One of the best things about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that anybody can beat anybody on any given night… which means upsets happen pretty often (compared to other sports). With Wednesday’s historic upset pulled off by Montreal, we take a look at the top five upsets in the Stanley Cup Playoff history. It’s upsets like these that have made the playoffs so exciting over the years…
1. #8 Oilers over #1 Red Wings (‘06 WCQF)
There was no way the Oilers could win this series. Mike Babcock’s Red Wings were head-above-shoulders the best team in the NHL. With 124 points, the Wings ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy. Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Brendan Shanahan were just going to be too much. On paper, the Oilers, who clinched their playoff spot in Game #81, didn’t have a chance.
But once the series started, Detroit realized they’d be in a dogfight. Chris Pronger and the Oilers went toe-to-toe with them in the first four games, forcing a 2-2 series tie. After a crucial road win in Game 5, 8th-seeded Edmonton had a chance to pull off the massive upset at home. It was a game for the ages, but the Oilers needed some 3rd period magic to finish off Detroit. They got it behind the heroics of Ales Hemsky. Hemsky’s game-winner with 1:06 to go in Game 6 will forever be remembered by Oilers fans (a goal that puts a smile on my face just thinking about it!)
Craig MacTavish’s gang went on to the Stanley Cup Finals that spring, and took the Hurricanes to a seventh game. This Edmonton team reeled off one of the most magical playoff runs in playoff history, as the team took the country by storm with Rexall Place rockin’ on a nightly basis. They not only stunned the whole NHL… they sent shockwaves through the world of sports.
2. #8 Canadiens over #1 Capitals (’10 ECQF)
Most experts assumed the Capitals would breeze through the Canadiens. Many of those same people also assumed that getting to the finals would be a cakewalk. I mean, they just had so much offense that it overshadowed the average-at-best defense and goaltending… right??
Montreal stole Game 1 in overtime, and held a 4-1 lead in Game 2. Disaster struck, though, as Nicklas Backstrom carried the Caps to a thrilling 6-5 overtime victory that night, tying the series. The Caps followed it up with impressive wins in Montreal, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. At that point, both Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price were both rattled. This series was finished; a Washington-Philadelphia 2nd round series was already in the books. Jacques Martin, though, had the perfect gameplan to get the Habs back in the series.
After two memorable performances from Halak in Games 5 and 6, it came down to a decisive Game 7. Washington was still the heavy favorite despite losing momentum. Behind another astounding effort from Halak (41 saves) and the defense (41 blocked shots), the Canadiens ‘capped’ off the unthinkable comeback from a 3-1 series deficit – the first time an 8-seed has done that to a 1-seed – to win 2-1. There’s no telling how far this Canadiens team can go… it all depends on Halak’s play. But they’ve certainly etched their place in history with this upset.
3. #7 Mighty Ducks over #2 Red Wings (‘03 WCQF)
This series didn’t technically go down as a 1 vs. 8 matchup, but it certainly had the David vs. Goliath feel to it. Goliath had just won the Stanley Cup and was heavy favorites to breeze through their first round series against the pesky Mighty Ducks in 2003. David had other ideas.
J.S. Giguere put together a great 02/03 regular season campaign; he was Anaheim’s only chance at winning the series. He had to play out of his mind… and he did. Giguere took the Mighty Ducks on a memorable ride in 2003, and it all started with a stunning sweep of the defending champs. Game 1 went into triple overtime, where Paul Kariya would lift them with the winner. After stunning the Wings again in Games 2 and 3, Steve Rucchin’s overtime goal in Game 4 completed the improbable sweep at the Pond.
This was certainly one of the more memorable upsets in playoff history. And it was the way Babcock’s Mighty Ducks outworked the Wings that impressed so many. Carried by that style of play, the Mighty Ducks outlasted its opponents all the way to Game 7 of the finals, where they were beaten by a better New Jersey Devils squad. This Anaheim team is more proof of how David has a better shot at Goliath than people think…
4. #8 Sharks over #1 Red Wings (’94 WCQF)
Under the current format, this was the first time the 8-seed took down a 1-seed. San Jose, making their first ever playoff appearance, was heavy underdogs to Scotty Bowman and the Wings. The Sharks had only garnered a combined 63 points in its first two seasons in the league. But their turnaround, led by coach Kevin Constantine, was one for the ages. And the beat the Red Wings in 7 games in this series. At the Joe in Game 7, San Jose’s Jamie Baker scored the 3rd period game-winner to propel the Sharks into round two. The Sharks’ franchise has been known for playoff failure… but this is one of the bright spots Sharks fans can look back on.
5. #8 Canadiens over #1 Bruins (‘02 ECQF)
Jose Theodore, who won the Hart AND Vezina Trophies in 2002, backstopped the Canadiens to a stunning upset of rival Boston in the first round. Montreal beat the B’s in six games, inspired by the surprise return of Saku Koivu, who beat his bout with cancer. Theodore was brilliant in Games 5 and 6 as the Habs manufactured enough goals to pull off the unlikely upset. This series has a chapter by itself in the prolonged novel that is the classic Montreal-Boston rivalry.
Other big first-round upsets…
#8 Senators over #1 Devils (’98 ECQF)
#8 Sharks over #1 Blues (’00 WCQF)
#8 Ducks over #1 Sharks (’09 WCQF)
#7 Kings over #2 Red Wings ('01 WCQF)
#7 Canadiens over #2 Bruins (’04 ECQF)
#7 Maple Leafs over #2 Senators (’01 ECQF)