Ranking the 10 Strangest Moments in NHL Playoff History
Spring weather and spring fever―or, rather, Stanley Cup fever―each have an overwhelming track record of percolating peculiar events around the NHL playoffs. Mother Nature can seep indoors to literally cloud the game action, while human nature can leave diehard fans hopeless and even instill irrational inclinations to the ostensibly regimented players and coaches.
Then there is the sometimes strange nature of hockey itself, wherein funny bounces can find their way into the Stanley Cup scrapbook just as easily as they can a midseason highlight reel.
From celebrations starting unconventionally to event evictions forcing teams to play in an unconventional venue to controversial rulings leading to on-ice officials in unconventional attire, here are the 10 most bizarre moments in NHL playoff history.
10. Patrick Kane’s Overtime Clincher
Here was what Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville told Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post after his team nabbed the 2010 title after the winning puck’s disappearing act off Patrick Kane’s blade:
Nobody knew where the puck was. Kaner thought it was in. The video guy came out, and he knew it was in the net. I didn’t know for sure until I saw the net lift and I saw the puck in the back, I said, "Okay, the party is on."
The visible hesitation on the part of Quenneville, his coaching staff and, to a lesser extent, the players other than Kane had to be mildly agonizing for Blackhawks buffs. After all, the confirmation of this goal meant alleviating 49 years of waiting for another Cup.
Naturally, the overhead replay took care of that after most viewers were unsure what had happened at first.
9. Crazy Eight
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Sure, the presence of octopi at Joe Louis Arena in springtime has become commonplace, but the origin of the tradition was strange at the time.
The general consensus is that in 1952, a time when the playoffs lasted two best-of-seven rounds, Detroit Red Wings fan Peter Cusimano tossed an octopus from his fish market onto the ice at the old Olympia Stadium. The rationale was to signify the requisite eight victories for the title.
The fact that the Wings claimed the Cup that season was instrumental in giving traction to the practice.
8. Canucks Coach Concedes
This was another moment that spawned a present-day playoff pastime among fans, but it stood out as peculiar when it happened. Compounding the peculiarity was that the deed was performed by players and coaches as opposed to spectators.
The late Roger Neilson was coaching the Vancouver Canucks in 1982 when a lopsided Game 2 deficit and a succession of unfavorable calls compelled him to visually declare his opposition to the officials. He did so by taking a stick and a towel to create a do-it-yourself white flag to wave in surrender.
As it happened, the Canucks rebounded from that setback and eventually ousted the Chicago Blackhawks en route to a date with the dynastic New York Islanders in the finals. Before long, the act of fans waving towels as a playoff rallying cry spread to other NHL arenas and other sports.
7. Coach in the Crease
If you consider the entire scope of sports history, the late comedian George Carlin was not 100 percent accurate when he observed that “only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do.”
There was one instance in the Stanley Cup Finals where a hockey coach wore goalie gear during game action. In 1928, long before backup backstops were a part of a team’s roster, New York Rangers skipper Lester Patrick stood in for the injured Lorne Chabot for the better part of Game 2 in a best-of-five series vs. the Montreal Maroons.
6. Maple Leaf…Err…Ranger Gardens
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I'm not sure how long the term “clown” has been used by peeved consumers to describe those who do not give them what they want. But there was at least one point in history when New York Rangers fans could have literally blamed the clowns for robbing them of a chance to witness playoff action.
On eight occasions in the three decades between 1928 and 1958, the presence of the circus at Madison Square Garden forced the Blueshirts to play at least some of their playoff home games elsewhere.
Perhaps the most infamous case was when the Rangers and Red Wings met in the 1950 final series, which went the full seven-game distance but saw five games played in Detroit and the other two in Toronto.
5. Stench of Success
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Even after it had ceased to be the rudest guest for one of Madison Square Garden’s full-time tenants, the circus continued to nudge into Stanley Cup lore on the metropolitan scene.
In 1975, the Islanders edged the Rangers in a crosstown first-round series.
As the story goes, the lower levels of the Garden were reeking with the odors of circus animal waste when the players were present. In turn, as the Isles progressed through the playoffs, someone sought to acquire a sack of elephant excrement to take into other venues in an effort to preserve their fortune from beating their local rivals.
The foul talisman was introduced when the Islanders were on the brink of being swept by the Penguins. In its presence, they rallied to become one of the few sports teams to surmount a three-games-to-none deficit and triumph in a best-of-seven series.
4. Ken Kilander Gets Too Cup Crazy
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Only a franchise like the Montreal Canadiens and only a trophy like the Stanley Cup could let a story like this one unfold.
Could you imagine a frustrated New York Yankees fan trying to pilfer the Commissioner’s Trophy and take it to the Bronx “where it belongs"? How about a desperate Boston Celtics or LA Lakers fan absconding with the Larry O’Brien Trophy? Or a Dallas Cowboys fan running away with the Lombardi Trophy?
All we know is that in 1962, the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks were on their way to renewing their inclusion in the final round at the expense of the Habs. A visiting fan named Ken Kilander was witnessing his team’s imminent downfall in the semifinals at Chicago Stadium and took matters into his own hands by removing the Cup from its display and attempting to smuggle it out of the building.
He was apprehended before he could leave and subsequently played the history card to justify his action.
3. Fog at the Buffalo Auditorium
If one didn’t know better, one would think the historical footage in this video was a deleted scene from Slap Shot, maybe a dream sequence during Reggie Dunlop’s pregame nap before his Chiefs hosted the Syracuse Bulldogs.
Not so. This was the product of poor refrigeration in an arena during warm weather.
As is also noted in the clip, before the fog rose to significant heights, an ill-fated bat was stealing the show amidst this third game of the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals.
By the way, if this is making you wonder about the Florida Panthers and the “rat trick” circa 1995-96, that is ineligible for this list because it originated during the regular season.
2. Blackout in Boston
What can top overwhelming fog over a sheet of NHL ice? Overwhelming fog followed by a power outage throughout the arena with a 3-3 deadlock at hand late in the second period.
That was precisely what happened during the Edmonton Oilers' first attempt to finish a four-game sweep of the Bruins at the Boston Garden in the 1988 championship series. Eventually, the Oilers would win a Game 4 do-over at their place.
Two years later, these teams met on the same stage in the same building and experienced another outage in Game 1. This one would not postpone the game, but it was one of the last straws in the effort to preserve the old Garden, which would be replaced five years later.
1. Schoenfeld vs. Koharski and Yellow Sunday
One round before their first of two blackouts in three years against the Oilers, the Bruins were involved in a series marred by the opposing coach’s disagreements with the referee.
After Boston claimed a 6-1 decision in New Jersey to raise a 2-1 upper hand in the Wales Conference Finals, Devils skipper Jim Schoenfeld lambasted official Don Koharski with a tirade that has since taken on a life of its own.
Schoenfeld was initially suspended for Game 4, only to have that ban rescinded. In response, the scheduled trio of zebras boycotted the contest. They were replaced by volunteers who worked the game while wearing blank yellow practice jerseys.