It may come as a surprise to you, but upsets seem to happen more often in the NHL than in other leagues. This is where you’ll find low seeds advancing deep into the playoffs. This is where more comebacks from 3-0 deficits happen than anywhere else.
Due to those things, trying to pick the greatest upsets in NHL history is tough. Do you go with the teams that rallied from deep holes? And if that’s the way you go, do you put the lower seeded upsets ahead of those? Trying to take those things into account, we’ve selected the five best upsets to ever happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
5. Edmonton Wins An Incredible Game 7 – 2006 Quarterfinals
The 2006 winners of the President’s Trophy was the Detroit Red Wings. That award is given out to the team with the best record in the regular season. These Red Wings went up against a tough No. 8 seed in the Edmonton Oilers. This was an absolute dogfight of a first round series.
The teams split the first four games, before Edmonton shocked the world by winning game five on the road. The sixth game, in Edmonton, proved to be one of the most thrilling in NHL history. The Oilers found themselves down 2-0 and 3-2 at different points but kept coming back for more. After tying things up, Ales Hemsky scored on a gorgeous one-timer that sealed the deal for this upset.
4. Another Capital Collapse – 2010 Quarterfinals
Before their incredible run to the Stanley Cup trophy last year, the Washington Capitals were known for their playoff failures. It’s tough to say it, but it’s true. They were often the higher seeded team and they could never even make it to the Conference Finals. It was always something. 2010 was the most heartbreaking of them all.
For the first time ever, Washington won the President’s Trophy and had a dominant offensive attack. They matched up with the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens, who barely made the playoffs. The Canadiens surprised many by winning game one, but Washington took the next three, including both in Montreal. That felt like it would be the end. But Montreal rallied from down 3-1 to win the series in 7 games behind goalie Jaroslav Halak saving all but two of the 96 shots he faced in the final two games. To add to it all, they Canadiens also went on to upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the following round.
3. Defending Champs Get Swept – 2003 Quarterfinals
In 2002, the Detroit Red Wings bested the Carolina Hurricanes to win the Stanley Cup. They remained a strong team in 2003, finishing as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. In the playoffs, they went up against a good No. 7 seed in the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
As good as the Mighty Ducks were, not many picked them to win. In game one, it took three overtimes and 63 saves from the incredible Jean-Sebastien Giguere before the Ducks won. Instead of the Red Wings rallying to tie the series or take the lead, each game saw them fall deeper into the hole. They went on to lose each game by a single goal and the defending champions were promptly swept without ever winning a game. It was a shocker.
2. The Greatest Gets Beaten – 1982 Division Semifinals
The 1982 Edmonton Oilers were one of the outstanding collections of talents in the history of the league. A lineup consisting of the best player in hockey history, Wayne Gretzky as well as Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, and Jarri Kurl made them an imposing challenge. The Los Angeles Kings had no chance. Edmonton finished 48-17-15 with 111 points, while Los Angeles went 24-41-15 for a total of 63 points. This was also the season where Gretzky scored 92 goals, totaled 212 points, and the team put the puck in the net an insane 417 times. Talk about a mismatch.
The series was tied 1-1 when “The Miracle on Manchester” happened. Edmonton had a 5-0 lead in game three and their bench was seen laughing at the Kings. From there, Los Angeles rallied and came back to win this pivotal game in overtime, 6-5. It set off a massive celebration on Machester Boulevard, where the Kings played their home games. They went on to finish the upset and eliminate the powerhouse Oilers.
1. An Unbelievable Sweep – 2019 Quarterfinals
The President’s Trophy strikes again. The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2019 Playoffs as more than just the team with the best record in the league. Their 62 wins were an NHL record and they racked up 128 points, 30 more than their first round opponents, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Throw in the fact that Columbus had never won a Playoff series in franchise history and there was no reason to think this would be anything special.
In the regular season, Tampa Bay beat Columbus in their three meetings by scores of 8-2, 4-0, and 5-1. Not even close. But these Playoffs were a different story. Columbus stole game 4-3 and handily took game two 5-1, with the series shifting to their home ice. There, they added wins by a combined 10-4 score to complete a sweep of the Lightning. It was the most unlikely of outcomes, especially in a seven game series.