Simply magnificent. That’s the only way to describe Ben Bishop’s outstanding performance in Tuesday’s Game 7 between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues.
With the Stars’ playoff dreams on the line, Bishop’s .963 save percentage last night was the second best of any goalie with at least 45 saves in a Game 7, and he’s the only goalie to make 50-plus saves in a Game 7 post-2000. Truly, Bishop, who finished the contest with 52 stops in a loss, couldn’t have done much more to help the Stars. The Blues were by far the better team, outshooting the Stars 31-4 in the final two periods of regulation, and Bishop, who was no question Dallas’ MVP throughout the season, highlighted that fact when when he made 18 saves in the second stanza and 48 consecutive stops over five periods of play in a one-sided game. Barring an otherworldly attempt by Philipp Grubauer or Martin Jones on Wednesday, Bishop’s 230 saves will be the most of any goaltender in the second round.
But alas, great goaltending doesn’t matter if the team in front can’t generate offense, and Dallas could not.
Statistically, Bishop’s Game 7 performance was the best by an active NHL netminder. But over time, there have been better displays of goaltending brilliance in Game 7 history. Let’s take a look at them:
5. Gilles Gilbert – 47 saves, Boston Bruins, 1979
Gilbert wasn’t the starting goalie for the Bruins in 1979. He was the backup behind Gerry Cheevers throughout the regular season. Called into action in Game 7 of Boston’s semifinal against the Montreal Canadiens, however, Gilbert stood on his head, stopping 47 of the 52 shots sent his way. Much of the Bruins’ struggles in that game were tied to penalty trouble, as the Habs scored on three power-play opportunities. Gilbert’s play wasn’t enough to secure the win in what turned out to be the final playoff game of his career, but as Canadiens star Steve Shutt said, “Gilles Gilbert stood on his head. He was the reason they got to the seventh game.”
4. Frank Pietrangelo – 53 saves, Hartford Whalers, 1992
Pietrangelo was a backup goalie for much of his career, but he did get a couple of great opportunities in the playoffs with Hartford and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His most notable performance came in what also happened to be his final post-season contest in the NHL, when he and the Whalers dropped the Adams Division semifinal finale 3-2 to the Canadiens. The matchup saw a major difference between the two teams: Montreal was one of the top teams in the league, while Hartford was one of the lowest-scoring squads. The game featured a fantastic goalie duel between Pietrangelo and Patrick Roy, with Pietrangelo stopping 53 of the 56 shots sent his way. Russ Courtnall eventually ended the game in double overtime for Montreal. There’s no denying that Game 7 was Pietrangelo’s greatest game during his short NHL career.
3. Bob Mason – 54 saves, Washington Capitals, 1987
Mason’s 54-save night will forever be overshadowed by the legendary display of goaltending by Kelly Hrudey at the other end of the ice. Even still, Mason’s 54-save effort in the ‘Easter Epic’ remains among the best in playoff history. The Caps did a good job limiting New York’s scoring chances, but Mason was still forced to make 36 saves during the four-overtime marathon to keep Washington in the fight. In the end, Pat LaFontaine beat Mason to give the Islanders the victory, sending his team to the Patrick Division final against the Philadelphia Flyers. The following year, Mason made 56 saves in a 7-7 regular season contest against the Minnesota North Stars.
2. Wade Flaherty – 56 saves, San Jose Sharks, 1995
In a career spent moving around various NHL and AHL teams, Flaherty only appeared in one NHL playoff series, but he made his one shot in the post-season count. Flaherty helped the seventh-seeded Sharks force Game 7 against the second-seed Calgary Flames after taking over from Arturs Irbe after Game 5, and in the final game, Flaherty was nearly unbeatable. Calgary controlled play, taking 60 shots while allowing just 30 through 81 minutes of play, including 17 shots in the first overtime, before Ray Whitney’s goal ended the contest early in the second overtime. It was Flaherty who deservedly earned the most praise after one of the greatest efforts in NHL history, though. Flaherty and Irbe split time in a Western Conference semifinal sweep by the Detroit Red Wings, with Flaherty never returning to the playoffs as an NHL goaltender.
1. Kelly Hrudey – 73 saves, New York Islanders, 1987
At the opposite end of Mason was Hrudey, who put on perhaps the single-best goaltending showing in NHL history. His 73 saves in the 3-2 quadruple-overtime victory that ended the Patrick Division semifinal stands as the most by an NHL goaltender, regardless of playoff or regular season play. Hrudey stopped 50 shots from the second period through to the time the game-winning goal was scored, including 17 stops in the fifth period of the game. Those 50 shots alone would put him in the top five in all-time Game 7 stops. The Easter Epic didn’t end until just before 2:00 a.m. local time on Easter morning – hence its name – and is the longest Game 7 in Stanley Cup playoff history.
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