With the New York Rangers now one of eight teams remaining in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, we rank the greatest NY playoff series ever.
If you’re reading this, you already understand the feeling. It’s the feeling only a diehard New York sports fan can experience.
Standing there, in your living room, at the stadium or in the arena, loving the action but hating the drama of the moment. Your favorite team is playing for their season’s life.
It’s so good it hurts.
And while you, the true sports fan realizes history is unfolding right before your very eyes, it simply doesn’t matter. No true appreciation of what’s happening can move to the forefront. The only thing that matters is that your team somehow someway gets through this pivotal game.
If your teams wins, an appreciation of what was witnessed can be had. If your team loses, give it a good six months before you reflect.
In any event, there have been too many phenomenal playoff series in New York sports history to count. Scratch that, we counted all. There’s just too many to rank in a nice and tidy order.
Thank the heavens above that the NFL is a one-and-done situation or this list would be extraordinarily ridiculous. Still, MLB, the NBA and the NHL get it done without America’s Game.
Here are the 11 greatest New York sports playoff series coupled with honorable mentions and a few notables from the losing aspect. I mean, if we can’t appreciate a great series in a losing effort years later, we really have an issue.
- NY Giants-Yankees, 1921 World Series
- Yankees-Brooklyn Dodgers, 1947 World Series
- Brooklyn Dodgers-Yankees, 1955 World Series
- Yankees-Brooklyn Dodgers, 1956 World Series
- Yankees-Braves, 1958 World Series
- Yankees-SF Giants, 1962 World Series
- Mets-Reds, 1973 NLCS
- Yankees-Royals, 1976 ALCS
- Yankees-Dodgers, 1977 World Series
- Yankees-A’s, 2000 NLDS
- Yankees-Mets, 2000 World Series
- Mets-Dodgers, 2015 NLDS
- Knicks-Bullets, 1970 Divisional Semifinals
- Knicks-Celtics, 1973 Eastern Conference Finals
- Knicks-Pistons, 1984 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
- Knicks-Heat, 2000 Eastern Conference Semifinals
- Nets-Celtics, 2002 Eastern Conference Finals
- Rangers-Maple Leafs, 1940 Stanley Cup Final
- Islanders-Rangers, 1975 Preliminary Round
- Rangers-Islanders, 1979 Stanley Cup Semifinals
- Islanders-Flyers, 1980 Stanley Cup Finals
- Islanders-Capitals, 1987 Patrick Division Semifinals
- Rangers-Devils, 1992 Patrick Division Semifinals
- Islanders-Capitals, 1993 Patrick Division Semifinals
- Islanders-Penguins, 1993 Patrick Division Finals
- Devils-Flyers, 2000 Eastern Conference Finals
- Devils-Ducks, 2003 Stanley Cup Finals
- Devils-Rangers, 2012 Eastern Conference Finals
- Rangers-Penguins, 2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals
- Rangers-Capitals, 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Yes, we do have a silly number of honorable mentions. We apologize. There’s just no way around us not making sure the list is large. When covering a combined several hundred years of history and a total of seven teams, the list will be large. But hey, now you get to ridicule us if you see one that should be in the top 11.
Both the 1955 and ’56 World Series almost made the list. The New Jersey Devils-Anaheim Ducks 2003 Stanley Cup Final went seven games, but is hardly considered a classic series. The team who probably has the top gripe is the 1993 New York Islanders who put up an amazing, underdog run against the Washington Capitals and defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They even get screwed later in the list due to how dominant they were during the four-straight cup run with guys like Denis Potvin and Mike Bossy.
Reggie Jackson‘s Hallmark World Series is also included in this section. it was a solid triumph by the New York Yankees (after many years of failed seasons and last winning it all in 1962), but the series couldn’t quite cut it (six games in total over the Los Angeles Dodgers).
The 2000 World Series, otherwise known as the Subway Series, is included purely based on the New York vs. New York narrative. In reality, the series was horrid.
The Notables that Hurt:
- NY Giants-Philadelphia A’s, 1911 World Series
- NY Giants-Red Sox, 1912 World Series
- NY Giants-Senators, 1924 World Series
- Yankees-Cardinals, 1926 World Series
- Yankees-Pirates, 1960 World Series
- Yankees-Cardinals, 1964 World Series
- Mets-A’s, 1973 World Series
- Yankees-Diamondbacks, 2001 World Series
- Yankees-Red Sox, 2004 ALCS
- Mets-Cardinals, 2006 NLCS
- Knicks-Minneapolis Lakers, 1952 NBA Finals
- Knicks-Bullets, 1971 Eastern Conference Finals
- Knicks-Celtics, 1984 Eastern Conference Semifinals
- Knicks-Pacers, 1995 Eastern Conference Finals
- Knicks-Bulls, 1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals
- Knicks-Bulls, 1993 Eastern Conference Finals
- Knicks-Heat, 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals
- Nets-Pistons, 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinals
- Rangers-Red Wings, 1950 Stanley Cup Final
- Rangers-Blackhawks, 1971 Stanley Cup Semifinals
- Islanders-Flyers, 1975 Stanley Cup Semifinals
- Devils-Avalanche, 2001 Stanley Cup Finals
- Rangers-Lightning, 2015 Eastern Conference Finals
Yes, series that turn out in the favor of the enemy need to also be considered. For that, we created a special section for the failed great series.
