Monday, April 28, 2014

Down 0-3 No More!

The Kings have joined exclusive company. Only 8 previous times in 175 chances has a team that trailed a Stanley Cup playoff series 3-0 come back to force a 7th game. By defeating the Sharks tonight, the Kings have done just that. On Wednesday night they will attempt to become the 4th to complete the journey up the mountain and move on after facing seemingly insurmountable odds.

Everyone knows the '42 Leafs, '75 Islanders, and '10 Flyers. But how did those series and the five in which that 4th straight win proved too elusive go down? Keep reading after the break:
The first time a team evened the score after a three-cob deficit it was the New York Rangers coming back on the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup semis.

The Bruins and Rangers finished the season numbers 1 and 2 in the NHL, so they both earned first round byes, but based on the NHL's wacky playoff seeding at the time, instead of each playing against one of the two teams that had advanced out of the preliminary round, they were forced to play each other while Maple Leafs and Red Wings, the 3rd and 5th seeds respectively, battled in the other Semifinal series.

The #1 overall B's won the first two games in overtime before blasting the Rags in the third game 4-1. New York won back-to-back 2-1 games before earning a 3-1 victory to tie the series in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden.

The 7th and deciding game went 3 overtimes (!) before the Bruins finally could skate away with the 4th victory that had eluded them for so long. Boston went on to defeat a Toronto team that had finished the regular season below .500 4 games to 1 to win the Cup.

    -3.21.39: Boston 2 @ New York 1, 3OT
    -3.23.39: @ Boston 3, New York 2, OT
    -3.26.39: @ Boston 4, New York 1
    -3.28.39: @ New York 2, Boston 1
    -3.30.39: New York 2 @ Boston 1, OT
    -4.1.39: @ New York 3, Boston 1
    -4.2.39: @ Boston 2, New York 1, 3OT

The 1942 Detroit Red Wings were not a good hockey team. They finished 5th in the 7-team NHL with a 19-25-4 record. And yet in a head-scratching playoff format, they opened the postseason against the 6th best team, the Montreal Canadiens, who at 18-27-3 had finished ahead of only the Brooklyn Americans, a franchise that made the playoffs only 7 times in 17 seasons and folded after this particular season, thus giving birth to the "Original 6" Era that would last until the 1967 expansion.

Despite losing Game 2 5-0, Detroit stormed back to win the deciding Game 3 6-2 in the best-of-3 opening round.

And then for some reason that I don't quite understand, the Wings only had to win twice to knock off the Bruins in the Semifinal. The reason that's strange is that Toronto, the #2 in hockey with a 27-18-3 record, won their Semifinal series 4 games to 2 over the top-seeded Rangers, suffering through the 2nd of 54 years in which they would not win the Stanley Cup. I could investigate further, but it's kind of irrelevant to the current story.

The lowly Wings kept up their winning ways, taking the first two games at Maple Leaf Gardens and Game 3 on their home ice.  But Game 4 went the Buds' way in a close 4-3 affair. Game 5 was not so close with Toronto really piling it on in a 9-3 victory. In Game 6 the Leafs didn't even allow the Wings to score and with Game 7 on their home ice, Toronto became the first team in NHL history (then a mere 25 years) to erase a 3-game deficit to win a playoff series, doing so in the Stanley Cup Final, no less.
    -4.4.42: Detroit 3 @ Toronto 2
    -4.7.42: Detroit 4 @ Toronto 2
    -4.9.42: @ Detroit 5, Toronto 2
    -4.12.42: Toronto 4 @ Detroit 3
    -4.14.42: @ Toronto 9, Detroit 3
    -4.16.42: Toronto 3 @ Detroit 0
    -4.18.42 @ Toronto 3, Detroit 1

A mere three years later, the Leafs and Wings met in the Final again. They were the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the regular season, though this time Detroit had finished with the significantly better record, 31-14-5 against the Buds' barely over .500 mark of 24-22-4.

