Top 10 biggest NHL Playoff upsets of all time
There is no question that once the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs begin, anything can happen. Countless stunning series upsets have shown that regular-season success means nothing in the postseason. Ranking the top 10 Stanley Cup upsets in NHL history.
The NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs have long been referred to as the “second season.” That’s because history has shown that great regular-season dominance rarely predicts playoff success. Ask any NHL player about this, and they will tell you that the playoffs are a completely different animal from the 82-game regular season, which is why so many unexpected teams have won the Stanley Cup.
In 1985-86, the NHL introduced the Presidents’ Trophy to honor the league’s best record in the regular-season. The award’s first winner was the Edmonton Oilers, who were coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. As if cursed by the new award, the Oilers exited the playoffs in a shocking Round 2 upset.
Including that Oilers implosion, the Presidents’ Trophy has been awarded 37 times. Only eight of the 37 winners (21.6 percent) have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. No regular-season champion has won the Cup in the past 10 years. The last team to do it, the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks only had to play a lockout-shortened regular season before the playoffs began.
Since the year 2000, only those 2013 Blackhawks, the 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche and both the 2001-02 and 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings have won both the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup, so you can see why being the best regular-season team is hardly beneficial if the Cup is your goal. Just ask this year’s Boston Bruins if you need further confirmation.
Because the playoffs’ first round always features the biggest regular-season point gaps between opposing teams, most of NHL history’s biggest playoff upsets have taken place there. League giants seem to fall every year in that opening round, and 2023 was no exception.
Here is a look at the 10 all-time greatest upsets in Stanley Cup playoff series history. Each of these historic hockey upsets was absolutely shocking at the time, but actually prove the point that the regular season and postseason have virtually nothing to do with one another.
Is the Stanley Cup Best of 7?
All of the series in the Stanley Cup playoffs are best-of-7, meaning the first team to win four games wins the series. A Stanley Cup champion must win four playoff rounds – or a total of 16 games – to claim the most prestigious trophy in North American team sports. Teams can play up to 28 total games in their quest to win the Cup, in the event that each series goes the distance.
Ranking the Top 10 Biggest Upsets in NHL Playoff History
10. 2000 Western Conference Quarterfinals: San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues Regular-Season Records: St. Louis 51-20-11; San Jose 35-37-10
Series Result: 4-3, San Jose
The 1999-00 St. Louis Blues seemed destined to win the Stanley Cup after leading the NHL with 51 wins during the regular season. They won the Presidents’ Trophy with a six-point edge over the Detroit Red Wings, whom they expected to meet in the Western Conference Finals. They also had the league’s MVP that year in defenseman Chris Pronger.
Unfortunately, the San Jose Sharks, who had finished below .500 in the regular season, had other plans for St. Louis, which seemed in control of the series after winning the opener 5-3 at home. San Jose’s Mike Ricci snapped a 2-2 tie with 5:42 remaining in the third period, and the Sharks went on to even the series with a 4-2 win.
Games 3 and 4 in San Jose were stunners, as the Sharks won both to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Game 3 heroes were Owen Nolan, whose third-period goal secured a 2-1 win, and goaltender Steve Shields, who finished with 31 saves. In Game 4, defenseman Gary Suter provided the winner with 8:37 remaining, and Shields stopped 25 shots for a 3-2 win.
St. Louis refused to buckle in Games 5 and 6. The Blues took Game 5 at home 5-3 and Game 6 in San Jose with a 6-2 rout that featured a hat trick by Scott Young. In forcing a Game 7 on their home ice, it appeared the Blues would survive.
San Jose got the last laugh in St. Louis, jumping out to a 3-0 lead through two periods in Game 7 and holding on for a 3-1 victory. Ronnie Stern, Nolan, and Jeff Friesen scored the Sharks’ goals. Nolan’s tally with only 11 seconds left in the first period stood up as the winner.
The Sharks advanced to Round 2, where they fell to Dallas in five games, but their first-round performance will always be remembered as a historic hockey upset.
