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Monday, May 20, 2002
Biggest Stanley Cup playoff chokes

Page 2 staff

The Bruins just blew a 3-1 series lead to the Canadiens, which reminds us of this Page 2 list from a couple years ago: the worst chokes in NHL playoff history:

1. Detroit Red Wings (1942)
Detroit Red Wings
 
The Red Wings took a 3-0 lead in the Stanley Cup finals against the Maple Leafs, then lost the next three games by scores of 4-3, 9-3 and 3-0. In Game 7, the Wings took a 1-0 lead on Syd Howe's goal early in the second period and had the lead with less than 13 minutes remaining in the game. Then the Leafs' Sweeney Schriner scored to tie the game, and the Wings went on to lose 3-1. Detroit was the only team ever to be defeated in Cup final after leading 3-0 in games.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (1975)
Pittsburgh Penguins
 
The Penguins led the Islanders 3-0 in their best-of-7 quarterfinal series, then blew four games in a row, becoming the only NHL team other than the '42 Red Wings to lose a seven-game playoff series after leading 3-0 in games.

3. Montreal Maroons (1928)
Montreal Maroons
 
The Maroons had the best record in the NHL in 1927-28, and entered the Stanley Cup finals with an extra advantage -- they'd play all five games at home, because the circus had already been booked for the Rangers' home rink, Madison Square Garden. In Game 2 of the best-of-5 Stanley Cup finals, a slap shot hit Rangers goalie Lorne Chabot in the left eye, knocking Chabot out for the series. But the Rangers didn't have a backup goalie, and they asked the Maroons if they could use another NHL goalie who happened to be in the stands. The Maroons refused, and the Rangers were forced to go with their 44-year-old coach, Lester Patrick (who had not been a goalie even during his playing days), in the goal. He saved 18 of the Maroons' 19 shots, and the Rangers won Game 2, 2-1. The Rangers then signed Joe Miller, the goalie for the last place New York Americans, and went on to win the Cup in five games.

4. Boston Bruins (1930)
Boston Bruins
 
The Bruins came into the series with the best winning percentage in hockey -- .875. In fact, their 38-5-1 record remains the best in NHL history. But in the best-of-3 Stanley Cup finals, they lost in two straight to the Canadiens -- the only time all season they lost two in a row. The Canadiens were a good team, but had not even finished first in their division.

5. Detroit Red Wings (1994)
Detroit Red Wings
 
The Red Wings came into the playoffs with the best regular-season record in the Western Conference. But then they had to face the San Jose Sharks. Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman's "Spinal Tap"-like troubles in the tunnels of the San Jose Arena were prophetic -- he was stumped by the tangled maze, and twice locked himself into rooms beneath the Arena, from which he had to be rescued. The Red Wings lost in seven games in their first-round matchup against the No. 8-seeded Sharks, in what the Toronto Star's Rick Matsumoto called "one of the greatest upsets in postseason history."

6. Boston Bruins (1971)
Boston Bruins
 
The Bobby Orr-led Bruins had the best record in the NHL during the regular season, but lost in the quarterfinals to the Canadiens, who went on to win the Stanley Cup with rookie Ken Dryden in the net.

7. Edmonton Oilers (1982)
Edmonton Oilers
 
The emerging-powerhouse Oilers, starring Wayne Gretzky, were the top team in the Campbell Conference by 15 points with a record of 48-17-15. They faced off against the Los Angeles Kings -- who finished the season with 63 points and a .394 winning percentage -- and lost the best-of-5 series. The turning point might have come when the Oilers, playing at the Forum in L.A., blew a five-goal lead in the third game and lost to the Kings in overtime, in what came to be known as "The Miracle on Manchester."

8. Steve Smith-Grant Fuhr, Edmonton Oilers (1986)
Edmonton Oilers
 
The Oilers continued their domination of the NHL during the regular season, leading all teams with 119 points, and Wayne Gretzky broke his own scoring record with 215 points (52 goals, 163 assists). But in the seventh game of the Smythe division final, the Oilers lost to the Flames by one bizarre goal. The score was tied in the third period of Game 7 when Steve Smith's pass bounced off goalie Grant Fuhr's skate and into his own net. This ended the Oilers' quest for three straight Stanley Cups.

9. Philadelphia Flyers (1997)
Philadelphia Flyers
 
The Flyers looked hapless as the Red Wings dominated in four straight games in the Stanley Cup finals. After the third game, which Philadelphia lost 6-1, Flyers coach Terry Murray called it a "choking situation." After the series, Rich Hofman of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, "The whole 'choking' business was bizarre. The fragility of the team's confidence was exposed very quickly -- exposed and pulverized. The coach could lose his job because of it." Murray was fired a few days later.

10. St. Louis Blues (2000)
St. Louis Blues
 
The top-seeded Blues, with 114 points, had the best record during the NHL regular season, but they lost to the No. 8-seeded San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. "It's a shocking development, because the Sharks were pegged as stiffs who should be doing yard work by now," wrote Tony Cooper in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Also receiving votes
  • Chicago Blackhawks (1991): The Blackhawks were the best team in the NHL during the regular season -- they were so good that Dominik Hasek was their backup goalie -- but lost to the lowly Minnesota North Stars, who had only 27 wins during the regular season, in the first round of the playoffs.

  • Detroit Red Wings (1995): The Red Wings, who had the best record in the NHL (33-11-4) during the strike-shortened 1994-95 regular season, looked impressive in the first three rounds of the playoffs, beating the Stars, Sharks and Blackhawks to get to the Stanley Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils. They were heavily favored, but were shut down by the Devils' "neutral-zone trap" defense in a four-game sweep.