The 5 most improbable Stanley Cup championship teams
Just over a year ago, the St. Louis Blues were celebrating the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title. It was a classic comeback story capped with a highly improbable ending.
With the National Hockey League attempting a return to play with a 24-team playoff format, let’s take a look back at the five most improbable championship teams to ever lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.
St. Louis Blues (2019)
The Blues won the Stanley Cup last June, coming back from a 2-1 series deficit to defeat the Boston Bruins in seven games in the final.
They faced an uphill battle in defeating the Bruins in that series, but just getting to the Stanley Cup Finals was a tremendous accomplishment, given where the Blues were in the standings midway through the regular season.
On New Year’s Day, 2019, the Blues were tied for last place in the NHL standings. They fired their head coach, Mike Yeo, and gave the interim position to Craig Berube. Never mind winning the Stanley Cup – at that point it looked like the only thing the franchise would win was the first pick in the draft lottery.
Between the start of January and the end of the regular season in April, however, the Blues won 30 of 45 games, and collected at least a single point in five more contests. They qualified for the postseason, before eliminating the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, and San Jose Sharks and earning a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Blues faced elimination in the second round before coming back to defeat Dallas in seven games, including a double overtime victory in Game 7, and were down 3-2 in their series with the Bruins, before winning two in a row and closing out the championship series on the road.
Los Angeles Kings (2012)
It’s not impossible for an eighth seed to win the Stanley Cup, as the Kings showed us in 2012, but certainly improbable.
The Kings, who underwent a coaching change in the midst of the season, backed into the playoffs after suffering overtime and shootout losses in their final two games of the 2012 regular season.
Their first-round matchup appeared to be a nightmare, as the Kings were forced to go up against the reigning Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks.
Despite the adversity of a slow start to the season, a coaching change, and qualifying for the playoffs on the second-to-last-day of the regular season, the Kings flipped the switch in the playoffs.
They dispatched the Canucks in five games, swept the St. Louis Blues in the second round, eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, and then dispatched the New Jersey Devils to win the championship.
Boston Bruins (2011)
The Boston Bruins of 2011 were the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a plus-51 goal differential on the season, so their run to the Stanley Cup that year wasn’t unexpected.
What made it improbable was how many games they needed to get there. Three times they needed a Game 7 to settle a series during that postseason, and all three times they emerged victorious – even after opening up 2-0 series deficits in the first round against the Montreal Canadiens and in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Bruins also needed overtime in Game 7 against the Canadiens. And yet they managed to overcome the brink of elimination in the first round, and two more times after that, to eventually win the Stanley Cup.
The Bruins should challenge again for the Stanley Cup this year, provided the season resumes later in the summer as planned.
Montreal Canadiens (1993)
The Montreal Canadiens worked overtime for their Stanley Cup victory in 1993. They finished the regular season with 102 points, the fourth highest total in the Prince of Wales Conference, so a run to the Stanley Cup Final wasn’t totally out of the blue.
The Canadiens did, however, go on an improbable Stanley Cup run that spring, thanks to an astounding 10 overtime victories, including three straight OT victories in a second-round sweep of the Buffalo Sabres, and again against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Toronto Maple Leafs (1967)
The Toronto Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967, the final year of the Original Six era in the National Hockey League.
The Maple Leafs finished third in the NHL’s overall standings that year. Not bad, but not great, either. They matched up against the Chicago Blackhawks, the top team during the regular season, in the semifinals.
The Blackhawks were a regular season powerhouse, with a 41-17-12 record and 17 more points than the second-place Montreal Canadiens. The Blackhawks led the league with 264 goals-for, while the Maple Leafs had a lackluster minus-seven goal differential.
The underdog, however, was barking. The Maple Leafs shook off a Game 1 loss against Chicago to take over the series before advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Again, despite a loss in Game 1, the Maple Leafs eventually overpowered their opponent, dispatching the Canadiens in six games to lift the Stanley Cup.