This year’s Stanley Cup finals sure have been exciting.
There haven’t been any huge comebacks, but there have been some surprises. Like perennial contender Chicago getting bounced in four straight in the first round by Nashville.
On the not so surprising side, the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals were losers in the second round for the third year in a row and sixth time in the last 10 campaigns. And their nemesis, again, were Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There may be a great comeback yet, but with just four teams remaining and how the 12 series have gone so far, we don’t expect any.
Over the 100 years of the NHL’s existence, many a team has clawed their way back from either a 3-0, or 3-1 hole to shock their opponent and take the seven-game series.
Some of those comeback squads have gone on to win the Stanley Cup, too. Here are the 10 greatest playoff comebacks in NHL history.
10. Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers – 2009
Typically, the Capitals are the team that has taken it on the chin, having let 3-1 series leads slip away five times. But, they did manage to win two series after being down 3-1, the latest coming in 2009 against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals. That year, the Capitals won the old Southeast Division with 108 points and drew the Atlantic Division’s Rangers, who finished seventh with 95 points. The Rangers came out flying, stunning the host Capitals by winning both games in D.C. The Caps bounced back to win game 3, but New York put a stranglehold on the series with a narrow 2-1 triumph in game 4. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who recorded the shutout in game 3, again whitewashed the Rangers in game 5, 4-0. Still down, the Capitals blitzed the Rangers at MSG in game 6, taking a 3-1 lead in the first and never looking back in a 5-3 victory. Two nights later, the Rangers scored first on the road in game 7, however, the Caps fought back and won it 2-1 to complete the comeback. However, this Caps team, despite that resilient run, would lose to eventual champion Pittsburgh in the next round.
9. New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals – 2015
Turnabout is fair play. After being victimized by the Capitals in 2009 when up 3-1 and losing to them again in 2011, the Rangers have owned Washington since, beating them in three straight series, with 2015 being the biggest blow. Under the new format in 2014-15, the Rangers finished first in the Metropolitan with 113 points and the Capitals were second with 101. Both teams won their first round series and drew each other for the fifth time in seven post-seasons dating back to 2009. Washington shocked the Presidents Cup winning Rangers by splitting the first two at MSG, then posting back-to-back one goal wins (1-0 and 2-1) in games 3 and 4 in Washington. The Rangers seemed to be on the mat, but pulled out a come-from-behind 2-1 OT triumph in game 5 to stay in it. The Rangers never relinquished a lead in game 6 to win 4-3 and in game 7, they completed the improbable comeback by winning 2-1 in overtime in front of a partisan crowd.
8. New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers – 2000
In hockey terms, the 2000 Eastern Conference final was a battle of the heavyweights. The 1999-2000 New Jersey Devils were a perennial playoff team who were five years removed from a Stanley Cup title and coming into their own. They had a talented, experienced and big team that featured Jason Arnott, Bobby Holik, Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur. The Flyers, too, were also big, deep and talented and three years from having gone to the Stanley Cup finals. New Jersey won the first game handily in Philly (who beat them 105-103 in points that year), 4-1, only to have the Flyers storm back to get a split in game 2, then win both games in Jersey to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Devils, however, wouldn’t go away without a fight and stunned their hosts with a solid 4-1 win in Philadelphia in game 5. The Devils put things on lockdown at home in game 6, allowing the Flyers just 13 shots on net in a 2-1 triumph. The Flyers could have won it at home and gone on to the finals, but failed to beat Brodeur more than once again in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss. The Devils would use their good fortune to go on and win the Stanley Cup against Dallas.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals – 1992
If it seems that a recurring theme is a Washington team blowing a 3-1 lead, well, stats don’t lie. The Pittsburgh Penguins have absolutely owned the Caps in the post-season since the teams first met in 1991, holding an 8-1 overall series lead. In 1992, the Pens were defending champions and had to face the Capitals in the Division semi-finals. The Caps, who actually finished 11 points ahead in the standings, were still in tough, having to do battle with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Larry Murphy. It was the Capitals, though, who seized the initiative and won the first two games at home by 3-1 and 6-2 counts. Pittsburgh, on the strength of a three-goal, three assist night from Lemieux, cut the deficit to 2-1 with a 6-4 win in game 3. Washington clobbered Pittsburgh in game 4 by a score of 7-2, where Dino Ciccarelli had a four-goal night. It seemed then, that the Pens reign as champs was over. But, the final three games were barely close, as the Pens reeled off 5-2, 6-4 and 3-1 victories to stun Washington, en route to a second straight title.
6. Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings – 2013
The lockout shortened season in 2012-13 presented an opportunity for a whole host of post-season opportunities for teams making the big dance. After having played just 48 regular season games, teams with a golden ticket weren’t worn out going in. The Detroit Red Wings squeaked in with 56 points (second fewest), then knocked off Anaheim (4-3), who won the Pacific with 66 points. Waiting for the Winged Wheels in the Western Conference semi-finals were 2010 Stanley Cup champs Chicago. The Blackhawks won game 1 handily, 4-1, but then ran into a hot Jimmy Howard, who limited them to two goals over the next three games as the Wings put the Hawks on the brink. Chicago won game 5 by a 4-1 count, then had to come back in game 6 to nip Detroit 4-3. In game 7 at the United Center, the Hawks peppered Howard with 33 shots through regulation but beat him just once as the teams entered overtime at 1-1. Defenceman Brent Seabrook would solve Howard with Chicago’s second shot in OT, giving Chicago the win and the series. They would go on to win their second title in four seasons.