The team who really takes it hard here is the New York Knicks. Or more specifically, the Patrick Ewing-led Knickerbockers. While many fans (including the city as a whole) never truly appreciated the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, we know ache for those days of competitive, springtime basketball. The Chicago Bulls were that big time hurdle, specifically during the great series of 1993 that saw John Starks throw his name into the Madison Square Garden hall of fame with “The Dunk” and the Knicks, the better seed that season, taking 2-0 series lead. (Ewing could get done what Carmelo Anthony couldn’t with o ut a second superstar … but I digress.)
In a somewhat surprising turn of events, both the 2004 ALCS and 2001 World Series fall under the “notables” section. From a baseball point of view, both end up as all-time classics, probably top 10 of all-time. Around these parts, it’s a tad different. While we appreciate the greatness, the Yankees are so spoiled that a heartbreak here and there doesn’t make much difference. Those 27 World Series Championships allow the blow to be a bit lighter.
4 Greatest Playoff Series that Hurt New York
4. Yankees-Mariners, 1995, NLDS
The reason the 1995 Yankees heartbreak is ahead of the 2001 and 2004 heartbreak is simple: Don Mattingly finally had his shot of capturing baseball hardware. For those who remember his first and only career October home run, the defeat in game five in extra-innings after going into the bottom-half of the frame up one, this one stung phenomenally. Yankee Stadium was never louder than when Donnie Baseball blasted off in October.
3. Mets-Braves, 1999 NLCS
Some people actually consider the 1999 NLCS between the New York Mets and Atlant Braves the best baseball series of all-time. What’s shocking is that it lasted only six games.
As the best Met team since the 80s (including the 2000 version that lost in the Subway Series), this loss hurt more than most failed postseasons. This is especially the case since Atlanta fell harmlessly to the Yankees in a World Series sweep. Five of the six games during this particular NLCS finished in dramatic fashion.
This was the best Mike Piazza Mets club, hands down.
2. Mets-Dodgers, 1988 NLCS
While it’s close (competing with the 1999 NLCS), the 1988 NLCS barely edges it out. The reason? Well, those 1980s New York Mets teams should have taken home more than one World Series. Mike Scioscia made sure the 1986 club stood on its own. Scioscia’s home run still stands out as the most brutal home run against a New York team in postseason history (even while knowing Bill Mazeroski killed the Yanks in ’60).
1. Knicks-Rockets, 1994 NBA Finals
For the most brutal great series loss comes those Ewing-led Knicks again. With Michael Jordan retired, it seemed as though not even O.J. Simpson could stop these Knicks. Nineteen-ninety-four was the Knicks year of destiny.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. Despite leading three games to two, New York fell in seven games to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. They were so close, yet so far away. John Starks will always be the scapegoat thanks to his horrid 2-for-18 from the field night in game seven.
The Knicks couldn’t complete the Madison Square Garden sweep along with the Rangers during the spring of ’94.
Top 11 NY Playoff Series of All-Time
11. Knicks-Heat, 1999 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Believe it or not, a first-round NBA playoff series made the top 11 list. It doesn’t matter that it was only a five-game series or this season saw the NBA play out a lockout-shortened season. It was that good, ending in an Allan Houston runner that had sharp eyes.
With Pat Riley on the other side and the bad blood boiling seemingly every game, the Knicks and Heat battled in low-scoring affairs every time they met. This 1999 series was New York’s revenge in terms of the P.J. Brown–Charlie Ward incident.
Down one-point in the final and decisive game with just a few seconds left … does it get any better than that?
10. Mets-Astros, 1986 NLCS
En route to a championship usually comes a great series or two. For the 1986 New York Mets, that great series was almost the death of them. Though he lost the series, Houston Astros pitcher Mike Scott was unhittable. It did only go six games (as baseball recently expanded the League Championship Series to seven), but it’s a good thing for the Metropolitans it only went six. Scott ready to go in game seven.
Five games were decided by one run and one game was a two-run difference. Game’s five and six both went to extra-innings including the latter that went an incredible 16 innings.
