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It's not impossible, but a 3-0 hole should be avoided

Thursday, 04.23.2009 / 2:20 PM / Off the Wall

By Evan Weiner - NHL.com Correspondent

With the playoffs here, not too many coaches or players are thinking about 1942 or 1975, because of the old playoff philosophy that you can only play a game at a time. But there is one playoff adage that everyone knows -- in best-of-7 series, don't fall behind three games to none.
 
It's nearly impossible for a team down 3-0 in a best-of-7 series to come back and win. Until 1975, only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were able to accomplish the feat. Detroit had won the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final, but the Leafs' Don Metz, who sat out the first three games as a scratch, was one of the main reasons the Leafs got back in the series as he scored 4 goals and added 3 assists after coach Hap Day inserted him into the lineup for Game 4. Turk Broda shut out the Wings in Game 6, and the Leafs got a big effort out of Sweeney Schriner, who scored twice in the third period to help the Leafs win Game 7 -- and the Cup -- 3-1. It was the first time a team in any North American sports playoffs had overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
 
In 1975, New York Islanders coach Al Arbour and his players weren't thinking about the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, as the Islanders captain Ed Westfall recalled. Players on the then 3-year-old franchise weren't students of history. The Islanders finished the season with 88 points, 32 points better than the season before and more points than the team had accumulated in their first two seasons combined.

The Islanders faced the Rangers in the best-of-3 first round, winning Game 1 at Madison Square Garden, 3-2, but the Rangers came back and tied the series with an 8-3 win at Nassau Coliseum, which set up the series decider at the Garden.
 
The teams were tied at 3 after regulation, and the Islanders faced playoff elimination for the first time in the franchise's brief history in a hostile environment at the Garden. But the Islanders scored 11 seconds into the overtime, and a lot of people missed the game-winning tally as they were getting back to their seats.
 
"No, they were probably out getting a beer or in the bathroom," said Westfall. "That was Jude Drouin, myself and (J.P.) Parise and Bert Marshall on the defense. We had a lot of young, speedy players back then, but Al Arbour chose us to start the overtime. Put the experience on the ice."
 
Parise scored the goal, which did two things. First, it ignited the intensity of the Rangers-Islanders rivalry, and sent the Islanders into the second round of the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins in what would turn out to be an historic series.
 
Pittsburgh finished the season with 89 points, one more than the Islanders, and the series opened at the Igloo. The Penguins won the first two games of the series, 5-4 and 3-1, and then took Game 3 at the Nassau Coliseum 6-4. The Islanders won Game 4, 3-1, and took Game 5 back in Pittsburgh. The Islanders evened the series with a 4-1 win in Game 6 on Long Island.
 
Game 7 turned out to be a classic. With the Islanders facing elimination for a fifth time in the playoffs, goaltender Chico Resch shut down the Penguins, a team that had 43-goal scorer Jean Pronovost and three 30-goal scorers in Vic Hadfield, Pierre Larouche and Rick Kehoe.
 
Resch was good and lucky. Pittsburgh hit two posts and Westfall scored the only goal of the contest. After the game Resch, living up to the goaltender stereotype, went back on the ice and kissed the goal posts, which he thought were his best defensemen that night.
 
"We were kissing anything that would bring us good luck," Westfall said with a laugh. "We were a hard-working team that wasn't successful, but was very successful starting in '75 and for the next 10 years probably the best franchise in the League."
 
The Islanders scored their place in history with the overtime win against the Rangers and the come-from-behind-victory against the Penguins. But the Islanders would tempt fate again in the next round of the playoffs. New York next went to Philadelphia for a series with the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Flyers.
 
Once again, the Islanders fell into a 3-0 series hole. But the Islanders won Game 4 at the Coliseum in overtime, 4-3, and went down to Philadelphia and won Game 5. In Game 6, the eighth time the Islanders faced elimination, New York won, 2-1, which set up Game 7 in Philadelphia.
 

"We were a hard-working team that wasn't successful, but was very successful starting in '75 and for the next 10 years probably the best franchise in the League."
-- Ed Westfall, 1975 Islanders captain

The Flyers' brass decided the team needed more than just playing Kate Smith's recording of God Bless America, which seemingly worked as a good luck charm for the team. Westfall learned Smith would be singing before Game 7 and decided that maybe he could break the Flyers' luck by doing something different. He skated over to her before she was scheduled to sing and presented her with a bouquet of flowers.
 
"Absolutely, I certainly did and they were chrysanthemums, her favorite flower," said Westfall. "She was stunned. I only wished the Philadelphia Flyers were stunned.
 
"Kate Smith and I became friends after that. She was quite a lady and I happened to get to meet her a few times after that and it was a wonderful experience."
 
The Islanders lost in Game 7, 4-1, and the Flyers went onto win the 1975 Stanley Cup by beating Buffalo.

No NHL team has come back from a 3-0 deficit since, and only one other time in North American pro sports has it happened at all -- 2004, when the Boston Red Sox mounted a comeback against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
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