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Blue Jackets defeat Lightning in historic playoff first-round upset

Sweep of Presidents' Trophy winners joins list of shocking series results

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

The Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round with a 7-3 victory on Tuesday.  

Columbus became the first team in NHL history to sweep the team with the best regular-season record in the League in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though it is likely the most stunning result in the first round, it's not the only one.  

Here are some of the other biggest first-round upsets (in chronological order) since the beginning of the NHL expansion era in 1967-68:


1971: Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins (Canadiens won best-of-7 series 4-3)

The 1970-71 Bruins were the highest-scoring team the NHL had ever seen and were the defending Cup champions after setting an NHL record by winning their final 10 playoff games on the way to their first championship since 1941.

Phil Esposito set NHL records with 76 goals and 152 points, defenseman Bobby Orr had an NHL-record 102 assists, and Boston (57-14-7) ran away with the East Division title. But because of the playoff format in use at the time, that meant a first-round matchup with the third-place Montreal Canadiens (42-23-13), who were coming off their first non-playoff season since 1948.

Not only were the Canadiens underdogs, they were going to be using an untested goaltender. On the day before the series began, general manager Sam Pollock stunned his team (and all of Montreal) when he announced that Ken Dryden, a 23-year-old rookie who had played six NHL games (going 6-0-0 in the final weeks of the season), would be the starter for the playoffs.

Dryden didn't get off to a good start. The Bruins defeated the Canadiens 3-1 in Game 1 before taking a 5-1 lead midway through the second period of Game 2. But then the tide turned. The Canadiens score six unanswered goals, including five in the third period, for a 7-5 victory.

Montreal won Game 3 at the Forum, 3-1, but the Bruins evened the series with a 5-2 win in Montreal and took a 3-2 series lead with a 7-3 win in Game 5 at Boston Garden.

However, the Canadiens weren't done, as Henri Richard and Peter Mahovlich each scored twice in Montreal's 8-3 victory in Game 6 to send the series back to Boston.

In Game 7, Ken Hodge put the Bruins ahead at 6:50 of the first period, but Frank Mahovlich and Rejean Houle scored before the end of the period to put Montreal in front to stay. J.C. Tremblay made it 3-1 late in the second period, and Mahovlich scored his second of the game 14 seconds into the third period for a 4-1 lead.

Boston's Johnny Bucyk scored 1:02 into the third period to make it 4-2, but Dryden stymied the Bruins the rest of the way. At one point, Esposito was so frustrated after being robbed by the 6-foot-4 rookie that he swung his stick into the glass. Esposito had 11 shots on goal and couldn't get one past the former Cornell star.

"Words cannot even begin to describe the way Dryden played," Hodge said after Dryden finished with 46 saves as the Canadiens extended their run of consecutive playoff series wins against the Bruins to 11.

Montreal went on to beat the Minnesota North Stars (six games) and Chicago Black Hawks (seven games) for the Stanley Cup. The Bruins rebounded to win the Cup the following year but didn't win it again until 2011.


1982: Los Angeles Kings vs. Edmonton Oilers (Kings won best-of-5 series 3-2)

The Oilers had dominated the Smythe Division during the regular season, scoring goals at a historic rate -- Wayne Gretzky alone accounted for 92 goals and 212 points -- while finishing first with 111 points (48-17-15). The fourth-place Kings finished with 63 points (24-41-15), the fewest of any team to qualify for the playoffs.

But maybe the 48-point disparity in the standings made the Oilers a little too comfortable. The Kings shocked them at Northlands Coliseum with a 10-8 victory in the opener, then nearly won Game 2 before Gretzky's goal at 6:20 of overtime evened the series.

However, it was Game 3, forever known in Los Angeles as the "Miracle on Manchester," that made this series one for the history books.

The Oilers led 5-0 after two periods at the Forum. But Jay Wells scored at 2:46 of the third period to give the Kings a spark of life, and goals by Doug Smith and Charlie Simmer cut Edmonton's lead to 5-3 with five minutes remaining.

Oilers center Garry Unger took a five-minute major for high-sticking Kings defenseman Dave Lewis, who was assessed a minor for roughing, and during the 4-on-4, Kings defenseman Mark Hardy found himself alone in the slot and beat Grant Fuhr with a wrist shot to make it 5-4.

With the Forum now rocking, Los Angeles then worked the puck into the Oilers' zone and pulled goalie Mario Lessard before rookie Steve Bozek scored with five seconds remaining to tie it 5-5.

