April 8, 2012
Top 10 Improbable Stanley Cup Winners
By QMI Agency
It's getting more and more difficult these days to become a Stanley Cup champion with a lousy or even an average season.
Which may be a good thing, as regular-season success ideally translates into 16 playoff wins, sipping champagne from Lord Stanley's mug and spending the day with your family and friends, basking in the glow of hockey's ultimate prize.
But upsets do occur, and teams that analysts thought would not make it past the first playoff round have been a fixture in the final more than a few times. They include the Philadelphia Flyers, seventh seed in the East in 2010; the Edmonton Oilers, eighth seed in the West in 2006; and the Calgary Flames, sixth seed in the West in 2004. However, there is no mistaking the fact a team deemed unlikely to make an appearance in the Cup final can surprise even the most seasoned expert.
It has happened in the past, and might soon yet again.
10. DETROIT RED WINGS, 1997
A lot was riding on the line in the 1997 Cup final between the Red Wings and Flyers. The Wings had come away empty-handed in their previous six appearances in the final, a 42-year Cup drought hanging over Motown. The Flyers were back in the final for the first time in a decade and fifth time since winning back-to-back in 1974 and '75. But the Wings swept the Flyers in four games, with goalie Mike Vernon allowed just six goals in the series against the third-ranked offence that season. Vernon won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
9. MONTREAL CANADIENS, 1993
The 1993 playoffs saw the Canadiens put their name on records for most consecutive victories, 11 — tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks — and most overtime wins, 10. The Habs were down 2-0 against their provincial rivals in Quebec City but rallied to win the next four to eliminate the Nordiques in the first round. They defeated the Buffalo Sabres in four (with three wins coming in overtime), then sent the New York Islanders packing, four games to one with two overtime wins. In the final, the Los Angeles Kings won the opener before the Habs rolled out three more extra-session wins, closing out the series at home with only their sixth win in regulation.
8. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS, 1992
Did you know the NHL played its first Stanley Cup game in June for the first time 20 years ago? The Penguins were the defending champions but didn't play like it during the season, finishing only seven games above .500. But once the playoffs began, the Pens could not be stopped, surviving a seven-game series against the Washington Capitals before dispatching the Patrick Division-winning New York Rangers in six and sweeping the Boston Bruins. Facing a Chicago Blackhawks team that had won 11 in a row entering the final, the Pens won four in row a to repeat as champions and duplicate Chicago's 11-win streak.
7. NEW YORK ISLANDERS, 1980
In the Isles' first trip to the Stanley Cup since joining the league in the 1972 expansion, not many gave them a chance against the top-flight Flyers, who lost only 12 times over an 80-game schedule and led the league with 116 points. But the Flyers were no match, losing the first game in overtime before splitting the next four. Up 3-2 in the series, the Isles' Bob Nystrom closed it out in Game 6 when he tipped the overtime winner past Flyers goalie Pete Peeters. It gave Hall of Fame coach Al Arbour his first of four consecutive Cup championships.
6. MONTREAL CANADIENS, 1986
The 1986 playoffs saw three of four first-place teams eliminated in the first round (Chicago, Philadelphia and Quebec), along with the Oilers in the second. That gave the Canadiens and rookie goalie Patrick Roy an easier path to the final against the Flames and fellow rookie netminder Mike Vernon. After dropping the first game in Calgary, the Habs won Game 2 when another rookie, Brian Skrudland, scored nine seconds into overtime. The Habs won the next three games, giving Roy his first of four Stanley Cups and first of three Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP.
5. EDMONTON OILERS, 1990
Who would have thought the Oilers would win another Stanley Cup after trading Wayne Gretzky in 1988? Their only championship without The Great One, the Oilers did have Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and playoff pest Esa Tikkanen. But the unsung heros were forward Craig Simpson, who led the team in goals (16) and tied Messier in points (31), and goalie Bill Ranford, who didn’t allow more than two goals in a game against the Bruins in the five-game final, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
4. NEW JERSEY DEVILS, 1995
In the lockout-shortened season, the key to winning the Cup was in getting through a quick-and-dirty 48 games and hoping to come out relatively healthy to make a long playoff run. The Devils did just that. After eliminating the Bruins, Penguins and Flyers, the Devils faced the league-leading Red Wings, who had not won the Cup in 40 years. Making their first appearance in the final, the Devils swept the series, outscoring the Wings 16-7. Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur won his first Cup.
3. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS, 1945
With the Second World War raging, the league was full of fill-in players while many pros were fighting overseas. One such player was Frank (Ulcers) McCool, a goaltender for the Maple Leafs. Details are sketchy, but the rookie netminder put in a solid performance in net by playing all 50 games, earning a 24-22-4 record and 3.22 GAA. He led the Leafs to an upset over the favoured Canadiens and repeated his performance in the final against the Red Wings with three consecutive shutouts to start the series en route to a 4-3 Cup upset. He sat out part of the next season because of a contract dispute, playing only 22 games before dropping out of the NHL.
2. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS, 1949
The Maple Leafs were looking to become the first team to win three consecutive championships. And they had to do it after registering a sub-.500 regular-season record (22-25-13). Facing the Red Wings in the final, the Leafs swept the league leaders in four to become the first NHL team to three-peat, extending their winning streak in the Cup final to nine games to end the first half of the 20th century. They also became the second team to win the Cup with a losing regular-season record, 11 years after Chicago turned the trick.
1. CHICAGO BLACK HAWKS, 1938
The Black Hawks had a dismal season, going 14-25-9. They made the playoffs because the Red Wings were actually just barely worse. To make their journey more difficult, a foot injury kept starting goaltender Mike Karakas out of the first two games of the best-of-five final against Toronto. Karakas returned to the lineup with a steel toe added to one of his skates and helped the team to two wins in Chicago to capture the series 3-1. It was the second Cup in franchise history.