9. Knicks-Pacers, 1999 Eastern Conference Finals
Back to the hardwood brings us the rugged and physical Knicks of the 1990s. With Patrick Ewing’s abilities fading, the Jeff Van Gundy-led Knicks featured a different crew. Allan Houston led the squad with Larry Johnson in and Charles Oakley out.
This one will forever be remembered for LJ’s 4-point-play at MSG. Even without Johnson’s lucky heroics in game three, the series was tremendous, going the distance (seven games).
8. Rangers-Canucks, 1994 Stanley Cup Final
After 54 years, the New York Rangers finally captured Lord Stanley’s Cup. The meaning of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final was off the charts. The series itself wasn’t.
While it still ranks decently, only games one and seven were real nail-biters. Game two was as well. That was, until, Brian Leetch ended it with an empty-netter. New York dominated Vancouver in games three and four and Vancouver returned the favor in game six.
What made this seven-game series classic was the idea that the cursed Rangers went up 3-1 and promptly lost games five and six, making us wonder if they’d ever beat that pesky curse of 1940.
7. Knicks-Lakers, 1970 NBA Finals
Is that Willis Reed? It sure is.
Game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals turned out to be a rout. The Knicks captured their first championship with a dominating 113-99 performance. Game one also went in New York’s direction by double-digits. Each and every game aside from those two, however, were hotly-contested. This includes Jerry West‘s unreal 60-foot shot to force overtime in Los Angeles.
6. Yankees-Dodgers, 1952 World Series
In one of the real classics on this list, the New York Yankees continued to shut out the Brooklyn Dodgers from tasting the World Series championship. While Brooklyn exacted revenge in 1955, they were left heartbroken in ’52.
The Dodgers took a 3-2 series lead after their extra-inning triumph in game five at Yankee Stadium only to lose the final two games at Ebbets Field (one decided by one run and the other by two runs).
5. Yankees-Braves, 1996 World Series
Like the 1999 and 1986 NLCS, the 1996 World Series went six games. What made this one a tad more special was how improbable it turned out.
After losing the first two at home in Yankee Stadium, Joe Torre, who was also battling his career title slump), led his Yanks to four straight victories (three in Atlanta). New York ended their longest World Series drought in history against the defending champs who seemingly had an answer at every turn.
4. Knicks-Pacers, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals
Finally, Patrick Ewing and company had achieved their mission. They had won the eastern conference and even Michael Jordan playing baseball couldn’t ruin the mood.
It wasn’t easy. Reggie Miller was the ultimate pest in not only banging down threes and owning the fourth quarter, but he created his own semi-cinema for the NBA with his duel against Spike Lee.
It was a seven-game marathon that forced the Knicks to comeback from 3-2 down. Though he failed in game seven a round later, John Starks saved the day during this series in Indiana in game six.
3. Yankees-Red Sox, 2003 ALCS
With just one swing of the bat, Aaron Boone cemented his name in Yankee history forever. Aaron Boone aside, this series still had everything.
It was a true back-and-forth affair with the Yanks taking games two, three, five and seven. Mike Mussina was huge coming out of the bullpen in game seven and the great Mariano Rivera pitched three brilliant frames spoiling into extra-innings. This wouldn’t be the year the Curse of the Bambino was lifted.
Facing a 5-1 deficit in the 6th-inning and 5-2 hole in the seventh, this wouldn’t be the year the Curse of the Bambino was lifted. Another game seven Yankee comeback did Boston in.
2. Mets-Red Sox, 1986 World Series
When ranking this list, there are only two that deserve to be in the top two. The 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox is one of those two.
One strike away from allowing Boston to celebrate like it was 1918, these party-animal, wacky Mets strung along hits in a do-or-die situation to set up Mookie Wilson‘s grounder to go through Bill Buckner‘s legs. A more improbable result couldn’t be conjured up.
This one is still considered by most to be the greatest World Series of all-time.
1. Rangers-Devils, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals
For me, this one was easy. Nothing has ever matched the intensity of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. It wasn’t hockey. It was war.
Both the Rangers and the upstart Devils were the two best teams in the league. Both had unreal goaltenders and ferocious leaders (Scott Stevens, Mark Messier). More than the personnel, though, the series had everything.
It went seven games, of course. All seven games were hotly contested, but the storylines took hold. Falling down 3-2 in the series, Messier’s game six guarantee was epic. He followed through with a hat trick even after the Devils went up 2-0 in the game. To cap it off, the series went into overtime in games seven putting the drama at an all-time high with the scenario of “next to score wins the east.” Stephane Matteau‘s double-OT game seven-goal turned out to be his second overtime game-winner in the series.
This series had everything: talent, skill, roughhousing, physicality, passion and drama.