- 1961 Stanley Cup Semifinals: Chicago Black Hawks vs. Montreal Canadiens Regular-Season Records: Montreal 41-19-10; Chicago 29-24-17
Series Result: 4-2, Chicago
Back in the days of the Original Six, only four NHL teams made the playoffs each season, and in 1961, there was no question about which team was the Stanley Cup favorite.
The 1960-61 Montreal Canadiens were part of an the greatest dynasty in NHL history, having won an NHL record five consecutive Stanley Cup championships. The Habs had also finished first overall in the league for a fourth consecutive regular season, edging Toronto by two points in the standings.
Chicago, meanwhile, had placed third in the NHL with 75 points – a full 17 behind Montreal. The Hawks had not won the Stanley Cup since 1938 and appeared to be easy prey for Montreal even though their lineup boasted future Hall of Fame forwards Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and goaltender Glenn Hall.
The Canadiens dominated Game 1 at home, winning 6-2 behind four unanswered third-period goals, a run that started with Claude Provost’s game-winner just 3:23 into the third.
The resilient Black Hawks came back for a 4-3 win in Game 2 at Montreal. This time it was Ed Litzenberger delivering the third-period winner with 2:55 left to play. Litzenberger’s goal, which came less than seven minutes after Phil Goyette pulled the Habs into a 3-3 tie, was a stunning moment for Montreal fans.
Back in Chicago, the Hawks survived a triple-overtime thriller for a 2-1 win a 2-1 series lead. Murray Balfour scored the winner at 12:12 of the third overtime, and Hall finished with a remarkable 53 saves, outdueling Montreal’s Jacques Plante.
The series went back to Montreal tied 2-2 after the Habs routed the Hawks 5-2 in Game 4 behind two goals from Dickie Moore. Headed home, Montreal appeared in good position to take control of the series, but it was actually the death knell for the Canadiens.
Chicago goalie Hall was brilliant in Game 5, stopping all 32 Canadiens shots for a 3-0 shutout, while the Hawks got goals from Moose Vasko, Ab McDonald, and Mikita.
Back in Chicago for Game 6, Hall did it again. Another 24 saves in a 3-0 shutout gave the legendary netminder and his teammates an improbable victory that ended the Montreal dynasty. Bill Hay scored what proved to be the series-winning goal at 1:15 of the second period.
It was a happy ending for the Black Hawks, who went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings in six games and claim their first Stanley Cup title in 23 years.
- 1991 Norris Division Semifinals: Minnesota North Stars vs. Chicago Blackhawks Regular-Season Records: Chicago 49-23-8; Minnesota 27-39-14
Series Result: 4-2, Minnesota
Nobody expected the 1990-91 Minnesota North Stars to do anything in the playoffs after the team entered the playoffs with the 16-team field’s second-worst record. In those days, when the top four teams in each division made the postseason, it was easy for a sub-.500 team to get there.
Minnesota drew the league’s top regular-season team, the Chicago Blackhawks, as a first-round opponent. Chicago had finished 38 points ahead of Minnesota in the standings and had gone 5-2-1 against the North Stars during the 1990-91 season.
The Stars had a secret weapon that year in goaltender Jon Casey, who would carry them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final vs. Pittsburgh. Casey made his presence felt in Game 1 at Chicago, stopping 20 shots in a 4-3 overtime victory that ended with Brian Propp’s goal just 4:14 into the extra period. Chicago had led 3-2 going into the third period, but Neal Broten tied the score, setting the stage for overtime.
The Blackhawks got revenge by winning Game 2 in a 5-2 rout that evened the series. Chicago’s Steve Larmer scored the first and last goals of the game, and star rookie goaltender Ed Belfour stopped 28 shots for the win.
A high-scoring Game 3 at Minnesota saw the Blackhawks prevail 6-5 on a third-period goal by Jeremy Roenick. Larmer had another two goals in the game, as Chicago took the series lead. That, however, would be the last great moment for the Blackhawks.
Game 4 turned the series around, as the North Stars limited the visitors to 17 shots on goal in a 3-1 win that saw Minnesota score three times in the second period. Two of those goals came on the power play.