The Kings didn't need long in overtime to complete the greatest comeback in playoff history. Smith won a face-off in the offensive zone and rookie Daryl Evans scored at 2:35.

"I wasn't really picking any opening," Evans said. "I just was trying to get the shot on net. As it turned out, I beat Fuhr up high over his right shoulder and before I knew it, everyone on the team was piling on top of me at the other end of the ice."

The Oilers rebounded with a 3-2 win in Game 4, sending the series back to Edmonton, but the Kings jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 5 en route to a 7-4 win. The 48-point disparity is still by far the largest ever overcome by a series winner.


1991: Minnesota North Stars vs. Chicago Blackhawks (North Stars won best-of-7 series 4-2)

Goalie Ed Belfour was the toast of Chicago in the spring of 1991, helping the Blackhawks win the Presidents' trophy with a 43-19-7 record and a 2.47 goals-against average. Chicago (106 points) edged the St. Louis Blues (105 points) for the Norris Division and Western Conference title and earned a first-round matchup with the Minnesota North Stars, who finished fourth in the Norris with 68 points.

But Minnesota took Game 1 when Brian Propp scored a power-play goal 4:14 into overtime to give the North Stars a 4-3 victory. The Blackhawks regrouped and evened the series with a 5-2 win in Game 2, then appeared to take charge by rallying for a 6-5 win in Game 3.

However, the North Stars evened the series by winning 3-1 in Game 4 before stunning a full house at Chicago Stadium with a 6-0 victory in Game 5, making the Blackhawks pay for their undisciplined play by scoring five power-play goals. Brian Bellows scored two goals in 3-1 win in Game 6 to eliminate the Blackhawks.

While the 38-point disparity is the second-largest overcome by any series winner, the North Stars weren't finished. They defeated St. Louis (six games) and the Edmonton Oilers (five games) to become the first team with a winning percentage under .430 to make the Stanley Cup Final since the Black Hawks in 1938. Minnesota lost in the Cup Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

Chicago rebounded to make the Stanley Cup Final in 1992 but was swept by the Penguins after winning 10 straight playoff games.


1994: San Jose Sharks vs. Detroit Red Wings (Sharks won best-of-7 series 4-3)

The Red Wings were the best in the West in 1994 -- they were the only team in the conference to reach the 100-point mark -- and were looking to end a Cup drought that dated back to 1955.

Detroit certainly wasn't expecting a first-round challenge from the Sharks, who were making their first playoff appearance in their third season. Though San Jose came in off an NHL-record 58-point improvement, the Sharks were still the only team in the field with a losing record.

But any doubts about whether the Sharks could compete with the Red Wings were erased after Game 1 when San Jose stunned the sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena with a 5-4 victory, winning on a late goal by 18-year-old defenseman Vlastimil Kroupa.

The Red Wings regrouped in Game 2 with a 4-0 victory behind 21-year-old rookie goalie Chris Osgood and spoiled the first home playoff game in Sharks history with a 3-2 win in Game 3.

But San Jose rallied behind goalie Arturs Irbe, winning the next two games, 4-3 and 6-4 at home, to take a 3-2 series lead back to Detroit (the series was played with a 2-3-2 format). The Red Wings calmed their nervous fans by scoring the first five goals in Game 6 on the way to a 7-1 victory.

Detroit dominated play in Game 7, but the score was tied 2-2 midway through the third period when Osgood made a rookie mistake trying to fire a pass up the right side of boards. Instead, he put the puck on the stick of Jamie Baker, whose slap shot went into a open net with 6:35 remaining gave the Sharks a 3-2 victory.

"If I'd made that play, we'd still be playing," a tearful Osgood said after the game. "All I can think about is the last 10 minutes of that game."

The Sharks were eliminated in the second round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, and the Red Wings rebounded to make the Stanley Cup Final in 1995 before ending their championship drought two years later. They repeated in 1998 -- with Osgood in goal.


2003: Mighty Ducks of Anaheim vs. Detroit Red Wings (Mighty Ducks won best-of-7 series 4-0)

Detroit came into the 2003 playoffs primed to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The Red Wings had rolled to the Central Division title with 110 points and were playing a seventh-seeded Anaheim team which hadn't made the playoffs since 1999.

But Anaheim, which had been swept in its two previous playoff series against Detroit, made sure that wouldn't happen a third time by winning Game 1 3-2 when Paul Kariya scored 3:18 into the third overtime after goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 63 saves. The Mighty Ducks stunned the Red Wings again in Game 2, winning 3-2 on third-period goals by Jason Krog and Steve Thomas.

