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Kings hope to join ranks of surprise Cup winners

by John Kreiser

As the No. 8 seed in the West and the No. 13 finisher in the overall standings, the Los Angeles Kings weren't expected to do much in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs -- no team seeded eighth in either conference has ever won the Stanley Cup, and only one has gotten as far as the Final. Also, no team that finished lower than ninth in the regular-season standings has gone home with the Cup.

But after winning three rounds, the Kings have a chance to join the NHL's list of improbable champions -- teams that found a way to do the unexpected and were rewarded by capturing hockey's ultimate prize.

Here are eight teams that surprised a lot of people – maybe even themselves -- by ending up with the Cup:

1928: New York Rangers

The Rangers entered the NHL as an expansion team in 1926, and under the guidance of Lester Patrick finished first in the American Division in their inaugural season. They weren't as good in their second season, dropping to second in the division, but swept Pittsburgh and division-winning Boston to make their first Stanley Cup Final against the powerful Montreal Maroons. The 1926 Cup winners had ousted the archrival Canadiens in the other semifinal.

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As was the case for the Rangers until the 1960s, springtime in New York meant the circus occupied Madison Square Garden -- in this case, giving the favored Maroons home ice for entire best-of-five series. It looked like they would win easily after skating off with a 2-0 win in the opener. Things turned even bleaker for the Rangers midway through the second game when goalie Lorne Chabot was cut over the eye by a backhander from Nels Stewart.

With no backup goaltender available, the 44-year-old Patrick put on the pads, went into the net in a scoreless game -- and made 18 saves to get the victory when the Rangers won 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Frank Boucher. The Rangers hoisted Patrick to their shoulders and carried him off the ice after the win.

The NHL allowed the Rangers to use Joe Miller, a goaltender who had played for the rival Americans, for the rest of the series, but the Maroons moved within one win of the Cup when they blanked the Blueshirts 2-0 in Game 3. However, Miller turned the table in Game 4 by shutting out the Maroons 1-0, and Boucher scored twice to give the Rangers a 2-1 win in Game 5. They became only the second U.S.-based team (after the 1917 Seattle Metropolitans) to win the Cup -- and the first to use a 44-year-old goalie while doing it.

1938: Chicago Black Hawks

Six of the NHL's eight teams made the playoffs in 1938, and Hawks were the final qualifier from the American Division despite a 14-25-9 record, good for 37 points, two more than last-place Detroit (the Bruins and Rangers were 1-2 in the League with 67 and 60 points, respectively). With a roster that featured eight American-born players, the Hawks looked like they were headed for a quick exit when they dropped their playoff opener 6-4 at Montreal, but came back with a 4-0 win at home in Game 2 and stunned the Forum crowd by winning the deciding third game 3-2 in overtime.

The Hawks would go on to reach the Stanley Cup Final against the powerful Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadian Division champions. Even worse, goaltender Mike Karakas broke his toe in the clincher against the Americans and couldn't play. Chicago signed journeyman goalie Alfie Moore, who was superb as the Hawks shocked the Leafs 3-1 in the opener at Maple Leaf Gardens.

However, League President Frank Calder ruled before Game 2 that Moore was ineligible (though he allowed the victory to stand). With minor-leaguer Paul Goodman in goal, the Hawks were pummeled 5-1, sending the series to Chicago all even.

Karakas returned for Game 3 wearing a steel-capped boot to protect his toe and excelled as the Hawks won 2-1 in Game 3. Doc Romnes, wearing a football helmet to protect a broken nose, scored the winning goal at 15:55 of the third period, triggering an eruption from a record crowd of 18,497 at Chicago Stadium. The Hawks wrapped up the franchise's second Stanley Cup with a 4-1 win in Game 4.

1942: Toronto Maple Leafs

Few things are more certain in sports than a team winning a playoff series after taking a 3-0 lead. That's why things didn't look promising for the Leafs after they blew a 2-0 lead in a 5-2 loss at the Olympia put them down 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings in the 1942 Final.

With nothing to lose, coach Hap Day shook up his lineup for Game 4, benching first-line winger Gordie Drillon and Bucko McDonald and inserting rookies Don Metz and Ernie Dickens -- Metz took Drillon's place on the Leafs' top line, playing on a trio along with his brother Nick and No. 1 center Syl Apps, who had been held without a point in the first three games.