Tied 2-2, the series returned to Chicago, where Casey was outstanding with 25 saves in a stunning 6-0 shutout. Propp made it 1-0 on a power play late in the first period, and the Stars never looked back. He would also close out the scoring on another power play late in the third. Incredibly, Minnesota went 5-for-12 in power-play opportunities during Game 5,
The North Stars wrapped up the series with a 3-1 win at home in Game 6. Casey, who lost another shutout bid with only 4:09 remaining, stopped 26 Chicago shots, and Brian Bellows scored two goals for a stunning upset.
Minnesota’s Cinderella run continued through the next two playoff rounds. The Stars beat St. Louis and defending Cup champion Edmonton to advance to the Final, where they finally fell to Mario Lemieux and the Penguins in six games.
- 1979 Stanley Cup Semifinals: New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers Regular-Season Records: N.Y. Islanders 51-15-14; N.Y. Rangers 40-29-11
Series Result: 4-2, N.Y. Rangers
Any New York hockey fans who lived through this epic series will probably never forget it, regardless of which team that person supported at the time.
The 1978-79 New York Islanders were a team on the verge of greatness. Incredibly, during the regular season, the Isles had finished atop the NHL, edging the three-time Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens by one point. They also had the league’s MVP in Bryan Trottier, who had led the NHL with 134 points.
The Isles got a bye into the Stanley Cup playoffs’ quarterfinal round, where they swept Chicago. The upstart Rangers, who had swept Los Angeles in the preliminary round and taken down Philadelphia in Round 2, would end up being the Islanders’ final obstacle in their bid for a first Stanley Cup Final appearance. The eagerly anticipated series had New York on edge, and it would live up to all the drama surrounding it.
The Rangers wasted no time shocking the Islanders in Game 1 at the Nassau Coliseum. After Trottier gave the home team an early 1-0 lead, the Blueshirts roared back with four unanswered goals from Don Murdoch, Eddie Johnstone, Ron Duguay and Bobby Sheehan to take a 4-1 second-period lead that held through the final buzzer.
Rangers goaltender John Davidson, whose great career as a broadcaster would not begin until several years later, made 21 saves in the Game 1 win, while the Rangers fired 38 shots at besieged Isles goalie Glenn “Chico” Resch.
In Game 2, the Islanders evened the series with a 4-3 overtime victory. Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin scored the winner at 8:02 of OT. The Islanders had led the game 3-2 late in the third period before Phil Esposito forced overtime with only 4:12 remaining. Davidson finished with 33 saves in defeat, while Islanders starter Billy Smith got the win with 34.
Game 3 at Madison Square Garden turned into a cakewalk for the Rangers, who prevailed 3-1 behind goals from Sheehan, Esposito, and Steve Vickers. Esposito’s goal with 3:37 left in the second period broke a 1-1 tie and stood up as the winner. The Rangers outshot the Islanders 32-17 in taking their 2-1 series lead.
The Islanders tied up the series by winning another OT thriller in Game 4 at The Garden. Bobby Nystrom, who would go on to score a much more famous overtime goal one year later, broke the 2-2 tie just 3:40 into OT. Rookie Don Maloney scored both of the Rangers’ goals, including a third-period tally that forced overtime. The Islanders got a big night from Smith, who made 28 saves.
No one knew it at the time, but the rest of the series would belong to the Rangers. The Blueshirts took Game 5 on the Island 4-3 when Anders Hedberg scored with 2:13 remaining in the third period. The teams had traded goals up to that point. Davidson made 25 saves for the win.
It was all over in Game 6 at MSG, where the Rangers eked out a 2-1 win after their rivals had taken an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Mike Bossy. Murdoch tied the game at 5:03 of the second period, and defenseman Ron Greschner came through with the series winner less than four minutes later. Davidson held the fort in goal, finishing with 21 saves.
The Rangers went on to lose to Montreal in a five-game Stanley Cup Final, but it wouldn’t take the Islanders long to rebound from their loss. The following year, Trottier, Bossy, Potvin, Smith and Co. went on to win the first of four straight Stanley Cup championships.
- 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens Regular-Season Records: Washington 54-15-13; Montreal 39-33-10
Series Result: 4-3, Montreal
Led by a young Alex Ovechkin, the 2009-10 Washington Capitals were a powerhouse team that coasted to the Presidents’ Trophy with 121 points during the regular season. No other NHL team finished within eight points of the Caps, who also led the league with 54 wins. This appeared to be the year they would finally win the Stanley Cup, and the Caps went into the playoffs as the oddsmakers’ favorite at +400.