By '45 the NHL had altered its playoff structure, but it made as little sense as ever. With only 6 teams in the league, the preliminary round had been eliminated so that only the top 4 teams in the standings made the playoffs. The first round (the Semifinal) saw the #1 seed play #3 while #2 battled #4. Because that apparently made sense to the "Greatest Generation."

As the #3 seed, Toronto started out against the Montreal Canadiens who had finished their season with a 38-8-4 record, scoring the most goals and giving up the fewest. Toronto was clearly outmatched on paper, but that is, as they say, why you play the games. The Leafs took the first two games at the Forum and in Game 4 with the Habs pushing to tie it up, the Leafs took a 3-1 stranglehold with a 4-3 OT victory. In Game 5, back in Montreal, the Habs were probably feeling pretty good about themselves after a 10-3 win, but the Leafs closed them out in Game 6 at home, 3-2.

On the other side of the bracket, the Red Wings dropped the two opening games at home against a Boston team that had finished their season 16-30-4 (and we worry about weak teams making the playoffs today!) but this was one of those series where nobody wanted to please their paying fans. The Bruins also failed to win at home in Games 3 and 4 with Detroit posting a pair of 3-2 victories before heading home to finally give the fans in Detroit a good show, an exciting 3-2 overtime win. The Bruins finally won at home themselves in Game 6, but the Wings ended any hope of a Semifinal upset in Game 7.

Once the Final began, the Leafs managed to hold Detroit off the scoreboard entirely through the first 3 games, winning 1-0, 2-0, and 1-0 again. When the Wings finally did find the back of the net, they did so 5 times in Game 4, winning 5-3. It was Toronto who couldn't score in the fifth and sixth games as Detroit won 2-0 and a 1-0 overtime thriller. But just as Detroit looked poised to strike sweet revenge for the 1942 collapse, the Leafs edged them 2-1 in the final game in Detroit, salvaging a victory from the jaws of potential ignominy.

    -4.6.45: Toronto 1 @ Detroit 0
    -4.8.45: Toronto 2 @ Detroit 0
    -4.12.45: @ Toronto 1, Detroit 0
    -4.14.45: Detroit 5 @ Toronto 3
    -4:19.45: @ Detroit 2, Toronto 0
    -4.21.45: Detroit 1 @ Toronto 0, OT
    -4.22:45: Toronto 2 @ Detroit 1

After 3 teams forced 7th games from 3-0 deficits over that six-year span, 30 years passed before it happened again. The NHL had tripled in size to 18 teams by 1975 and the playoff format had altered accordingly. The top 3 teams in each division made the playoffs and the division winners all received byes into the 2nd round. The remaining playoff teams were seeded 5-12 and played mini-series to advance into the Quarterfinals. Despite being separated by a single standings point, the Penguins and Islanders had finished 6th and 8th respectively.

Pittsburgh knocked off the 10th seeded Blues in their mini-series 2-0 while the Islanders upset the 7th seeded Rangers 2-1, despite dropping their lone home game in the series 8-3.

Pittsburgh opened the series with a couple of wins at home before and looked to be in control after a 6-4 Game 3 win on the Island. But all of a sudden the Pittsburgh Penguins forgot how to score goals. A single tally in Game 3 as the Isles scored three themselves. The Penguins notched a pair in Game 5 at home, but the Isles had found their own game and torched Pittsburgh for 4. Four more in Game 6 to the Pens' 1 left the series tied and the Penguins' inability to score cost them in the 7th game on their home ice as the New York Islanders shut them out by a 1-0 count, becoming only the 2nd team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win.
    -4.13.75: @ Pittsburgh 5, New York 4
    -4.15.75: @ Pittsburgh 3, New York 1
    -4.17.75: Pittsburgh 6 @ New York 4
    -4.20.75: @ New York 3, Pittsburgh 1
    -4.22.75: New York 4 @ Pittsburgh 2
    -4.24.75: @ New York 4, Pittsburgh 1
    -4.26.75: New York 1 @ Pittsburgh 0

But could they do it again? Out of the frying pan and into the fire, the Islanders literally put themselves in the exact same position 1 series later against Pennsylvania's other NHL squad, the #1 overall Philadelphia Flyers who had finished the regular season tied with Buffalo and Montreal with 113 points apiece (Philly had the most wins of that group, 51-49-47), 25 ahead of the Isles.