Giguere continued his heroics in Game 3, making 36 saves in a 2-1 win, and when Steve Rucchin scored at 6:53 of overtime to win Game 4, the Red Wings became the second defending Cup champion to be swept in their first series (Maple Leafs, 1952).

"If you would have asked me at the beginning of the series about a sweep, I would have said no," Giguere said after stopping 32 shots in Game 4, giving him a .965 save percentage (165 saves on 171 shots) in the series.

Giguere led the Mighty Ducks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils, and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.


2006: Edmonton Oilers vs. Detroit Red Wings (Oilers won best-of-7 series 4-2)

The Oilers acquired goalie Dwayne Roloson in a trade with the Minnesota Wild late in the 2005-06 season in hopes he could get them to the playoffs. He did, with Edmonton qualifying in its second-to-last game of the season and finishing eighth in the Western Conference. With 95 points, they were 29 behind the Red Wings, who won the Presidents' Trophy by 11 points.

Roloson made 54 saves in Game 1, but Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby scored 2:39 into the second overtime for a 3-2 win. But 33 saves by Roloson and goals 57 seconds apart by Brad Winchester and Fernando Pisani gave Edmonton a 4-2 win in Game 2.

Edmonton returned home and won Game 3 when Jarret Stoll scored 8:44 into the second overtime for a 4-3 victory, but Detroit rebounded in Game 4, scoring three power-play goals in a 4-2 victory.

However, Roloson, the Oilers' best player through the first four games, rose to the occasion in Game 5, making 30 saves as Edmonton scored three straight goals to open the second period before holding on for a 3-2 win.

The Red Wings led 2-0 and 3-2 in the third period of Game 6 before Ales Hemsky tied it 3-3 with 3:53 remaining in the third period. Hemsky then triggered one of the biggest celebrations Edmonton had seen in years when he beat Manny Legace with 1:06 left in regulation for a 4-3 win. It was the Oilers' first playoff-clinching win at home since 1992.

"I haven't seen anything like that," said Roloson, who finished with 221 saves in the series and helped the Oilers reach the Stanley Cup Final (where they lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes). "The place erupted. It was unbelievable."


2012: Los Angeles Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks (Kings won best-of-7 series 4-1)

The Kings had to fight their way into the playoffs, finishing as the eighth seed in the Western Conference to earn a first-round matchup with the Vancouver Canucks, who won the Presidents' Trophy for the second straight season and reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 (lost in seven games to Bruins).

But with goalie Jonathan Quick playing the best hockey of his career, the Kings won consecutive 4-2 games in Vancouver, then took a 3-0 series lead by winning 1-0 in Game 3 at Staples Center. The Canucks avoided a sweep with a 3-1 win in Game 5, but the Kings completed the upset by winning 2-1 in Game 5 on a goal by Jarret Stoll at 4:27 of overtime.

The Kings became the fifth team to eliminate a Presidents' Trophy winner in the opening round of the playoffs under the format that began in 1994, but Kings captain Dustin Brown wasn't surprised.

"For this team, it was what we were going for the whole time," he said. "It's people outside of this room that probably didn't give us much off a chance that are going to make a big deal out of it."

Los Angeles went on to sweep the St. Louis Blues and defeated the Phoenix Coyotes in five games before winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in their history by defeating the New Jersey Devils in six games.


2017: Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks (Predators won best-of-7 series 4-0)

The Blackhawks still had the nucleus of their Stanley Cup-winning teams from 2010, 2013 and 2015 when they entered the playoffs in 2017 with the best record in the Western Conference (109 points). The Predators were the second wild card after finishing with 94 points, tying them with the Calgary Flames for the fewest among the 16 playoff teams.

But Predators goalie Pekka Rinne was too much for the Blackhawks in the first two games at United Center. He made 29 saves in a 1-0 victory in Game 1, then finished with 30 saves and added two assists in a 5-0 win that sent the Predators back to Nashville with a 2-0 series lead.

The Blackhawks finally scored in Game 3 when Dennis Rasmussen and Patrick Kane gave Chicago a 2-0 lead entering the third period, but Nashville's Filip Forsberg scored twice to force overtime, and Kevin Fiala's goal at 16:44 gave the Predators a stunning 3-2 win.

In Game 4, Roman Josi scored twice and Rinne made 30 saves for Nashville, which won 4-1 to complete its first sweep since entering the NHL in 1998. 

"We found a way to win a game every single night," said Rinne, who helped the Predators advance to the Cup Final for the first time before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

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