strongly encouraged his players to follow suit.
Turk Broda had been Toronto’s starting goalie since 1936 and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 1942, so the Leafs were scrambling after Broda left the following year to join the army. Paul Bilbeault made the 1943-44 All-Star team with the Leafs while on loan from the Montreal Canadiens – who then loaned Bibeault to the Boston Bruins the following year as a wartime replacement for Frank Brimsek.
Enter our hero. Frank McCool wasn’t exactly a raw rookie when he made his Toronto debut in 1944, having played three years at Gonzaga and one with Calgary Currie Army before being declared medically unfit to serve. But McCool was fit enough for the Leafs, especially during the Stanley Cup Final when he posted three straight shutouts against the Red Wings. After securing the Cup in Game 7, McCool would retire in the middle of the 1945-46 campaign because of severe ulcers, but his legend lives on to this day.
1955: Ted Lindsay, Detroit Red Wings
“Terrible” Ted Lindsay may have been the most important player in NHL history. Lindsay was a star for the Red Wings during the postwar years, playing on the left side of the Production Line with Gordie Howe on the right and Sid Abel at centre. But Lindsay’s efforts off the ice had an even bigger impact. He was one of the driving forces behind the development of the first NHL Players’ Association, which was finally launched in 1967 after a decade of legal battles with Clarence Campbell and the NHL brass.
Of Lindsay’s four championships, the 1955 Cup stands out for his incredible performance against Montreal in Game 2 of the Final. Lindsay set the league record for a Final with four goals as Detroit cruised to a 7-1 victory; this was after scoring a goal and two assists in the series opener, a 4-2 win for the Wings.
The Habs would hold serve at the Forum, and the home team kept winning throughout the entire series, ending at the Olympia in Game 7 with Lindsay’s empty-netter in a 4-2 final. It would be another 42 years before Detroit would win the Cup again.
1957: Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens had the Original Six in their back pocket. They held the territorial rights to all the players coming out of Quebec, a talent pool so deep and wide that the Habs were able to pass the torch and keep their dynasty rolling though the late 1950s and beyond.
Choosing one particular Stanley Cup Final for Richard isn’t easy. His most iconic moment was when he shook hands with Bruins goaltender “Sugar” Jim Henry at the end of the bruising 1952 semifinals, but five years later, it was Don Simmons in net for Boston when the Rocket equalled Lindsay’s record with four goals in Game 1 of the Final.
Those were the only four goals Richard scored in that series, which the Canadiens won in five, but we’re still putting the 1957 Finals here because Game 1 was one of the capstone moments of the Rocket’s tremendous career. Richard played an increasingly limited role in the last three of Montreal’s five consecutive Cups due to age and injuries, and retired in 1960 as an eight-time champion.
1972: Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins
As one of the lesser Norris-controlled teams in the Original Six, the Bruins enjoyed limited success until the Expansion Era, when a certain defenseman from Parry Sound fell into their laps. Orr joined the Oshawa Generals in 1962, back when they were still directly affiliated with the Bruins. Four years later, Orr was with the parent club, and by 1970 he was the best player in the league.
In the minds of hockey fans – at least those of a certain age – Orr will forever be frozen in time, horizontal above the ice, after scoring the Stanley Cup-winner against the St. Louis Blues in 1970. But it’s the 1972 Final versus the New York Rangers where Orr had his most dominant Stanley Cup performance of all time, once again scoring the Cup-clincher in Game 6.
1985: Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers
How can we not end our list of the most dominant Stanley Cup performances of all time with The Greatest? Wayne Gretzky broke nearly all the records a skater can set in the NHL, and for his greatest performance, we’re going directly to that 1985 Final against the Flyers, where Gretzky scored seven goals in five games as the Oilers won their second of four Cups in five seasons.
Of those seven goals, three came in the pivotal Game 3 with the series tied 1-1; Gretzky already had the hat trick at the end of the first period, having scored twice within the first 85 seconds. The Flyers didn’t stand a chance from there.
These five performances will be tough to beat, but the Stanley Cup Final creates new heroes every year, so check out the NHL odds page at Bodog Sportsbook to see what’s brewing for this year’s title chase.