It used to be that when a team went into the Stanley Cup playoffs as a lower seed, the chances of that team going far in the post-season was very, very small.
Fast forward to now and it appears that when it comes to playoff hockey, every team that gets in has a good chance of winning hockey’s Holy Grail.
For example, take this year’s Los Angeles Kings. The Kings were the eighth seed in the Western Conference and finished 13th out of the 16 teams that qualify for the postseason.
That did not appear to matter to the Kings. The Kings are eight wins away from their first Stanley Cup in franchise history after defeating two of the best teams in the NHL.
In the first round, the Kings defeated the top-seeded, both in the Western Conference and the entire league, Vancouver Canucks in five games. In the second round, the club defeated the second-seeded, and third in the NHL, St. Louis Blues in a sweep.
”At this point, I just kind of throw the seeding out,” New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. ”We have home ice. That’s what the seeding dictates, but other than that, it’s pretty close for a lot of these teams.”
With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at other lower seeds who have written Cinderella stories for themselves in the postseason in recent memory.
2010 Montreal Canadiens
Going into the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the odds were stacked high against the Montreal Canadiens.
Not only was the team the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, but the team was going up against the top team in both the Eastern Conference and entire National Hockey League. The odds were further stacked against the Canadiens when the Capitals took a 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5 at the Verizon Center.
That is when things changed for the Habs thanks to the tremendous play of netminder Jaroslav Halak. Halak’s great play between the pipes along with some timely goal scoring helped the Canadiens to win three straight and the series. The Capitals were the first No. 1 seed to blow a 3-1 series lead in the playoffs to a No. 8 seed.
Not only did they come back from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round, but they managed to come back from a 3-2 deficit against the No. 4 seed Pittsburgh Penguins. These Penguins had the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and a slew of other offensively talented players capable of putting the puck in the net.
However, much like he did in the first round against the Capitals, Halak stonewalled the Penguins in Games 6 and 7 to lead his hockey club in the Eastern Conference final. Game 7 was the last to ever be played at Penguins’ Mellon Arena and incidentally, the arena was opened to a loss to the Canadiens.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, their magical run would end in the Eastern Conference final against the No. 7 seed Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers would go onto to win in five games.
2010 Philadelpha Flyers
The 2010 Philadelphia Flyers waited until the last day of the regular season to get into the playoffs and turned it into a magical run to the Stanley Cup Final.
After the team clinched a playoff spot by defeating the New York Rangers, the team took the No. 7 seed and faced off against the No. 2 seed New Jersey Devils. The Flyers made quick work of Vezina Trophy finalist Martin Brodeur and the Devils by defeating them in five games.
The Flyers then stunned the hockey world in the second round against the No. 6 seed Boston Bruins. The Bruins breezed through the first three games to go up 3-0 in the series, leading everyone to believe that this would be a quick series.
However, the Flyers surprised everyone by turning the tables and winning four straight games off the surprisingly good goaltending of Michael Leighton, becoming the third NHL team to achieve this feat and the first since the 1975 New York Islanders. It should also be noted that in Game 7, the Flyers overcame a 3-0 deficit to win the hockey game.
The Flyers then took advantage of the extremely tired eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. The Broadstreet Bullies defeated the Habs in five games in what was the first conference final ever contested.
The Flyers surprise playoff run would come to an unfortunate end in the Stanley Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks would go on to defeat the Flyers in six games, with Game 6 ending in dramatic fashion on an overtime winner by Blackhawks’ sniper Patrick Kane.
2006 Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers may have squeaked into the 2006 post-season the hard way by clinching a spot in the last week but boy did they ever make the most of it.
In the first round, the Oilers shocked the hockey world by beating the No. 1 seed Detroit Red Wings. Not only did the Oilers win the series, but they won it in six games by overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the third period on goals by Fernando Pisani and Ales Hemsky.
In the second round, the Oilers ousted the No. 5 seed San Jose Sharks in six games. In this series, the Oilers came back from being down 2-0 in the series to win six straight games thanks to timely goal scoring and the terrific play of Dwayne Roloson between the pipes.
The 2006 Western Conference final featured the Oilers and the No. 6 seed Anaheim Ducks. The Oilers made quick work of the Ducks in winning the series in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since the 1989-90 season.
The 2006 Final between the Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes would end up going the distance. After losing Roloson to an injury in Game 1 and falling behind in the series 2-0 and then 3-2, the Oilers fought back and forced a Game 7, where they unfortunately lost.
