There’s no statistical measure for the best games of the past year, no way to quantify what makes a great game and what sets one above the best. And, admittedly, the 10-best games of the year likely aren’t listed below. At some level, in some barn, in some city, there were probably 10 games more evenly matched, more hotly contested and more exciting for those watching than our list of the top games of the past year.
But in order to trim this list down, we had to give ourselves some parameters. The most important one is that the games you’ll find below had to be from the highest level. That’s to say the top men’s league in the world (NHL), the top women’s leagues in the world (CWHL and NWHL) or the top international competition (Olympics). However, we also tried to weight stakes — championship games, battles between top teams, rivalries — in judging which games made the list. And we also wanted to leave this as close games only. No blowouts.
Undoubtedly, some of the best games of the season were left off this list, and everyone will have their personal favorites. For instance, the Winnipeg Jets’ come from behind 7-4 victory over the Nashville Predators was remarkable was one of my favorites. But you won’t find it on this list for a number of reasons listed above.
With that said, here are the 10 best games of 2018:
10. Metropolitan Riveters 1, Buffalo Beauts 0 — March 25, 2018
A goaltending duel between Katie Fitzgerald and Amanda Leveille, and one between NWHL rivals, slots in at No. 10. The teams traded chances throughout the game, but it was sophomore star Alexa Gruschow’s first-period marker less than six minutes after puck drop that turned out to be the game-deciding goal.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs 7, Chicago Blackhawks 6 (OT) — Oct. 7, 2018
Talk about a barnburner. The Maple Leafs and Blackhawks combined for one of the highest-scoring contests of the season mere days into the new campaign, complete with a four-goal first period and five-goal third frame. The real highlight, though, wasn’t Morgan Rielly’s overtime winner. It was the trading of goals between Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews in the game’s final 90 seconds, which led to the trade of hand-to-ear celebrations. That will stand as one of the season’s best moments.
8. Colorado Avalanche 5, St. Louis Blues 2 — April 7, 2018
The timing of the contest makes this one, because no regular season game had greater stakes last season. On the final day of the regular season, the Avalanche and Blues had a one-game, winner-gets-in battle. The Avalanche opened the scoring when Samuel Girard found twine, extended their lead on a Tyson Barrie power play marker in the second and restored their insurance minutes after the Blues cut the lead in half when Nathan MacKinnon put home his 39th of the 2017-18 campaign. A pair of empty netters sealed the deal and the Avalanche earned a stunning playoff berth.
7. Nashville Predators 6, Winnipeg Jets 5 — Feb. 27, 2018
The game that made hockey fans the world over desperate to see these two teams meet in the post-season. Already appearing to be on a collision course, the Predators and Jets met on the day following the trade deadline and proceeded to put on one heck of a show. After a scoreless first, Winnipeg and Nashville combined for a seven-goal second period including a five-minute span in which the teams traded five goals. In the third, the scoring continued as the Jets took a two-goal lead on Paul Stastny’s first as a Jet only for the Predators to rip off three-unanswered goals in the final ten minutes to take the 6-5 victory.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Philadelphia Flyers 5 (OT) — Nov. 17. 2018
Only the second game to make the cut from the past three months was elevated to top-10 status by a third period that was pure, unbridled insanity.
After Tampa Bay took a commanding 5-1 lead into the back half of the third period, Philadelphia proceeded to mount an unthinkable comeback. With two and a half minutes of going down four goals, the Flyers trimmed the Lightning lead to two. And then over a 30-second span with little more than four minutes remaining, Philadelphia flipped the game on its ear with late goals from Travis Konecny and Wayne Simmonds.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, the full comeback fell short. Anthony Cirelli scored 1:47 into overtime to salvage the game for the Lightning.
5. Washington Capitals 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 — May 7, 2018
The Capitals-Penguins rivalry was built on name value, the battle between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but what has really allowed it to flourish is heated post-season meetings. And the hatred between the two sides has only grown over the years, with the Penguins often playing foil to the Capitals, who had long been waiting to exact their playoff revenge.
