Tonight marks Game 1 in the Stanley Cup Finals, an exciting night for any hockey fan, perhaps even more exciting because of the somewhat surprising match-up. Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins, currently one of the leagues most consistent teams, is returning to finals after winning last year. However, while their appearance in the finals might not be surprising, few would have predicted the Nashville Predators would have reached this far.
While certainly not a bad team, Nashville entered the playoffs in the second Wild Card slot in the Western conference and they had the fewest points out of all the teams in the playoffs. Many thought they didn’t stand a chance against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, but upset after upset, the Predators are now in a very good position to hoist the Cup.
The playoffs always see teams playing at their absolute best but it’s something special to see teams defy the expectations and for underdogs to show their true potential. It’s the perfect opportunity to look back on some of the biggest upsets ever in playoff hockey history.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs over Montreal Canadiens (1945)
One of the longest and most passionate rivalries in NHL history is between these two Canadian titans. While both teams were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round this year, they both have had their fair share of victories in the finals over the years. However, when they met in the playoffs in 1945, the Habs seemed to have the Cup locked. The team was coming off a record-setting regular reason with .800 winning record. The Leafs on the other hand were nearly 50-50 with their wins and losses. But when the they met in the conference semi-finals, the Leafs were looking to dominate. They took the first two games before the Habs finally struck back. They each took two more wins before the Leafs put an end to it and once again proved anything can happen in post-season.
4. Montreal Canadiens over Washington Capitals (2010)
In a more recent playoff memory Montreal found themselves in the middle of another unexpected upset, but this time it was them doing the upsetting. The Washington Capitals have been one of the leagues best teams for years ever since adding superstar Alexander Ovechkin to the roster. But however many times they might finish the season in first place, the Capitals always seem to find an obstacle in the playoffs. In 2010, that obstacle was Jaroslav Halak. The Capitals played as well as their stats would suggest and the Canadiens seemed outmatched going 3-1 after four games. However, the goaltending from Halak was legendary. He shut the Capitals down at ever turn, frustrating them to no end and allowing his team to crawl back with three straight wins.
3. San Jose Sharks over St. Louis Blues (2000)
The President’s Trophy is awarded to the team that finishes first in the regular seasons, and as we’ve seen multiple times on this list, the trophy means absolutely now guarantees in the post-season. In 2000, the Blues were coming off a franchise best season and were the frontrunners for the Cup. Meanwhile, the Sharks had just barely made it into the playoffs. Therefore, it came as a surprise to many when the Sharks were going into Game 5 with a 3-1 lead in the series. The Blues suddenly woke up and put on their boosters enough to force a Game 7, but for those who thought the Sharks early dominance was just a fluke would be proven wrong and the Blues highlight season came to an end.
2. Edmonton Oilers over Detroit Red Wings (2006)
Edmonton had their day in the sun a few decades ago, and while recent years have showed a lot of promise, they have yet to recapture their legendary status of the 80s (more on that in a bit). But while 2006 wasn’t a hallmark year for the Oilers, it did prove they can still cause trouble. They entered the playoffs in eighth seed and matched up against the President Trophy winning Red Wings. Immediately, it became obvious the Oilers had come to play and weren’t looking to get out in the first round. Instead, they Oilers constructed a perfect Cinderella story, including the come-from-behind win in Game 6.
1. Los Angeles Kings over Edmonton Oilers (1982)
As stated before, the Oiler in the 80s were a dynasty, winning four Cups, but in 1982 when they looked to dethrone the New York Islanders and take the championship. Few could have predicted the team that would prevent them from doing that. When the Kings met with the Oilers in the playoffs, there was a 48-point difference between them. Everyone knew Gretzky, Messier and the rest of the young superstar team would walk all over them. Surprising enough was the fact that the Kings managed to have the series tied 2-2 before going into Game 5. However, with the Oilers up 5-0 going into the third, it was starting to look like the match-up everyone had anticipated. Then came the miracle. The Kings scored 5 unanswered goals in the third before winning in overtime. The series went to Game 7 but the Kings had the underdog momentum on their side and finished off the shocking upset.