If the 2010 NHL playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that upsets are always a possibility.
The Eastern Conference saw its top three seeds eliminated in the first round, including the Stanley Cup favorite Washington Capitals.
But what happened in this year’s postseason is nothing new. Over the last 10 years, a number of teams have been upset in the playoffs, and there can be only one Stanley Cup Champion—it's like something straight out of Highlander.
The playoffs bring out the best in some players. They can turn any average third-line veteran into a top-scoring hero on any team—ahem, Miro Satan.
So, here are the top five biggest upsets in the playoffs over the course of the last decade.
The 2001-02 Montreal Canadiens didn't have a single player with more than 56 points during the regular season and were outscored by two goals overall.
They finished just five games over .500. Worst of all, the Habs were matched up with the Eastern Conference's top-seeded Bruins.
So how did Montreal get it done?
The Canadiens had been playing playoff hockey for over a month. They were in a tight race with the Buffalo Sabres up until the last week of the season and were well prepared for the first round.
Montreal also had the 2002 Vezina and Hart Trophy winner, Jose Theodore.
Theodore shut the Bruins down for the final two games of the series—holding them to just two goals combined.
But the biggest factor in Montreal’s upset was Saku Koivu’s return from non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the end of the regular season.
The captain’s return provided enough of a spark for the Habs to take down Boston.
Remember when the Ducks were Mighty?
Emilio Estevez might not have been behind the bench for the Mighty Ducks, but Mike Babcock was. He coached his Ducks to an opening round upset over his future team and defending Stanley Cup champions.
Detroit's lineup during the 2003 postseason included Chris Chelios, Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Nicklas Lidstrom, Luc Robitaille, Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, and Henrik Zetterberg.
Scary lineup, isn’t it?
However, in an amazing four-game sweep, the Ducks bested the second-seeded Wings by one goal in each game—including a game-one, triple-overtime thriller.
The Mighty Ducks were led by Jean-Sebastian Giguere, who went 15-6 in the postseason with an amazing .945 save percentage.
Giguere surrendered just six goals in the first round against Detroit and stopped 64 shots in Anaheim’s Game One victory. He would go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
It wouldn’t be a “Top Upsets” list if it didn’t have the 2009 San Jose Sharks on it.
San Jose won the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team with 117 points in the regular season—16 more points than the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks (who finished second in the Pacific Division behind the Sharks).
The Sharks had lost just five games in regulation at home all season, so naturally they started the first round by dropping the first two games in San Jose.
Ryan Getzlaf had eight points including a goal in the first and last game of the series to help Anaheim topple the Sharks in six games.
In the end, it was rookie goaltender Jonas Hiller who out-dueled the crafty veteran, Evgeni Nabakov. Hiller had two shutouts and solidified his spot as the goalie of the future in Anaheim.
In their four wins—two of which were shutouts—Hiller held the Sharks to just three goals.
Everyone is familiar with what happened this year when the Montreal Canadiens beat the heavily-favored Washington Capitals in the first round.
The Caps led the NHL in wins, points, and goals during the regular season and had outscored Montreal by over 100 goals.
They lost just five home games in regulation all season, and so with a 3-1 series lead over the Habs in the first round, it looked all but over. The Canadiens, however, had other ideas.
Jaroslav Halak did something no other goalie could do during the regular season: he baffled Washington’s unrelenting offense. Halak stopped 131 of the 134 shots he faced over the final three games of the series to pull off the upset.
Alexander Ovechkin was held shotless in Game One and made turnover after turnover in the later stages of the series.
But the biggest part to the Habs’ miraculous upset was that they defeated Washington three times on the road at the Verizon Center where the Capitals were unbeatable during the regular season.
The Detroit Red Wings could not have been a bigger favorite in this series. They won the President’s Trophy by winning an incredible 58 games and finishing with 124 points.
The Wings started the season 11-1 and lost just three games in regulation over the final three months of the season.
Detroit rotated goalies Manny Legace and Chris Osgood over the course of the last two months before the playoffs—and while this suited them well in the regular season, it was perhaps their undoing in the postseason.
Legace proved he could not handle the load and was lit up for 19 goals in Detroit’s six-game upset at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.
Despite winning Game One in double overtime, it was obvious that Detroit was not the same team they were during the regular season.
Fernando Pisani, who scored just 18 goals during the 2005-06 regular season, had five in the first round against Detroit and 14 total in the 2006 playoffs.
Dwayne Roloson stopped 54 shots in the Oilers’ Game One loss, and continued his brilliance to stonewall the Wings for the rest of the series and cap off the greatest playoff upset of the last decade.