The Montreal Canadiens were not on the Capitals’ level in 2009-10. They claimed the final Eastern Conference playoff berth, beating out the New York Rangers by just one point in the standings. The idea that they might take out Washington seemed rather preposterous.
However, the 2010 edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs served up convincing proof that the postseason and regular season are essentially unrelated. Montreal would be the beneficiary of this truism, but Les Canadiens had to earn their reward the hard way.
Winning at least one of the first two games on the road was crucial if Montreal had any hope of taking the series, so the Habs got that first win out of the way in a hurry, capturing Game 1 in overtime, 3-2. After giving up the first goal, the Caps took a 2-1 lead on a Nicklas Backstrom goal early in the third period, but Montreal’s Scott Gomez scored at 7:34 to force overtime, and Tomas Plekanec delivered the winner at 13:19 of the bonus period.
Game 2 was a higher-scoring affair that also went to overtime, but the Capitals survived 6-5 to tie the series 1-1. Backstrom needed only 31 seconds of OT to get the win, but that came only after defenseman John Carlson had tied the game for Washington with 1:21 left in the third period. Montreal had come that close to a 2-0 series lead.
The Caps flexed their muscle and blew away the Canadiens in Game 3 at Montreal, cruising to a 5-1 rout after scoring four second-period goals. Game 4 was more of the same, as Washington broke open a 2-2 tie in the third period and rolled to a 6-3 win. The regular-season champions now led the series 3-1, and it appeared there was no way that Montreal could come back as the teams headed for Game 5 in Washington.
Enter Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak, who would take over the remainder of the series by allowing the Caps only one goal per game and giving his team the stunning upset. In Game 5, Halak made 37 saves for a 2-1 Montreal win. In Game 6 at the Bell Centre, Halak stopped an incredible 53 Capitals shots, enabling the Habs to ride two Mike Cammalleri goals to a 4-1 win that evened the series.
Halak slammed the door for another 2-1 win in Game 7, stopping 41 shots in Washington. The Canadiens got goals from Marc-Andre Bergeron and Dominic Moore to complete the epic comeback.
The Habs won another seven-game series in Round 2, knocking off Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins before falling to Philadelphia 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
- 1993 Patrick Division Finals: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders Regular-Season Records: Pittsburgh 56-21-7; N.Y. Islanders 40-37-7
Series Result: 4-3, N.Y. Islanders
It's hard to overstate the greatness of the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins roster. The team, which was coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, tied the NHL record with four 100-point scorers during the regular season.
Mario Lemieux had 69 goals and 160 points to lead the league. Kevin Stevens finished with 111 points, Rick Tocchet had 109, and Ron Francis had 100. The fifth-highest scorer was Jaromir Jagr with 94 points. Talk about a loaded lineup!
The Penguins, who set an NHL record with their 17-game winning streak between March 9 and April 12, won the Presidents’ Trophy as regular-season champions at 119 points – 10 more than the runner-up Boston Bruins. It was a foregone conclusion that Pittsburgh would complete a three-peat as Cup champion in 1993, ad that seemed even more likely after the Pens rolled over the New Jersey in a five-game first round series.
Nobody expected that the New York Islanders, who finished 32 points behind Pittsburgh in 1992-93 would be the one to end the Penguins dynasty, even though head-to-head matchups between the teams had been fairly even during the regular season and the Isles had beaten higher-seeded Washington in the first round.
As is often the case in series upsets, the Islanders took Game 1 on the road, beating the Penguins 3-2 after taking a 2-1 lead in the first period. Forward Benoit Hogue scored the game-winner, and goaltender Glenn Healy made 28 saves.
The Penguins evened the series by shutting out the Islanders 3-0 in Game 2. Joe Mullen, Tocchet, and Francis scored for Pittsburgh, while Tom Barrasso stopped all 26 Islanders shots. Barrasso was effective again in Game 3 at the Nassau Coliseum, making 36 saves and limiting the Isles to one power-play tally in a 3-1 Pens win that included goals by Francis, Jagr, and Mullen.
