Conn artists

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

Play time is over. Put away the milk and cookies, boys and girls, and prepare yourselves for the Stanley Cup playoffs, that on-ice marathon that only a hockey widow could hate.

For as entertaining as the regular season can be, let's face it: most every indelible hockey memory comes from the post-season.

From Bobby Clarke's toothless grin to Bobby Orr's mid-air celebration, Billy Smith's one-handers to Mike Bossy's one-timers, the stuff permanently stamped on our brains happens with the Cup on the line.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, of all teams, created a trophy, the Conn Smythe, for those who excel come playoff time. For our top-10 list, that's where we began.

But trophies and statistics don't measure valour. They don't track who guarantees victory, and who backs it up. They offer no context of achievement.

That's why our list veers off the beaten track, at times.

But you almost always end up in the same spot: at the Cup.

Here, then, are the top 10 performances in Stanley Cup playoff history.

10. Tie: Brad Richards, 2004, and Dino Ciccarelli, 1981

All Richards did was score 10 game-winning goals, still a record, to take Tampa Bay all the way, four years ago.

A league-leading 26 playoff points and a Conn Smythe Trophy -- what more could you ask?

To do it as a rookie, maybe.

That's what Ciccarelli did, scoring 14 times as a 21-year-old to lead Minnesota to the final, where they lost to the Islanders and eventual Smythe winner Butch Goring.

9. Ken Dryden, 1971

He played all of six games during the regular season, a tall geeky college grad who looked like he still belonged in the classroom.

But Dryden flopped his way to one of the biggest upsets in NHL history, leading the Habs over the mighty Boston Bruins, who were to the early '70s what the Oilers were to the late '80s.

Dryden dispatched the defending champs, leaned on his stick to catch his breath, and topped it off by beating Chicago in a seven-game final.

8. Patrick Roy, 1993.

Long before he was encouraging his son to join brawls, Roy was one of the best money goalies to strap on pads.

You could pick '01, when his 1.58 goals-against average and four shutouts led Colorado to its second Cup, or '86, when he posted a 1.92 GAA to bring a title to Montreal -- as a rookie.

We'll split the difference and take '93, when the stats didn't sparkle as brightly, but 10 straight overtime wins shone a light on the ultimate competitor.

7. Mark Messier, 1994

His 30 points in 23 games was impressive enough, but it was his leadership -- and one of the most famous guarantees in sports history -- that cemented the Moose's legend in '94.

Guaranteeing his Rangers would beat New Jersey in Game 6 of the conference final, Messier put his money (three goals) behind that famous mouth.

That the New York captain added the Cup winner in Game 7 of the final against Vancouver only proved the Conn Smythe winner (Brian Leetch) isn't always the MVP.

6. Reggie Leach, 1976

Only Jari Kurri has scored as many goals (19) as Leach did in '76, but Leach did it in two fewer games, so the Riverton Rifle makes our list even though Philly's run at the Cup came up short against Montreal.

Leach was so dominant he became one of the few players on the losing side of the Cup final to win the Smythe.

5. Bobby Orr, 1970

Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch have scored more goals than the nine Orr recorded in the '70 post-season, but we defy anyone to suggest a defenceman has done more than Orr did for his team, at both ends of the ice.

Orr scored 20 points in 14 games, even with a target on his back after he led the league in scoring during the regular season.

That he scored the Cup-winning overtime goal for the Bruins, captured in the most famous hockey photograph of all, proves even the hockey gods smiled on No. 4.

4. Maurice Richard, 1958

Most people choose Richard's 1951 playoff as his crowning achievement, but we're going with '58 for a couple of reasons.

For starters, the Habs didn't win the Cup in '51.

Seven years later, the Rocket was aging and hurt, an achilles tendon injury limiting him to 28 games, making his playoff performance that much more remarkable.

Digging down for one last hurrah, at 36, Richard scored 11 goals in 10 games, his overtime winner in Game 5 of the final against Boston swinging a tied series Montreal's way.

Without the Rocket, the greatest dynasty in NHL history would have been grounded.

3. Mario Lemieux, 1991

Back in '91, the Pittsburgh Penguins were about as synonymous with the Stanley Cup as Africa, coming off a season that saw them finish dead-last in the old Patrick Division.

What made anybody think Lemieux, as good as he was, was going to change that? After all, No. 66 had missed all but 26 games during the season with a bad back.

Come playoff time, though, Mario was Magnificent, with 16 goals and 44 points, the second-best total ever, including 12 points in a five-game final victory over Minnesota.

2. Terry Sawchuk, 1952

Consider each shot a goalie faces in the playoffs the equivalent of a question on a final exam.

Now consider Terry Sawchuk's score of 97.7% in 1952.

How about eight straight wins, four of them shutouts, a total of five goals against and an average of 0.63 -- all at 22 years of age?

Sawchuk's Red Wings shut out the Leafs twice, sweeping the semifinal, then the Habs twice in the final, and Detroit's playoff brooming was complete.

1. Wayne Gretzky, 1985.

OK, so this one comes right off the top of the stats heap. But how can you top a record 47 points -- in just 18 games?

Just 24, Gretzky carried a stupidly talented Oilers team to its second consecutive championship, collecting a dizzying 17 goals and 30 assists along the way.

Yes, the Great One had Messier and Kurri and Coffey, but even Jesus needed his disciples, right?

Nobody has dominated a Cup run like wispy No. 99 did 23 years ago and we're not sure anybody ever will.


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