Zdeno Chara may not be as effective as he was back when he was winning Norris Trophies, but the towering blueliner showed on Wednesday that he still has something left in the tank.
With a blast from the blueline Wednesday, Chara, 42, became the oldest defenseman in NHL history to score a game-winning goal in the playoffs and the third-oldest player to do so regardless of position. His power-play goal helped the Boston Bruins tie their first-round series against the Maple Leafs at two, as Toronto’s late comeback effort fell short. And while it was just one goal, it’s still a nice boost for a player coming off his lowest point total since his sophomore campaign with the New York Islanders in 1999-00.
Chara is one of just two players over the age of 40 to suit up in the playoffs this season, and he’s the only 40-year-old left standing after Matt Cullen’s run with the Pittsburgh Penguins was cut short thanks to the New York Islanders’ first-round sweep. However, Chara isn’t the only greybeard defender to score a game-winning goal this post-season: Brooks Orpik, 38, scored the clincher against the Carolina Hurricanes in a 3-2 victory for Washington Sunday.
That got us thinking: who are the oldest players to score game-winning goals in the playoffs? Last week, we looked at some of the most memorable goalie performances from netminders inching towards their 40s. Today, we’ve changed the stakes a bit, looking at the oldest players to hoist their team to a post-season win:
Mark Recchi, Boston Bruins (2011) – 43 years, 125 days
Of all the players on this list, Recchi is the only one with the distinction of scoring two game-winning goals in his 40s. The first, which he scored as a 41-year-old during the 2009 post-season, was a power-play goal for the Bruins against the Carolina Hurricanes. But the goal that gets him on this list was his game-winner in in Boston’s 8-1 rout of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. Recchi’s goal was the winner in the Bruins’ first victory of the final, which they fought back to win in seven games. Recchi’s solid playoff career featured 11 game-winning goals in 189 post-season contests.
Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks (2013) – 42 years, 301 days
The ‘Finnish Flash’ wasn’t at his most effective during his final few seasons, but he did help the second-seeded Ducks take a 1-0 series lead against Detroit in the opening round of the 2013 playoffs. The goal, Selanne’s lone tally during the series, came on the power play and was enough to secure a 3-1 Game 1 victory. The two teams traded blows the rest of the way, with Detroit eventually sneaking past Anaheim with a 3-2 victory in Game 7. Selanne had 11 game-winning goals in his career, including two during Anaheim’s Cup run in 2007, before calling it quits following the 2013-14 season.
Gary Roberts, Pittsburgh Penguins (2008) – 41 years, 322 days
It’s no surprise to see Roberts on this list given he was a machine up until his final days in the league. In 2008, Roberts, 41, scored two goals in Pittsburgh’s opening matchup against the Ottawa Senators on April 9, 2008, goals that would help the Pens to 1-0 series lead. That was the start of a long run for Roberts and the Penguins, who wound up falling in five games to the Detroit Red Wings in the Cup final. Pittsburgh won the Cup the following year, but without Roberts, who left to join the Tampa Bay Lightning during the summer of 2008. Roberts won the Stanley Cup back with Calgary in 1989, but surprisingly only finished with four game-winning goals in 130 playoff games in his lengthy career.
Igor Larionov, Detroit Red Wings (2002) – 41 years, 187 days
Larionov was one of the first players to make a major NHL impact after defecting from the Soviet Union, and he became only the eighth player in hockey history to win Olympic gold, World Championship gold and the Stanley Cup, which he won three times with Detroit. In 2002, the final time he would lift Lord Stanley’s mug, a 41-year-old Larionov scored five goals and 11 points. His biggest, however, was his triple-overtime goal in Game 3 of the final against the Carolina Hurricanes, a goal which gave Detroit a 2-1 series lead. The Red Wings sealed the series two games later. The goal made Larionov the oldest player in NHL history to score a game-winning goal in the post-season (before he was surpassed by Roberts six years later). Larionov scored four post-season game-winners in his career.
Adam Oates, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (2003) – 40 years, 262 days
Oates had a knack for scoring important goals: he had 54 career regular season game-winning markers, including 11 during the 1992-93 season. Oates also had six in the post-season, including one during a one-off campaign with the Mighty Ducks in 2003. During a Western Conference final battle against the Minnesota Wild, Oates scored twice on the power play to end the series and propel Anaheim to its first Stanley Cup final. Oates’ goal midway through the second made him the second-oldest player to score a game-winning goal at the time, just one year after Larionov took first place. Surprisingly, Oates never won the Cup during his 19-year career, but his 1,079 assists are good for seventh all-time, making him one of the highest-scoring players to never lift the most storied trophy in hockey.
Ray Bourque, Colorado Avalanche (2001) – 40 years, 154 days
The memory of Bourque lifting the Cup for the first – and only – time in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche will never fade. In his 22nd and final season, Bourque finally had his dream come true when the Avalanche beat the New Jersey Devils in seven games. And in Game 3, it was Bourque who earned the most praise, scoring a power-play goal 31 seconds into the third period for his fourth of the playoffs and second-career playoff game-winner. Captain Joe Sakic, who assisted on Bourque’s big goal in Game 3, handed the trophy off to Bourque days later. The five-time Norris winner and Hall of Famer had more than a few awards and records to his credit, but he put an additional exclamation point on his resume with the Stanley Cup in 2001.