Game 4 on Long Island was a nail-biter and would become the series’ pivotal game. After going down 1-0 on a second-period Jagr goal, the Isles got quick scores from Ray Ferraro and Tom Fitzgerald for a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes. They stretched that lead to 3-1 just 25 seconds into the wild third period, but Pittsburgh stormed back to tie it on goals from Troy Loney and Tocchet.
Derek King scored to put the Islanders back up 4-3, but Stevens responded. Islanders defenseman Vladimir Malakhov made it 5-4, but Francis came back to tie it less than two minutes later. Then, with only 8:49 left in regulation, King notched his second goal of the game, capping the eight-goal third period and sealing victory for the home team.
Back in Pittsburgh, Game 5 was a slam dunk for the Penguins, who took a 3-2 series lead with a 6-3 win. The Pens went up 3-0 on first-period goals by Lemieux, Tocchet, and Larry Murphy, and they never looked back after that. A series-clinching Game 6 road win seemed inevitable.
The Islanders were not about to fold. Another wild one at the Coliseum saw the Islanders prevail 7-5, breaking open a 4-4 tie in the third period on goals by Brian Mullen, Steve Thomas, and Uwe Krupp.
It all came down to Game 7, where the Penguins would outshoot the Islanders 45-20, forcing Healy to play perhaps the best game of his career. The game was 0-0 after the first period, and 1-1 after the second, but the Islanders took a stunning 3-1 lead over the first half of the third. Pittsburgh rallied with late goals from Francis and Tocchet to force overtime. Tocchet’s tying goal came with just one minute left in regulation.
With all the momentum heading into OT, Pittsburgh seemed to be in the driver’s seat. That feeling lasted for just 5:16, because the Islanders’ David Volek chose that moment to score the biggest goal of his NHL career, sending the giant-slaying Islanders into the Wales Conference Final.
Eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal dispatched with the Islanders in five games, but nothing could overshadow what had happened for them in a miraculous second round.
- 1986 Smythe Division Finals: Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames Regular-Season Records: Edmonton 56-17-7; Calgary 40-31-9
Series Result: 4-3, Calgary
This remarkable series was recently ranked No. 2 on the Betway list of the top 10 all-time greatest playoff series. You can read all about it there, but suffice to say that nobody expected the 1985-86 Edmonton Oilers to miss out on the Stanley Cup before this seven-game drama unfolded.
Although the “Battle of Alberta” rivalry was always intense between the Oilers and Flames, Edmonton was far and away the better team during the 1980s. The Oilers, who were coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, dominated the NHL in 1985-86, winning the regular-season title by nine points over Philadelphia. Although Calgary placed second in the Smythe Division, the Flames were a full 20 points behind their provincial rivals.
Edmonton went 6-1-1 against Calgary in the regular season, but this series was a back-and-forth affair that saw the teams trade wins for six straight games. The finale in Edmonton turned in the Flames’ favor after Oilers defenseman Steve Smith made one of the biggest mistakes in Stanley Cup playoff history.
The Flames went on to win another playoff round against St. Louis before falling to Montreal in the 1986 Stanley Cup Final. The Oilers, meanwhile, redeemed themselves the following year, winning the first of another back-to-back Cup championships.
- 2019 Smythe Division Finals: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets Regular-Season Records: Tampa Bay 62-16-4; Columbus 47-31-4
Series Result: 4-0, Columbus
The idea that a team that had just tied the NHL record for regular-season wins could be swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs seemed ridiculous – until it actually happened in 2019.
The 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning won 62 games to tie the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings’ record for wins in one season. Coach by Jon Cooper, the Lightning were a dynasty in the making, having gone to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and the Eastern Conference Finals in both 2016 and 2018. One year later, they would win the Cup and repeat as champions in 2021.
Tampa had entered the playoffs as the oddsmakers’ favorite to win the 2019 Stanley Cup at +1000. Nobody saw the disaster that was about to unfold.
The budding Lightning dynasty hit its low point in 2019, when their first-round series vs. Columbus ended in a flash. It’s worth noting that Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky would play a huge role in this series outcome, just as he would in another stunning upset four years later.
