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Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Readers: Stanley Cup playoff chokes

From the Page 2 mailbag

Earlier this week, Page 2 presented our list of the 10 biggest chokes in Stanley Cup playoff history, and we asked you to send us your choices.

After going through nearly 200 e-mails, here is how Page 2 readers ranked their picks. Be sure to vote in the poll at right to crown the No. 1 NHL postseason choke of all time.

1. 2000 Philadelphia Flyers (34 letters)
Eric Lindros
Once Eric Lindros went down, the Flyers were quickly out.
The biggest "choke" in recent memory was the Flyers losing to the Devils in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals.

The Flyers had built a seemingly insurmountable three-games-to-one advantage. No team had ever come back from 3-1 to reach the Stanley Cup finals. Ever. The Devils were done -- they had lost three in a row. All that was left to do was to stick the proverbial pitchfork in 'em.

The Flyers also had destiny on their side: Coach Roger Nielson had overcome cancer, the team was succeeding in spite of the ongoing Eric Lindros concussion saga. Brian Boucher (a rookie that year) was providing fantastic goaltending, and Craig Berube, of all people, scored the overtime winner in Game 4 (after the Flyers had been down two goals) to put the Devils on the brink. How could this team lose?

Easily. First, they lose Game 5 at home 4-1. And then the rumors began. Lindros was cleared to resume regular practices. Would he come back for Game 6? How could he, after ripping the Flyers' medical staff? What kind of disruption to the team would this be? Sure enough, No. 88 was in the lineup. Unfortunately, so was Claude Lemieux. Lemieux, one of the greatest playoff players and Flyers nemesis dating back to his short-side goal from the blue line on Ron Hextall that eliminated the Flyers in 1995, broke a scoreless tie with a goal in the third period. The Devils went on to win 2-1. Series tied 3-3.

By the start of Game 7 in Philly, Lindros' return had once again caused a circus around the team. The team had succeeded all year in spite of it, but finally succumbed in the first period when Scott Stevens caught Lindros with his head down coming across the blue line. As Lindros was helped off the ice, the whole arena was dead silent. There was no way the Flyers were coming back from this one. That was one high-wire act too many. When Lindros was knocked out, so were the Flyers.

Patrik Elias would break a 1-1 tie late in the third period to take a 2-1 lead in the game and the Devils would go on to win the series 4-3. Critical to allowing the Devils to complete the comeback was the Flyers' goal-scoring ineptitude in the final three games. After scoring 12 goals en route to taking a 3-1 lead, they could only muster three goals in three successive losses.

Even though the Lindros-Bobby Clarke era would likely be history anyway, that loss guaranteed the impending divorce. The Devils would go on to win the Cup against Dallas. Flyers fans continue suffering ...
Pete
Medford, N.J.

They had done the near impossible for them (winning two games at New Jersey, where they never won) and had a 3-1 lead coming home. And then they came out and laid down like dogs in Game 5 and went on to drop three in a row to lose the series. Even with all the Flyers' first-round losses in the playoffs lately, this one stung even more.
David Bershas
West Chester, Pa.

I cannot believe you forgot the biggest hockey choke out of Chokerville, USA.

How about the Flyers up three games to one in the Eastern Conference finals in 2000? How about them losing two straight games to New Jersey to even the series? How about Eric Lindros returning to First Union Center ice, only to be knocked cold by Scott Stevens in the first period?

For those who say God is against Boston and Chicago, God must have a death wish for Philly.
Timothy Malcolm
Philadelphia

2. 1993 Pittsburgh Penguins (13 letters)
Pittsburgh Penguins
 
They were two-time defending champions, and in 1993 the Penguins had far and away their best team. They won the President's Trophy in a runaway, and met up with the downright mediocre Islanders in the second round. And remember, these Islanders were without their best player, Pierre Turgeon, because of Dale Hunter's dastardly cheap shot in the first round.

So the best team in the league by far played a perennial laughingstock without its only star. And the Pens lost.

David Freakin' Volek, who was arguably the worst player in the entire league that season, scored two goals in Game 7, including the series-winner in OT.

So a middling franchise with no star player ousted the Mighty Penguins, with Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens, Tom Barrasso and the like.

That is a choke.
Steven Schwartz
Pittsburgh

A Hall of Fame team with players such as Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens, Tom Barrasso and Ulf Samuelsson were knocked off by ESPN's own "Chicken Parm" Ray Ferraro, Glenn Healy and Darius Kasparaitis. The Islanders did this without their franchise player, Pierre Turgeon, who was injured in the first round against the Caps.

I'll never forget when "Super" Mario did his best submarine impression and took a dive, Kasparaitis responded to his poor acting by jacking him in the face when the referee wasn't looking. Good stuff! This was the greatest playoff upset I've ever witnessed and reminded me why regular-season records don't matter!
Christopher Dehner
Alpharetta, Ga.