The Flyers were the defending Stanley Cup champions and had breezed through the 12th overall Maple Leafs in a quick sweep in the Quarters, allowing only six goals in the four games, including two shutouts.

The Flyers shut out the Isles twice in winning the opening three games of the Semifinal, but those same Islanders who had just erased a 3-0 series deficit against the Penguins literally two weeks earlier knew they weren't dead until the final whistle of the fourth loss and they kept playing their hearts out. They took Game 4 in overtime before pummeling the Flyers for 5 in a 5-1 Game 5 win. They edged Philly 2-1 to even the series and they had to believe that they were a team of destiny heading into Game 7 on May 13, 1975 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

Well, clearly they were a team of destiny because they'd pulled off the miracle once, but midnight arrives for almost every Cinderella story (but not all) and the Flyers dress like pumpkins, so they were the perfect team to end that fairy tale run. Game 7 ended with the Flyers on top 4-1. They would go on to defeat the Sabres 4 games to 2 in one of those few Stanley Cup Finals that actually pits the top 2 teams in the league against each other.

    -4.29.75: @ Philadelphia 4, New York 0
    -5.1.75: @ Philadelphia 5, New York 4, OT
    -5.4.75: Philadelphia 1 @ New York 0
    -5.7.75: @ New York 4, Philadelphia 3, OT
    -5.8.75: New York 5 @ Philadelphia 1
    -5.11.75: @ New York 2, Philadelphia 1
    -5.13.75: @ Philadelphia 4, New York 1

It really is kind of strange how these things happen in bunches and then a generation goes by where it doesn't happen at all. 3 between 1939 and 1945. Two in 1975 alone. And then another 35 years before the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, which will be the first of 4 over the next 4 years.

Neither Boston nor Philadelphia had had particularly remarkable seasons in 2009-10, finishing as the 6th and 7th seeds in a weak Eastern Conference. In fact, with their 91 and 88 points respectively, both would have missed the playoffs entirely in the Western Conference where all but the 8th seeded Avalanche had hit 100 points on the year.

2010 was a year in which all the top teams in the East faltered though. The President's Trophy-winning Capitals blew a 3-1 series lead against a Montreal team that had finished 33 points behind them in the regular season. Although they were the only top seed to survive the opening round, the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins were similarly dispatched by the Habs in the second.

The 7th seeded Flyers quickly eliminated the #2 Devils in five games in the opening round while the 6th seeded B's needed six to end Buffalo's season, setting up a second round series between the two.

With home ice advantage, the Bruins won a pair of one-goal games at TD Garden before pounding the Flyers 4-1 in Philly to grab what they thought was a stranglehold on the series. But the Flyers persevered and pulled out a 5-4 overtime victory in Game 4 and then shut the Bruins out 4-0 back in Boston. The Flyers edged Boston 2-1 in Game 6 to tie the series 3-3.

Back in Boston, it looked like the Bruins had finally overcome their own inability to close out the series as they jumped out to a 3-0 advantage in the game, but just like they had done in the series, the Flyers clawed their way back, tying it up by the end of the second period. Philadelphia won on a power play goal as the Bruins put themselves down with a too many men on the ice penalty midway through the third period.

The Flyers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, but lost in six games. The teams met again in the playoffs a year later and once again Boston took a 3-0 series lead. This time, they closed it out the sweep in Game 4 en route to winning their first Stanley Cup championship in nearly 40 years, ironically the only series they would play that following year that did not go the distance.