Game 1 at Tampa set the tone for the series. The Lightning came out strong, scoring an early shorthanded goal and adding two more for a 3-0 lead before the first period was over.
Nick Foligno got the Jackets on the board midway through the second period, but it was 3-1 in Tampa’s favor heading into the third. Just eight minutes into the final period, David Savard cut the lead to 3-2, and Josh Anderson tied it with a shorthanded goal four minutes after that. The roof fell in on Tampa when Columbus defenseman Seth Jones scored on a power play at 14:05 of the third to ice it. Bobrovsky, who finished with 26 saves, stopped all 16 Lightning shots over the final 40 minutes.
Game 2 was a fiasco for the Lightning, who lost 5-1 at home. Columbus’ Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski made it 2-0 in the first period, and the Jackets rolled on from there as Bobrovsky stopped 23 of 24 Tampa Bay shots.
The series shifted to Columbus, where the Jackets took Game 3 by a score of 3-1. After a scoreless first period, Matt Duchene and Oliver Bjorkstrand gave Columbus a 2-0 edge in the first half of the second. Ondrej Palat’s third-period goal was all the Lightning could muster on a night when Bobrovsky made 30 saves.
Columbus completed its improbable sweep in Game 4 at home, closing out Tampa Bay with a 7-3 rout. Once again, the Jackets grabbed a 2-0 lead. When the Lightning pulled into a 3-3 tie on Brayden Point’s goal with 2:08 left in the second period, Columbus’ Bjorkstrand needed less than one minute to respond with the eventual series winner. The Jackets iced it in the closing minutes of the third period with three empty-netters.
The Boston Bruins took out the Jackets in the next round, winning in six games, but Columbus was playing with house money at that point. The Blue Jackets’ series win over Tampa Bay was arguably the most shocking sweep in Stanley Cup playoffs history.
- 1982 Smythe Division Semifinals: Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings
Regular-Season Records: Edmonton 48-17-15; Los Angeles 24-41-15
Series Result: 3-2, Los Angeles
They call Game 3 of this series the “Miracle on Manchester” for a reason. The 1981-82 Los Angeles Kings, who finished the regular season 17 games below .500, had no business beating an Edmonton Oilers team that placed second in the NHL during the regular season and finished 48 points ahead of L.A. in the standings.
Yet, somehow, it happened.
There is no question that 1981-82 was a breakout year for Wayne Gretzky and his Edmonton Oilers. The Great One took the league by storm that season, shattering NHL records with 92 goals, 120 assists, and 212 points. The Oilers, meanwhile, surged 37 points in the standings from the previous season in becoming the Western Conference’s dominant team.
If online betting apps – or online anything -- had existed in those days, you can be sure this would have been the largest NHL series spread ever, because there was no stopping the Oilers in 1982.
The opening game of their series, however, left room for doubt. Leading 4-3 after one period, the Oilers allowed the Kings to score five second-period goals and eventually lost 10-8. Gretzky finished the game with four points, while his linemate Jari Kurri had a hat trick, but it wasn’t enough to overcome four-point performances by the Kings’ Doug Evans and Dave Taylor.
Game 2 saw far fewer goals, but the Oilers squeaked out a win to even the best-of-5 series at 1-1. Gretzky was the hero again, snapping a 2-2 tie with a goal at 6:20 of overtime. He had helped force that OT by assisting on Jari Kurri’s tying goal with just 4:54 remaining in regulation.
The Oilers ran out to a 5-0 lead after two periods of Game 3. Gretzky had two goals and two assists, and it was just a matter of 20 minutes before Edmonton would push the Kings to the brink. Going into the third period, it was clear the home team would need a miracle to avoid falling behind in the series.
A miracle is exactly what the Kings got.
Los Angeles exploded for five goals in the third period. Jay Wells scored at 2:46. Doug Smith scored on a power play at 5:58. Charlie Simmer scored at 14:38, and Mark Hardy scored at 15:59. After all that, the Kings were still down 5-4 and seemed on the verge of exiting the playoffs.
