NHL's Best No. 8 Seed Upsets
With the Stanley Cup Finals set to start on Wednesday, featuring the upstart L.A. Kings on a magical playoff run, let's take a look at the most memorable No. 8 seeds.
This list may feel incomplete because it’s not a Top-10, but in honor of the No. 8 seeds, it’s an Elite Eight of teams that moved the needle on the sports landscape during their run.
#8 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers
Backstopped by a suddenly hot journeyman goaltender, Dwayne Roloson, the Oilers came out of the weeds in the Western Conference to reach the Stanley Cup final, where they extended the Hurricanes to seven games. The Oilers, who hadn't made the playoffs the previous season or been beyond the first round since 1998, haven't been back to the postseason since their surprising run. Photographed by: David E. Klutho/SI
Before the Kings, there were the Oilers.
Once Edmonton got over the hump in Hockeytown, USA, they appeared a team of destiny. Winning against the San Jose Sharks in six games and then knocking off Anaheim in five games, they became the first-ever No. 8 seed to make the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Oilers lost in seven games to Carolina.
#7 1998-99 New York Knicks
Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell led the Knicks to the 1999 NBA Finals
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Should this team be ranked higher? Perhaps, based on what they did – becoming the first-ever No. 8 seed to make it all the way to the NBA Finals.
But, in reality, this team underachieved and shouldn’t have been an eight seed.
Before the start of the season the Knicks got Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell in separate deals and because of the strike-shortened season (just 50 games), it took some time for the team to gel. The talent, if not a little grey in the hair, was still there. Patrick Ewing. Larry Johnson. Allan Houston. Dennis Scott.
They upset Miami in the first round in seven games, then won eight of the next 10 against the Hawks and the Pacers to make it to the Finals.
Coming off the strike, the NBA wasn’t as loved as it was this season. There weren’t any great heroes or villains since Jordan was still on his hiatus, Bird and Magic were long gone and the league was in a state of flux. There was no LeBron, Durant, or Kobe star power and maybe that’s why an eight seed making a run to the NBA Finals felt largely overlooked. Even if it was a team from New York.
#6 2006-07 Golden State Warriors
Baron Davis and the "We Believe" Warriors took out the Dallas Mavericks.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Was this run historic? Not especially since there had been other No. 8 seeds to go deeper into the playoffs.
But was this first round series exciting and must-see TV? Absolutely.
The high-flying Warriors had speed all over the floor, particularly Baron Davis when he still cared about basketball. They were mercurial because they were young, but they didn’t play in a system offense; rather, it was more of a playground style where talent takes over.
Well, Davis, Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis & Co. took over.
They knocked off Dallas, who had been to the Finals the season before. The reason this is not ranked higher is due to the fact that the Warriors did not lose to the Mavs during the regular season and because Golden State’s athleticism and talent was so worrisome to Avery Johnson that the Dallas coach was altering his starting lineup.
Terrific and fun to watch, but after Game 2, you knew who would win this series. The energy of the Warriors, their fans and the deer in the headlights look of Johnson and the rest of the Mavs gave it away.
#5 2000 North Carolina & Wisconsin (tie)
Both North Carolina and Wisconsin made runs to the Final Four ... as No. 8 seeds.
Sure, independently of where they were ranked, these two teams should not ever be involved in “upset” chatter. But in 2000 both North Carolina and Wisconsin were No. 8 seeds and each made it to the Final Four – the first time it’s ever happened in NCAA history.
Both teams made amazing runs that coincided with the other and each team’s bracket was so fluid and thrilling to see pan out because each side was rife with upsets.
North Carolina knocked off No. 1 Stanford and ended up beating No. 7 Tulsa – coached by Bill Self – to get to the Final Four. Can you imagine that now, with Twitter and Facebook, a No. 8 and a No. 7 matching up for the right to the Final Four?
It wasn’t much different with the Badgers as Dick Bennett’s team beat No. 1 Arizona, 4 seed LSU and No. 6 Purdue to head to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
Both of these teams seem to always get overlooked in the talk about upsets in the NCAA Tournament – because they weren’t an 11-seed George Mason going to the Final Four and both are exceptional college basketball programs – but to have two No. 8 seeds in the Final Four is pretty incredible.
#4 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
This could certainly jump up based on how the Kings do against New Jersey.
Why is this team ranked four spots higher than their other No. 8 seed counterparts who opened this discussion?
Well, the Kings are the only NHL team to ever beat a 1, 2 and 3 seed en route to the Stanley Cup and the Kings have been purely dominant in their run. They are 12-2 in the playoffs and have thoroughly destroyed the opposition.
Getting caught up in the Kings’ run is a lot of fun. Watching Jonathan Quick stonewall everyone has been truly amazing to watch and it’s odd to think that the No. 8 seeded Los Angeles Kings are actually favored in the Stanley Cup Finals.
#3 2011 Butler Bulldogs
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Why is this team involved in this discussion? After all, as a No. 5 seed a year before they made it to the championship game and a half-court heave was millimeters off from crowning them champs.
Well, how many teams in recent history have reached consecutive NCAA championship games? Two, including Butler.
The other is Florida in 2006 and 2007.
Florida is a college basketball power. Butler is better known as the real-life Hoosiers.
Plus, after Butler stunned everyone to make it to the 2010 title game vs. Duke, they lost their best player – Gordon Hayward – to the draft and many thought they would be one-and-done in the NCAA Tourney.
Wrong. A margin of victory of just 13 total points in their four wins leading up to the Final Four shows how gutsy this team was. And then to make it to the title game again was something else entirely.
#2 1993-94 Denver Nuggets
Dikembe Mutombo played like a beast in Denver's 1994 upset of the SuperSonics.
You always remember your first, right?
The 1994 Denver Nuggets were the first-ever No. 8 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed and it was a watershed moment in the NBA.
In 1994 there was the Seattle SuperSonics and then there was everyone else. The Sonics had Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton running the show.
The Nuggets were 42-40 and an also-ran and were no match for Seattle. They had nice players, one outstanding one, but nobody else you’d really want to trade for. After the first two games of the five-game series, it was clear Seattle was the superior team.
Yet, somehow, Denver won the next two games in Denver when Shawn Kemp was in foul trouble in Game 3 and Reggie Williams had 31 points and eight assists for the Nuggets. In Game 4, LaPhonso Ellis had 27 points, 17 rebounds and Seattle committed 19 turnovers. Uh-oh.
Game 5 was the closest of the series, but another nobody stepped up for Denver when Robert Pack had 23 points, Bison Dele had 17 and 19 and then Dikembe Mutombo had eight blocks and pulled in the transcendent rebound to finish off the series.
#1 1985 Villanova Wildcats
The only No. 8 seed to ever win it all.
We all know about this team and how it is the only No. 8 seed to ever win the NCAA title, but it’s been so long since it happened and we always get wrapped up in 12 seeds knocking off 5 seeds in the first round that the 1985 Wildcats seem to have been lost in the shuffle somewhere.
In the first year of the 64-team format, the Wildcats stunned everybody, beating a number of teams en route to the National Championship game, where they were 10 point underdogs to Georgetown. Of course, Villanova pulled off the upset over Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas.
Can you even imagine something like that happening? It’s surreal.
Even more surreal is that ‘Nova missed just one shot in the second half. ONE!
Of course, with no shot clock, Villanova did an incredibly intelligent thing by constantly stalling the game in the “four corners” offense and killing the clock. While it may be considered boring or a little peculiar, those were the rules and Villanova used them to their advantage to pull off the biggest upset ever.
Matt Hurst is the founder and editor of Throwback Attack. Read more at throwbackattack.net