From the moment the two were set to clash in the second round, most believed it would be another Pittsburgh victory, the back-to-back champions again sending their rivals packing. But in Game 6, with the Capitals one win away from finally, at long last defeating the Penguins in the post-season, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored what might go down as the biggest goal of his career. Sent in on a breakaway in overtime, Kuznetsov made no mistake, opening up Matt Murray’s five-hole and slipping home the series-deciding tally.
4. Markham Thunder 2, Kunlun Red Star 1 (OT) — March 25, 2018
The Vegas Golden Knights captured the imagination of the hockey world last season, but Chinese CWHL expansion team Kunlun Red Star was no less impressive in their inaugural campaign. And after unthinkably making their way to the Clarkson Cup final, led by the incredible play of all-world netminder Noora Raty and standout scorer Kelli Stack, Red Star found themselves within one goal of ending their debut season as CWHL champions.
Throughout regulation, Raty was tested repeatedly but turned aside 34 of 35 shots she faced, allowing only an early Nicole Brown shot to sneak past. Raty would hold strong long enough, though, for Stack to fire home the equalizer late in the second, and a scoreless final frame set up overtime.
In the extra frame, Canadian Olympian Laura Stacey, who had returned to Markham for the playoff run, became the Clarkson Cup hero when she chipped a Nicole Kosta pass by Raty.
3. Washington Capitals 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3 — June 7, 2018
On the ropes and desperate for a victory, the Golden Knights couldn’t find paydirt in the opening frame, but a flurry of goals in the second period turned a scoreless affair into one that had the T-Mobile Arena rocking. The Capitals’ Jakub Vrana opened the scoring, former Capital Nate Schmidt drew the Golden Knights level, and after Washington again took the lead thank to Alex Ovechkin, goals from David Perron and Reilly Smith put Vegas ahead entering the third.
For the better part of the third, too, it appeared that the Golden Knights were on the cusp of forcing a sixth game. But playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly struck at the right time, netting his seventh of the post-season midway through the final frame. And then came the game- and Cup-winner. Mere minutes after ‘DSP’ tied the game, Lars Eller was able to pot a loose puck to put the Capitals ahead. They wouldn’t relinquish that lead.
2. USA 3, Canada 2 (SO) — Feb. 22, 2018
A tilt between the two best women’s teams in the world, a true best-on-best battle, was always going to land on the list, but the game itself delivered in a big way. Though USA dominated on the shot clock, holding a 42-31 edge by the end of the outing, Canada held a 2-1 lead once the second frame ended thanks to tallies from Haley Irwin and Marie-Philip Poulin. As Shannon Szabados slammed the door through much of the third frame, there was a feeling that the Canadians were on the cusp of taking home yet another Olympic gold, but Monique Lamoureux drew USA level with little more than six minutes remaining to send the contest to overtime.
After the extra frame solved nothing, the top spot on the Olympic podium was decided by a shootout, and it was in the shooter-goaltender head-to-head that Jocelyne Lamoureux dazzled with her now hockey-world famous ‘Oops, I Did It Again’ breakaway dangle and Maddie Rooney stymied Meghan Agosta to give USA gold.
1. Olympic Athletes from Russia 4, Germany 3 (OT) — Feb. 25, 2018
This isn’t an instance of simply putting the men’s Olympic outing ahead of the women’s tilt. Both games were equally as thrilling. But what gives the men’s contest the edge is the unexpected nature of Germany’s presence in the game and the fact they nearly stole the gold from the odds-on favorite Russians.
The scrappy German side stuck in the contest much of the way, trading goals back and forth with the high-powered Russian team. After Slava Voynov scored the opener for Russia, Felix Schutz drew Germany level in the second. When Russia looked to pull ahead on a Nikita Gusev marker, Dominik Kahun scored just 10 seconds later to put the game back on even terms. And then came the near unthinkable: with 3:16 remaining, Jonas Muller beat Vasili Koshechkin to give Germany a 3-2 lead.
The Cinderella German team didn’t get its storybook ending, however. As they defended their one-goal lead, mere minutes from Olympic gold, Gusev fired home his second with 56 seconds left in regulation before Kirill Kaprizov scored on a power play in overtime to deliver Olympic gold to the Russian team.