3. 1996 Red Wings (11 letters)
Detroit Red Wings
 
On a list full of Red Wings teams that couldn't get it done, you left off the biggest chokers of all. The '96 Wings set a record for wins and points in a season and coasted through the final two months of the season.

They needed six games to finish off a weak Winnipeg team, seven games and double OT to finish off an aging St. Louis team (with backup John Casey in net, no less!) They actually trailed 3-2 in that series. Then they hit the wall that is Patrick Roy and fell in six to the 'Lanche.

God only knows how much money Vegas bookies lost on the Wings in '96, but I can't recall any team being that heavy a favorite and performing so poorly.
Matt Geiszler
San Diego

4. (tie) 2002 Boston Bruins (nine letters)
Boston Bruins
 
A No. 1 seed losing to a No. 8 seed is unforgivable. The timing of Saku Koivu's return was a factor in Montreal's favor, but the talent levels of the two clubs should not have made the series close, never mind a losing effort for Boston.
John Dunn
Somerville, Mass.

Building the second-highest point total in the NHL: $39,942,000.

Having home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs: 43-24-6

Duration of home-ice advantage: One game

Choking in the first round of the playoffs against an outsized, outgunned, just-happy-to-be-in-the-playoffs Canadiens: Priceless.

(George Bush should invite the Bruins to the White House for a bowl of pretzels ... er, well, maybe not.)
Marcus Hendricks
Montreal

4. (tie) 2000 St. Louis Blues (nine letters)
St. Louis Blues
 
One team had their own players throwing pucks into their net, a shell-shocked goalie being beat from center ice, and a disgusting display of underestimation with bottles of blond hair dye. The other team was an eighth-seeded Sharks team feasting on that Presidents Trophy Blues team.
Mark Gomez
San Jose, Calif.

6. 2002 Philadelphia Flyers (eight letters)
Philadelphia Flyers
 
The 2002 Philadelphia Flyers are, in my biased eyes, the biggest chokes in Stanley Cup playoff history.

I'm sure there have been plenty of situations where a No. 1 seed was knocked off by a No. 8, or a 3-0 lead in the series was erased (which us Flyers fans experienced two short years ago) that have left fans weeping. But there's nothing harder than watching a team struggle for five games to score a regulation goal. Especially a team picked to compete for the Cup and that showed offensive dominance for a good chunk of the season. It's one thing to watch your team lose close games. It's another to watch your team roll over and die from the start of Game 1.
Nick
Philadelphia

7. 1994 Detroit Red Wings (seven letters)
Detroit Red Wings
 
Not only were the Sharks a No. 8 seed, they were still in the throes of expansionism.

In addition, the Wings had acquired Bob Essensa for their playoff run. He played so horribly that the Wings were forced to put 21-year-old rookie Chris Osgood in goal. Osgood had almost zero playoff experience. He got the Wings to Game 7, which they lost on a goal off a bad clearing pass by -- yes -- Osgood. The Wings were fortunate they didn't destroy a goalie along with their playoff run.
Sherrie van Houten
Bay City, Mich.

At least in 2000, when the Sharks upset the Blues, they were a halfway decent team with the newer Sharks uniform ... but in '94, all you remembered were those ugly teal jerseys, and that midget Arturs Irbe in net with that Jofa roller hockey mask.
Mike Stanton
Warwick, N.Y.

8. 1998 Washington Capitals (six letters)
Washington Capitals
 
The team had never been in the finals before, and although I'm a realist, I could feel the choking sensation in my throat as I screamed at them, "One game! Just win one game!"

It was not to be. The Red Wings swept us 4-0. I couldn't bear to watch it, but I heard the Wings wore their practice jerseys for Game 4.
J. Mary
Washington

9. 1942 Red Wings (five letters)
Detroit Red Wings
 
You said they were the only team ever to blow a 3-0 lead in the Stanley Cup finals. Well, you can throw the World Series and NBA Finals in there as well.

Detroit losing the Cup after going up 3-0 isn't just the biggest choke in Stanley Cup history, it's the biggest choke in playoff history of any of the four major sports.
Kevin Griener
Baltimore, Md.

10. (tie) 2001 Red Wings (four letters)
Detroit Red Wings
 
Detroit, the No. 2 seed in the West, dominated the first two games of their series with the Los Angeles Kings. They then sat back and watched as L.A. ran roughshod over them four games in a row.

A rare case of a Scotty Bowman-coached team overlooking their opponent.
Andy Roberts
Granger, Ind.

10. (tie) 2002 Montreal Canadiens (four letters)
Montreal Canadiens
 
How can you not include the Canadiens of 2002? Up three goals on Carolina in the third period, about to go up 3-1, and not even being close in any game after that?
Ryan Olson
Burnsville, Minn.