2003 Anaheim Ducks
In the 2003 post-season, the No. 7 seed Anaheim Ducks rode the Conn-Smythe goaltending of Jean-Sebastien Giguere all the way to Stanley Cup final against the New Jersey Devils.
In the first round, Giguere stymied the No. 2 seed Detroit Red Wings as the Ducks shocked Hockeytown in a sweep. Giguere made an astounding 63 saves in a 2-1 triple overtime win and allowed just six goals in the series.
The Ducks went one step further in shocking the hockey world in round two when they defeated the No. 1 seed Dallas Stars six games. In Game 1, the Ducks won 4-3 on a goal by Petr Sykora in the fifth overtime period.
In the Western Conference final, the Ducks took on a tight defensive team in the No. 6 seed Minnesota Wild. The Ducks won in a four game sweep thanks to Giguere’s three shutouts and one goal allowed all series long.
In the final against the Devils, the Ducks overcame both a 2-0 and 3-2 Devils’ series lead to force a Game 7 in New Jersey where unfortunately, the Ducks’ Disney-like run came to an end.
1999 Buffalo Sabres
When you have a great goaltender, a lower seed can definitely surprise many and accomplish a lot in the post-season.
This is exactly what Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres did in 1999 as the No. 7 seed. In the first round, Hasek stoned the No. 2 seed Ottawa Senators time and time again in helping his team to sweep their Northeast Division rival.
In the second round against the No. 6 Boston Bruins, the Sabres used Hasek’s terrific goaltending to beat the Bruins in six games. In that series, Hasek allowed just 14 goals.
In perhaps one of the most exciting rounds of the 1999 postseason, the Sabres took on another Northeast Division rival in Curtis Joseph and the No. 4 seed Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite being without Hasek in Games 1 and 2, the Sabres went onto win the series in five games and outscored the Leafs 21-16.
Of course, everyone remembers what happened in the Stanley Cup final. The Dallas Stars beat the Sabres in six games thanks to this controversial overtime goal by the “Golden Brett”, Brett Hull.
1994 Vancouver Canucks
When you are a seventh seed in the postseason, not much is expected of your hockey club.
In the 1994 postseason, the Vancouver Canucks proved everyone wrong by getting to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the New York Rangers in seven games. To do so, the Canucks had to knock off some really good hockey clubs that year.
In the first round against the No. 2 seed Calgary Flames, Pavel Bure and the Canucks were in seventh heaven as the “Russian Rocket” beat Flames netminder Mike Vernon on a breakaway to give the Canucks the series victory. Even more surprising was that the Canucks were down 3-1 in that series.
The Canucks had a much easier time in the second round as they beat the Dallas Stars in five games. The team got timely scoring from Bure and terrific goaltending from Kirk McLean.
As I am sure most fans remember, the Canucks took on the No. 3 seed Toronto Maple Leafs in the Western Conference finals. The talented Leafs proved to be no trouble for the Canucks, who managed to win the series in five games.
The Canucks took on the New York Rangers, who were the best team in the NHL that season, in what was one of the most exciting Stanley Cup finals at that time. With great goaltending on both sides, terrific play from the likes of Bure, McLean, Trevor Linden, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, and Mike Richter, and a seven-game series, that thrilling final helped put hockey back on the map in the United States.
Unfortunately, and despite battling back once again from a 3-1 series deficit, the Canucks would lost to the Rangers 3-2 in Game 7. For the Blueshirts, it would be their first cup in 54 years.
1991 Minnesota North Stars
In 1991, the Minnesota North Stars were one of the most inconsistent teams in the NHL and yet, managed a way to squeak into the playoffs as the fourth place team in the then Norris Division.
Apparently, the North Stars did not get the memo that they were an inconsistent hockey club. The North Stars rode the unbelievable goaltending of Jon Casey and had some incredible offence to first beat the Norris Division leading Chicago Blackhawks, who were the best team in both the Clarence Campbell Conference and NHL, in six games.
In the second round, the North Stars then beat the St. Louis Blues, the second best team in the NHL, in six games. Casey was tremendous once again while his defence was able to stop the likes of Adam Oates and Brett Hull, who combined for 240 points in the regular season.
After knocking off the top two teams in the league, the North Stars defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champion Edmonton Oilers in five games.
Unfortunately for the North Stars, they ran into an extremely hot Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup final. The Penguins’ powerful offence of Lemieux, Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Stevens, Joe Mullen, Mark Recchi, and Paul Coffey proved to be too much for the North Stars as they bowed out in six games. This series marked the first time in 57 years that the Cup would be contested between two teams that had yet to win hockey’s Holy Grail.