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The Wings were less than 15 minutes away from the Cup after Carl Liscombe put them ahead 3-2 early in the third period of Game 4. But Apps tied the game at 6:15 and Don Metz added the winner minutes later for a 4-3 come-from-behind victory.

All of a sudden, the Leafs were unstoppable. The series returned to Toronto, where the Leafs erupted for a 9-3 victory as Don Metz had a hat trick and a pair of assists.

By now, the Wings were in free fall. Goaltender Turk Broda was the hero in Game 6 as the Leafs won 3-0 at the Olympia (Don Metz had the game-winner), sending the series back to Toronto for Game 7.

With a record crowd of 16,218 packing the Gardens to the seams, Detroit's Syd Howe opened the scoring late in the second period. The Red Wings led 1-0 after 40 minutes, but Sweeney Schriner tied the game early in the period and Pete Langelle put Toronto ahead at 9:48. Schriner added an insurance goal as Toronto earned a 3-1 win.

1949: Toronto Maple Leafs

In the 25 seasons of the Original Six Era, the Stanley Cup was won by the fourth-place team (the final playoff qualifier) exactly once -- 64 years ago.

The 1948-49 Leafs entered the season as two-time defending Stanley Cup champs, having finished first in the previous season and then losing just once on the way to Cup No. 2. But the '48-49 Leafs had suffered some serious losses -- most notably the retirement of star center Syl Apps. Toronto went from first in 1947-48 to fourth in 1948-49, making the playoffs only because Chicago and the Rangers struggled badly throughout the season.

But being a champion can count for something when the pressure is on. Despite finishing with a sub-.500 record, the Leafs had little trouble polishing off the second-place Bruins, winning in five games and taking all three contests played at Boston. Meanwhile, first-place Detroit had to go the full seven games before sending Montreal home for the summer.

The opening game at the Olympia went into overtime before Joe Klukay whipped a pass from Roy Timgren past Harry Lumley at 17:31 for a 3-2 victory. Sid Smith scored all three Toronto goals in Game 2, a 3-1 win. Back in Toronto, Turk Broda's goaltending and goals by Bill Ezinicki, Ted Kennedy and Gus Mortson in a five-minute span gave the Leafs another 3-1 win and a 3-0 lead in the series.

Detroit finally got on the board when Ted Lindsay opened the scoring in Game 4. But that was the last puck to get by Broda. Goals by Timgren, Cal Gardiner and Max Bentley gave Toronto its third 3-1 win and made the Leafs the first team to win three consecutive Cups.

1980: New York Islanders

It's easy these days to remember the Islanders' four-in-a-row dynasty and think that they were dominant in all of their Cup-winning seasons. But that was certainly not the case the first time.

Had the 1978-79 Islanders won the Cup, no one would have blinked. That team ended Montreal's reign as regular-season champs and was given a great chance to do the same to the Habs' three-year run as Cup winners -- only to lose to the archrival Rangers in the semifinals, clearing the way for the Canadiens' fourth consecutive Cup.

But the '79-80 Isles were nothing like the previous version. They stumbled through most of the season, showing little of the dominance of the previous year's squad. The Islanders scraped along for much of the season just over the .500 mark, and they climbed to sixth in the overall standings only after a season-ending 8-0-4 burst that followed the acquisition of center Butch Goring. New York finished with 91 points, a drop of 25 from the previous season.

The Isles polished off Los Angeles in the opening round, but weren't expected to do much against a big, tough Boston team that had finished with 105 points. However, the Islanders stood up to the Bruins and beat them in five games.

Next came Buffalo, the Adams Division champs with 110 points. The Islanders won the first two games at Memorial Auditorium and wound up capturing the series in six, sending them to their first Stanley Cup Final.

Their opponent was the division rival Philadelphia Flyers, the regular-season champs with 116 points who had set an NHL record by going unbeaten in 35 games. But the Islanders stunned the sellout crowd at the Spectrum in Game 1 by winning 4-3 in overtime on Denis Potvin's power-play goal.

Philadelphia won Game 2, but the Islanders' special teams carved up the Flyers in Games 3 and 4 on Long Island, putting the Isles within a victory of their first Stanley Cup.