5. Edmonton Oilers vs. Winnipeg Jets – 1990
One of the better rivalries in hockey during the 1980s was the one between the Edmonton Oilers and original Winnipeg Jets. The two teams staged some electrifying games, with Edmonton holding the upper hand in the playoffs, beating the Jets in five straight playoff series that decade, while winning four Stanley Cups. In 1990, the teams entered the playoffs after being just five points apart in the regular season. This Oilers team was Mark Messier’s, as Wayne Gretzky had been gone for two seasons. On the other side, Dale Hawerchuk captained a resurgent Jets squad bent on taking the Oilers down in the first round. Hawerchuk scored twice in game 1 as the Jets sent a message with a 7-5 victory. Edmonton pulled out a 3-2 OT win in game 2, before Winnipeg put the heat on with a 2-1 triumph in game 3 (Hawerchuk scored again) and an exciting 4-3 double OT win in game 4. Messier and the Oilers gang, however, wouldn’t be denied, as he scored two goals and two assists in the final three games as Edmonton roared back to win the series. The Oilers would lose only three more games in three series as they won their fifth Stanley Cup in seven seasons.
4. Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins – 2010
Only four teams in the history of the NHL playoffs have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. The Boston Bruins, one year away from winning a Stanley Cup, would find out that the saying “it ain’t over, ’til it’s over” was indeed a prescient phrase uttered by Yogi Berra. The big bad Bruins beat Northeast Division champs Buffalo in the first round, while upstart Philadelphia knocked off Atlantic Division leading New Jersey as well. In the Conference semi-finals, Boston won game 1 in overtime, 5-4 on a goal from Marc Savard. In game 2, Milan Lucic netted the winner in a hard fought 3-2 win and in game 3, the Bruins scored four straight after being down 1-0 to put Philly in what should have been an insurmountable 3-0 hole. In game 4, the Flyers were leading 4-3 late, when Boston’s Mark Recchi scored with 32 seconds left to tie it. Never say die, Philadelphia won it in OT. But, they still had to win three. They shut out the B’s in game 5, then went up 2-0 in game 6 and held on for a 2-1 victory. The improbable comeback wasn’t looking good in game 7 when Boston stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the first as Lucic scored twice. Undaunted, Philly evened up by the end of the second and won it on Simon Gagne’s fourth goal of the series.
3. New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – 1975
In the 18-team NHL of the 1970s, 12 teams made the playoffs, with four division winners getting a bye in the first round. In 1974-75, both the Islanders and Penguins had to toil in the preliminary round, with the Isles taking down cross-town rival Rangers in a three-game set (2-1), while Pittsburgh beat St. Louis 2-0. Facing each other in the Stanley Cup quarter-finals, the veteran Penguins won the first three games of the series, which was just the second in Islanders history (they joined the league in 1972). The final in game 3 was 6-4, with Pittsburgh’s veteran Bob Kelly scoring his third and fourth goals of the playoffs. However, the Islanders, behind the scoring of a young (20) Clark Gillies, won game 4 to stave off elimination. The Islanders kept Pittsburgh in check in games 5 and 6, winning 4-2 and 4-1 to square it. Glenn “Chico” Resch staged a goalie clinic in game 7, shutting out Pittsburgh 1-0 to complete the amazing series comeback. In the semi-finals, the Islanders nearly turned the trick again, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to eventual champion Philadelphia, only to lose in game 7.
2. Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks – 2014
The Los Angeles Kings are this decade’s version of the “Cardiac Kids.” In 2012, the eighth-seeded Kings had to overcome some big odds to be the first such seeded team to win a Stanley Cup, the first in franchise history. Two years later, the Kings started the post-season as the sixth seed in the Western Conference (third in the Pacific) and had to tangle with the San Jose Sharks, who finished 11 points ahead of them in the standings, in the first round. The Sharks smelled blood in the water in games 1 and 2 and lambasted the Kings and all-star goalie Jonathan Quick 6-3 and 7-2. San Jose had to come from behind in game 3 to eventually win it 4-3 in overtime, seemingly spelling the Kings doom. Yet, Quick found his form again, stopping 36 of 39 shots in game 4 as the Kings won 6-3. He then stopped all 30 shots he faced in game 5 in a 3-0 triumph. The Sharks would only muster two more goals in the series against Quick as the Kings won game 6 and 7 to stage the fourth and last 3-0 series comeback in NHL history. Emboldened by that win, the Kings won two more seven-game series en route to winning their second title in two years.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings – 1942
Just one team ever, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, has ever clawed back from being down three games in the Stanley Cup final to win it. It was war time in the seven-team NHL and the Leafs were led by veterans Sweeney Schriner, Syl Apps, Turk Broda and Lorne Carr, along with emerging talents Billy Taylor (who would lead all scorers in the final series) and Wally Stanowski. On the other side, the Wings had a young Sid Abel as one of their stars. The Wings finished fifth that year, 15 points behind second place Toronto and had to win a quarter-final and semi-final to get to the Cup. Toronto beat the first place New York Rangers in their only preliminary round to get in. Detroit quickly got the upper hand on the favored Leafs, beating them 3-2 and 4-2 in games 1 and 2 as Don Grosso scored twice in each game. The Wings pushed Toronto around in game 3, whipping them 5-3 to put them within a victory of their first championship since 1937. Detroit went up 2-0 in game 4 and led 3-2 early in the third, but the Leafs scratched out a 4-3 triumph to stay in the series. Toronto pasted Detroit 9-3 in game 5, then got a 3-0 shutout from Broda in game 6 to force game 7. The Wings struck first in game 7, but Toronto got three third period goals, two from Schriner to cap the first ever 3-0 comeback in Stanley Cup playoff history.