A late power play changed everything, and with only five seconds left, Los Angeles’ Steve Bozek beat Kings goalie Mario Lessard to force overtime, where Daryl Evans quickly ended the OT just 155 seconds after it began.
The Kings had given themselves a chance to win the series at home in Game 4, but Edmonton was not going down without a fight. After an early Marcel Dionne goal put L.A. up 1-0, the Oilers got goals first from Kurri in the opening period and then Pat Hughes and Glenn Anderson in the second for a 3-1 lead. Mike Murphy cut it to 3-2 midway through the third, but the Oilers held on, and the series moved back to Edmonton for a decisive Game 5.
Edmonton fans expected to see their team win at home, but another high-scoring track meet emerged, and the Kings blew open the game with three second-period goals for a 6-2 lead on their way to a 7-4 victory. Simmer led the charge for Los Angeles with two goals and an assist, while Gretzky managed just one goal. Both of Simmer’s goals came in the first 6:20 of the opening period, immediately taking the crowd out of the game.
The Kings advanced to the division final, where they fell to Vancouver in five games. The fact that they even managed to get there, however, was … well … a miracle.
- 2023 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Florida Panthers vs. Boston Bruins
Regular-Season Records: Boston 65-12-5; Florida 42-32-8
Closing NHL betting lines: Boston Bruins -320, Florida Panthers +250
Series Result: 4-3, Florida
Yes, that’s right. The biggest series upset in Stanley Cup playoffs history happened just last month, when the Florida Panthers shocked the hockey world by beating a Boston team that had dominated an NHL regular season like no other team before it.
Not only did Boston win a record 65 games in 2022-23, the Bruins also set an NHL record with 135 regular-season points. Indeed, the B’s finished the 2022-23 season 43 points ahead of the Panthers team that would end their dream run in the most embarrassing fashion.
Do you know why fans have been throwing rats on the ice in Florida? It’s a tradition that dates back to 1996, when another Cinderella Panthers team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Earlier in the 1995-96 regular season, a rat had appeared in the Panthers’ locker room at Miami Arena. Panthers forward Scott Mellanby, who had been with the team since its inaugural 1993-94 season, used his hockey stick to kill the rat. That night, he scored two goals, prompting goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck to congratulate him on his “rat trick.”
After the “rat trick” story was reported, Panthers fans began throwing plastic rats on the ice to bring the team good luck and to celebrate Florida goals during what became known locally as the “Year of the Rat.” That throwing rats on ice tradition continues to this day, and it brought especially good luck to the team in its seven-game stunning upset of the mighty Bruins.
We all know how this unfolded. Boston won the opening game at home, but the Panthers came back with a 6-3 win in Game 2. The Bruins took a 2-1 lead with a 4-2 Game 3 win at Florida and then pushed the Cats to the brink by routing them 6-2 in Game 4.
The final three games of the series were epic, and the hero was Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was no stranger to playoff upsets, thanks to his role on the 2019 Columbus Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky stopped 44 of 47 shots in Game 5 at Boston, and Matthew Tkachuk broke a 3-3 tie at 6:05 of overtime to force Game 6.
Back in Florida with their backs still against the wall, the Panthers scored four goals in the third period to secure a 7-5 victory that took the series to its limit. Tkachuk tied the game on a power play with 9:11 to go in the third period, and Eetu Luostarinen delivered the game-winner at 14:22.
Boston completed its meltdown in Game 7 at home, losing 4-3 in overtime after falling behind 2-0 just 74 seconds into the second period. The Bruins actually came back to take a 3-2 lead late in the third before blowing their opportunity to win by allowing Florida’s Brandon Montour to tie the score with one minute remaining in regulation. Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe delivered the knockout punch with his goal at 8:35 of OT.
The fact that this series ended the way it did remains a shock weeks later. No matter how far the Panthers advance in these playoffs, they have already left their mark on them … and on NHL history, too.
Parameters of Rankings
Multiple factors went into determining this list of the 10 greatest Stanley Cup playoff upsets of all time. The main focus was the point differential between the teams during the regular season. Other considerations were given to the relative star power of each team and how the rosters compared on paper. The more unexpected the result was at the time, the more likely it is to rank high on this list.
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