Top 10 First Round Upsets of the Last 10 Years
First round upsets. They happen every year and every year there is a combination of shock, horror and elation—depending on which side your loyalties belong.
This list is a compilation of the top-10 first-round upsets of the last 10 years based on a combination of playoff seeding, how well the losing team was expected to do, and/or how poorly the winning team was doing before the playoffs.
While I am sure there are series that I am missing and a few could be shifted in or out, I think the following 10 upsets are a good representation of some of the first-round carnage over the last 10 years.
10. 2008 - Dallas Stars (5th) beat Anaheim (4th)
Ducks win series in six games
The defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks finished second overall in the Pacific Division and entered the playoffs as the fourth seed. Despite being only one spot behind the Ducks in the overall Western Conference rankings, the Stars had played spotty hockey and were heavy underdogs.
The Stars won the first game 4-0, with four power-play goals and scored three third period goals to take a 2-0 series lead in Game Two. The Ducks rallied to make it a 3-1 series but ultimately succumbed 4-1 in Game Six.
The Stars made it to the Conference Finals before losing in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
9. 2009 - Carolina Hurricanes (6th) beat New Jersey Devils (3rd)
Hurricanes win the series in seven games
In a back and forth series that saw the Devils keep jumping out to a series lead only to have the 'Canes tie it up the next game, the Devils finally succumbed to the feisty Canes as they scored twice in the final 1:20 of regulation to steal the victory and the series out from under the Devils.
This was a series that will be remembered as much for the 'Canes win as for Brodeur's unprecedented meltdown. I mean how many times to the Devils lose a game, with Brodeur in the net, with less than a minute and a half left to play?
8. 2001 - L.A. Kings (7th) beat Detroit Red Wings (2nd)
Kings win the series in six games.
Despite registering 19-less points than the second overall in the league Red Wings, the L.A. Kings came to play in 2001 and upset the Wings in the process.
Trailing the series 2-1, the determined Kings rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third to win the game in overtime. That pivotal game turned the tide for the Kings, as they won the next two games to send the heavily favored Wings packing.
7. 2003 - Minnesota Wild (6th) beats Colorado Avalanche (3rd)
The Wild win the series in seven games.
2003 marked the first year that the Minnesota Wild franchise would qualify for the playoffs, and man did they leave an impression.
After winning the first game of the series, the heavily favored Avalanche—who boasted the likes of Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy—roared back with three straight wins to take the Wild to the precipice of elimination.
Despite then-coach Lemaire’s assertions that his team had no chance of coming back from the 3-1 deficit, they were amazingly able to accomplish exactly that. As the perhaps cocky Avalanche took their foot off of the gas pedal, the defense-first Wild won three straight to take the series in seven games.
6. 2002 - Montreal Canadiens (8th) beat Boston Bruins (1st)
Habs win the series in six games.
With Jose Theodore’s rise to elite goaltender status and Saku Koivu’s return from cancer, there were no shortage of storylines heading into the Boston/Montreal first-round matchup.
The series was galvanized by a brutal Kyle McLaren clothes-liner on Richard Zednik, putting him in the hospital and out of the playoffs. Despite the adversity facing them, the plucky Habs, led by their heart and soul, Saku Koivu, managed to upset the Bruins in six games.
5. 2000 - San Jose Sharks (8th) beat St. Louis Blues (1st)
Sharks win series in seven games.
The President’s Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues came into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and they were supposed to go deep. But, like the 2010 Washington Capitals, the Blues played mostly uninspired hockey through their first-round matchup.
Despite the Blues being able to push the series to seven games, the Sharks, who delivered three losses in a row to the Blues for the first time all season, were able to hold on a down one of the Stanley Cup favorites.
4. 2009 - Anaheim Ducks (8th) beat San Jose Sharks (1st)
Ducks win series in six games.
The President’s Trophy winning 2009 Sharks rolled into the playoffs with the specter of previous playoff failures, and 117 regular season points in the bank.
The Ducks won the first game on the strength of a Johan Hiller shutout—his first of two during the series—and ran out to a 3-1 series lead.
The Sharks eked out an overtime win in Game Five but had nothing left in the tank, as the Ducks were not to be denied and closed out the series in Game Six.
To be fair, the Ducks were one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the second half of the season and the Sharks never knew what hit 'em.
3. 2003 - Anaheim Mighty Ducks (7th) over Detroit Red Wings (2nd)
The Ducks win the series in four games.
Yes, there were still called the Mighty Ducks in 2003, and boy did they live up to their name that year! This series was the coming-out party for Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere, and he came out in style with the Ducks winning all four games by one goal.
Things started quickly for the Ducks, winning Game One in Detroit in triple overtime on a Paul Kariya goal. The Ducks would also take the deciding Game Four in overtime and went on to lose to the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup finals.
Giguere would win the Conn Smythe trophy as the 2003 playoff MVP.
2. 2006 - Edmonton Oilers (8th) beat Detroit Red Wings (1st)
The Oilers win the series in six games.
Like the 2010 Montreal Canadiens, the 2006 Edmonton Oilers would squeak into the playoffs during the final week of the season. Their tenuous regular season play earned them a first-round matchup against the Stanley Cup favorite, President’s Trophy winning Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit won the first game of the series in double overtime, but the Oilers were not to be denied. Lead by the outstanding goaltending of Dwayne Roloson, the Oilers would go on to win three one-goal games and eliminate the Wings in six, shocking the hockey world.
This was the year that the Oilers would go all the way to the cup finals, only to lose to the Carolina Hurricanes.
1. 2010 - Montreal Canadiens (8th) beat Washington Capitals (1st)
NOTE** - Until last night, this game was obviously not on my list but was definitely on my radar!
The Habs win the series in seven games.
After a 2009 season of ups and downs that saw their coach—Guy Carbonneau—fired and 11 free agents left walking, the Habs were rebuilt over the summer in what seemed like a patchwork manner. What followed was a schizophrenic season that saw stretches of elite level play followed by equally long stretches of disorganized chaos.
As such, the Canadiens backed into the playoff by losing their final game of the season in overtime.
The offensive juggernaut known as The Washington Capitals, on the other hand, were supposed to win the cup this year, lead by the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin and Mike Green.
After falling behind three games to one, the Canadiens, lead by the stupendous goaltending of Jaroslav Halak, stormed back to win three straight games and the series, stunning the Capitals. Halak, the runaway series MVP for the Habs, stopped a dizzying 131 or 134 shots over the last three games to seal the deal.
The comeback marked the first time a No.8 seed has overcome a 3-1 series deficit against a No. 1 seed since the NHL switched to the current playoff format in 1994 and for that the Habs take the top spot in our countdown.