The Flyers won 6-3 at home in Game 5, but looked to be done when the Islanders took a 4-2 lead into the locker room after two periods of Game 6. Instead, Philadelphia rallied to tie the score and only Billy Smith's heroics in goal enabled the Isles to get the game into overtime.

Both teams had chances in the extra period before Lorne Henning's takeaway in the neutral zone set up a 2-on-1 break. John Tonelli's pass found Bob Nystrom for a backhand chip past Pete Peeters at 7:11 of OT for a 5-4 win that turned out to be the start of a dynasty.

1991: Pittsburgh Penguins

None of the 1967 expansion teams had struggled as badly in their first 20-plus seasons as the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens entered the 1990-91 season having won all of three playoff rounds since entering the NHL. They had missed the playoffs the previous season and had made the postseason just once since 1982.

But with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr leading the offense and Tom Barrasso in goal, the Penguins won the Patrick Division -- the first time they'd ever finished first. However, they did it with just 88 points, putting them seventh in the overall standings, and weren't expected to be a serious challenger for the Cup.

Pittsburgh outlasted New Jersey in seven games and beat Washington in five, giving the Penguins multiple series wins in the same year for the first time in franchise history. The run looked to be over when they lost the first two games of the Wales Conference finals at Boston -- but the Penguins bounced back and blitzed the Bruins in the next four games to make the Stanley Cup Final for the first time.

But the "Penguins as Cinderella" theme was undercut by their opponents in the championship round. The Minnesota North Stars, who finished with only 68 points, won three consecutive upsets to make the Final for the first time since 1981.

The North Stars' magic looked like it might carry them all the way to the Cup. They won Game 1 at Pittsburgh, lost Game 2, then took the series lead with a 3-1 home victory in Game 3 -- benefitting from the absence of Lemieux, who had to sit out with back spasms.

But Lemieux was back for Game 4, and Pens coach Bob Johnson pushed the tempo early. The Penguins responded with three quick goals and went on to a series-tying 5-3 win. Pittsburgh scored the first four goals of Game 5 and held on for a 6-4 win, then routed the North Stars 8-0 to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

The Penguins struggled again for most of 1991-92, ending up third in the division and tied for sixth overall, but won the Cup again. Ironically, 1992-93 was by far their best season -- they set an NHL record with a 17-game winning streak on the way to a League-high 119 points -- only to lose to the Islanders in the second round.

1995: New Jersey Devils

The 1994-95 season was shortened to 48 games by a work stoppage, and the New Jersey Devils spent much of the schedule trying to bounce back from the disappointment of coming up a goal short of the Stanley Cup Final in the spring of 1994. They finished fifth in the Eastern Conference with 52 points and were a dreadful 8-13-1 away from the Meadowlands -- not a good omen for a team that would be without the home-ice advantage in any round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But their road worries disappeared in the playoffs. The Devils won all three games at Boston in the opening round on the way to a five-game demolition of the Bruins. They lost Game 1 of the conference semifinals in Pittsburgh, then blitzed the Penguins by winning four straight games. The Flyers were next, and the Devils won all three games in Philadelphia before capturing Game 6 at the Meadowlands to advance to the Final for the first time in franchise history.

However, the Devils were huge underdogs to the Western Conference-champion Detroit Red Wings, who had run away with the Presidents' Trophy by piling up 70 points in 48 games, 18 more than New Jersey. The Wings, seeking to end a Stanley Cup drought that went all the way back to 1955 and playing in their first Final since '66, had every reason to be confident -- they were 8-0 at home in the playoffs and had outscored their opponents 30-11 in the eight wins.

But Claude Lemieux's third-period goal and a stifling defense that limited Detroit to just 17 shots on goal carried the Devils to a series-opening 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena. Three nights later, Scott Niedermayer's spectacular tying goal and Jim Dowd's late tally helped the Devils to a 4-2 victory and a two-game lead over the stunned Wings. It was their 10th road win of the postseason, still an NHL record.

New Jersey returned home and made sure they didn't have to worry about winning another game away from the Meadowlands. The Devils ran off five unanswered goals in Game 3 and cruised to a 5-2 win, then overcame an early 2-1 deficit in Game 4 by scoring four in a row for another 5-2 win and the first Cup in franchise history, dating to 1974 and the team's origins as the Kansas City Scouts.

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