Part IV -- Top games

The NHL is starting over, trying to recapture what makes hockey great. In a five-part series, ESPN.com remembers what made it that way in the first place -- hockey's players, rivalries, teams, games and enforcers.

Part of the allure of watching a hockey game is the unknown.

Plunk yourself down in a seat and you never know what will unfold on the ice in front of you. Maybe you'll be treated to a great passing play, a sensational save or a spontaneous dust-up.

The luckiest see something that embodies all of those elements and more. The luckiest see a game that will find its place in history, a game that will be remembered years later either for its outcome, a milestone met or passed, the length of the contest or the manner in which the outcome was decided. Perhaps it's a game that serves as a seminal moment for a team, the moment it became a champion or the moment in which it crumbled.

Either way, these are the games that have become talking points for years to come:

Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche -- March 26, 1997
Darren McCarty pummeled Claude Lemieux in retribution for Lemieux's hit on Kris Draper during the previous playoff season. The fight sparked a wild melee that featured goalies Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon going toe-to-toe. Strangely, McCarty was not ejected for starting the brawl, and later scored the overtime winner in a 6-5 victory that the Wings point to as the turning point in their first Cup-winning season in 42 years.

Detroit Red Wings vs. Montreal Canadiens -- Dec. 2, 1995
Patrick Roy's last night in a Montreal Canadiens uniform. After allowing nine goals in a 12-1 shellacking, the embarrassed Roy stormed past coach Mario Tremblay and glared at team president Ronald Corey, telling him that he'd played his last game in Montreal. The Habs later traded Roy to Colorado and a few months later, he was holding the Stanley Cup over his head. The Habs have not won a Cup since his departure.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins, Feb. 7, 1976
Maple Leafs captain Darryl Sittler, one of the most beloved of all Leafs, set an NHL record with 10 points on six goals and four assists in an 11-4 victory. The game was rookie netminder Dave Reece's last.

Detroit Red Wings vs. Montreal Maroons -- March 24, 1936
The benchmark for all playoff overtimes is this 1-0 Detroit victory. "Mud" Bruneteau, a rookie, beat Maroons netminder Lorne Chabot at 16:30 of the sixth overtime period. It remains the longest overtime game in NHL history.

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins -- May 4, 2000
The pivotal game of this series saw Keith Primeau end a classic playoff tilt in the fifth overtime period, beating Penguins netminder Ron Tugnutt with a rising shot. Penguins star Jaromir Jagr reportedly lost seven pounds during the game that ended at 2:35 a.m. ET, exactly seven hours after it started. It was the third-longest game in NHL history behind Detroit's 1-0 win over the Maroons and Toronto's 1-0 win over Boston in an OT that lasted 104 minutes and 36 seconds on April 3, 1933.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins -- May 10, 1979
The famous "too many men on the ice" game, which would define Don Cherry's coaching career, not to mention bring it to an end. After the Bruins took a late 4-3 lead, Boston was whistled for having too many men on the ice. Guy Lafleur tied the game on the power play and Yvon Lambert scored the winner in overtime to send the Habs to their fourth straight and final Stanley Cup.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Edmonton Oilers -- April 10, 1982
The "Miracle on Manchester" saw the Oilers blow a 5-0 lead after two periods to a Kings team that had no business being in the playoffs after finishing the regular season 24-41-15. The Kings, nonetheless, scored five times in the third, the tying goal with five seconds remaining in regulation, to send the game to overtime. Daryl Evans, now a Kings analyst, beat Grant Fuhr and the Kings went on to oust the mighty Oilers.

New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals -- April 18, 1987
Pat LaFontaine scored the winner on a spin-around shot that beat a screened Bob Mason seven hours after the opening faceoff, yet another playoff collapse for the hometown Capitals. It gave the Islanders a 3-2 victory and an improbable seven-game series win after trailing the series, 3-1. Kelly Hrudey said after the game that LaFontaine came up to the goalie after the first overtime and promised he'd score the game-winning goal, but Hrudey added, "he didn't say when."

Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers -- April 30, 1986
Oilers defenseman Steve Smith ascended to Bill Buckner-like status when his errant pass went off goaltender Grant Fuhr's pads late in the seventh game of the Oilers-Flames playoff series. The own-goal broke a tie at 2 and allowed the Flames to sneak past the Oilers, interrupting what might well have become the longest Cup run in league history. Ironically, Smith, who won three Cups with the Oilers, would go on to become the Flames' captain prior to his retirement.

Vancouver Canucks vs. New York Rangers -- June 14, 1994
After blowing a 3-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup finals, the Rangers were faced with a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. The Canucks fell behind 2-0 thanks to goals from Brian Leetch and Steve Larmer. After Vancouver came within one goal, Mark Messier gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead on a power-play goal. Trevor Linden put the Canucks within one yet again, and had more chances, but Mike Richter stopped them all. The last three minutes of the game were some of the most intense moments in playoff hockey until the Rangers finally hoisted the Cup, ending their 54-year drought.

Honorable should-mentions:
• Oilers-Flyers, Game 7 of 1987 Cup finals: Ron Hextall wins the Conn Smythe Trophy, but not the Stanley Cup.
• Kings-Habs, Game 2 of 1993 Cup finals: Marty McSorley's illegal stick call shifts momentum of series, giving Montreal the edge.
• Stars-Sabres, Game 6 of 1999 Cup finals: Brett Hull's controversial in-the-crease goal stands and the Stars lift Lord Stanley.

Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.