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Even the great ones can be humbled in NHL playoff debuts


A generational player has big expectations to meet, especially once the post-season rolls around.

Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are widely considered the game’s next generational talents and will get their first taste of the NHL playoffs when the post-season gets underway Wednesday.

And if the franchise players of the past are any indication, a star’s first quest for the Stanley Cup may not translate to immediate success, but it could lay the foundation for multiple titles down the road.

Here’s a look at the playoff debuts of some of the most celebrated players of the past: 

Bobby Orr – 1968

One year removed from his first NHL season, legendary Boston Bruins defenceman Bobby Orr helped his team out of the bottom of the Wales Conference to return to the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens in the conference quarter-finals. 

The first-place Canadiens made short work of the third-place Bruins, sweeping the series 4-0. For his part, the 19-year-old had two assists in the best-of-seven series. 

It didn’t take long for the future perennial Norris Trophy winner to rebound, though, as he went on to help the Bruins capture the Stanley Cup twice in the next four seasons. Some may recall that now iconic championship-winning goal from Game 4 of the 1970 final against the St. Louis Blues. 


Wayne Gretzky – 1980

In his first season in the NHL, a 19-year-old Wayne Gretzky got his first run at the Cup with the 16th-place Edmonton Oilers. The team didn’t exactly stack up against the first-place Philadelphia Flyers and the Oilers were swept 3-0. 

But Gretzky continued the momentum from his 137-point regular season by scoring two goals and adding an assist in the series. Four years later, he went on to lead Edmonton to its first championship in 1984, followed by three more in the next four seasons.  


Mario Lemieux – 1989

Mario Lemieux took a longer path to his playoff debut, reaching the post-season five years after he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1984. But he had the greatest initial impact, helping his second-place team to the Patrick Division semifinal against the fourth-place Flyers. 

The Penguins lost that series, but Lemieux wound up with 12 goals and seven assists in the 11 post-season games Pittsburgh played that year.

It was Game 5 against Philadelphia where Lemieux established his greatness. The 23-year-old powered Pittsburgh to a 10-7 victory by scoring a record-setting three goals in the first 6:55, tying the record for most goals in a period with his fourth later in the first and matched the record for most goals in a playoff game with an empty-net goal for his fifth. 

He finished with eight points, tying the single-game playoff record. Lemieux won back-to-back championships the two following seasons. 


Eric Lindros – 1995

Eric Lindros is the only one on the list who never hoisted the Cup, but he had a strong playoff debut for the Flyers, tallying four goals and 11 assists in 12 games. 

His second-place Flyers couldn’t handle the eventual champion New Jersey Devils, falling 4-2 in the Eastern final. However, Lindros helped Philadelphia claw back into the series with the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 3. 


Sidney Crosby – 2007

It took Sidney Crosby only two seasons to get the Pittsburgh Penguins back into the playoffs.

At 19, Sid the Kid didn’t bring his team deep into the post-season, but he still managed three goals and two assists in five games of the opening-round series against the Ottawa Senators


Crosby only needed two more years to bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh in 2009. He then earned MVP honours en route to claiming his second championship last season. 

CBC | Sports News