    -5.1.10: @ Boston 5, Philadelphia 4, OT
    -5.3.10: @ Boston 3, Philadelphia 2
    -5.5.10: Boston 4 @ Philadelphia 1
    -5.7.10: @ Philadelphia 5, Boston 4, OT
    -5.10.10: Philadelphia 4 @ Boston 0
    -5.12.10: @ Philadelphia 2, Boston 1
    -5.14.10: Philadelphia 4 @ Boston 3

The Vancouver Canucks won the President's Trophy in 2010-11 as the best regular season team in the NHL. The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 but after letting half their team go that summer due to salary cap concerns, they slipped to the 8th seed the next year.

2011 was also the third straight season these two had met in the playoffs with Chicago having won the previous two series. The Canucks looked like they had finally overcome their playoff rivals by winning the first 3 games of the series by what look like normal playoff scores: 2-0, 4-3, and 3-2.

But the Hawks were a prideful and talented group and were not ready to go golfing quite yet. They lit up the Canucks defense in a 7-2 triumph on home ice followed by a 5-0 whitewashing in Vancouver. Suddenly, the ghosts of playoffs past loomed large for Vancouver.

The Hawks evened the series with a 4-3 overtime win on home ice in Game 6 and forced overtime in Game 7 with a shorthanded goal with under 2 minutes to play in regulation. Alas, the Chicago repeat dream died when a slapshot ripped past their netminder 5 minutes into the overtime session.

The Canucks went on to the Stanley Cup Final where they were defeated in 7 games by the Boston Bruins.

    -4.13.11: @ Vancouver 2, Chicago 0
    -4.15.11: @ Vancouver 4, Chicago 3
    -4.17.11: Vancouver 3 @ Chicago 2
    -4.19.11: @ Chicago 7, Vancouver 2
    -4.21.11: Chicago 5 @ Vancouver 0
    -4.24.11: @ Chicago 4, Vancouver 3, OT
    -4.26.11: @ Vancouver 2, Chicago 1, OT

Only two weeks after the Blackhawks' failed bid to complete an 0-3 comeback in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Red Wings got themselves involved in their third of these miracles series, the most of any NHL franchise, after narrowly dropping three consecutive one-goal games to the Pacific Division champion San Jose Sharks in the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

This was a close series from the start probably never should have been 3-0 to begin with. So it was no surprise when Detroit, a team only two years removed from consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final, pulled within 3 games to 2 with back-to-back 4-3 victories in Games 4 and 5. A Game 6 victory on home ice gave the NHL its first back-to-back rounds of the playoffs with teams erasing 3-0 series holes since the Islanders did it twice 36 years earlier. Red Wings captain Nick Lidstrom might have remembered that because he was alive when it happened.

Despite great playoff success with 4 Stanley Cup championships and 6 trips to the Final in the previous 16 seasons, the Wings were unable to complete their comeback, dropping the 7th game in San Jose 3-2. The Sharks were pretty much out of gas after the series and won only one game in their Semifinal series against the Canucks.

    -4.29.11: @ San Jose 2, Detroit 1, OT
    -5.1.11: @ San Jose 2, Detroit 1
    -5.4.11: San Jose 4 @ Detroit 3, OT
    -5.6.11: @ Detroit 4, San Jose 3
    -5.8.11: Detroit 4 @ San Jose 3
    -5.10.11: @ Detroit 3, San Jose 1
    -5.12.11: @ San Jose 3, Detroit 2

Three years after nearly blowing a 3-0 lead against Detroit, the Sharks are back in the same position, having let a 3-0 lead slip away against their intrastate rival, the Los Angeles Kings.

In the first year of another new playoff format, a return to divisional play, the Kings and Sharks had jostled for positioning most of the season before settling into the 2nd and 3rd positions behind the Anaheim Ducks, meaning that for the second consecutive season, and third time in four years, they would meet in the playoffs. In 2011, the Sharks had defeated the Kings in six games before their near-debacle against the Red Wings. In 2013, the teams held their ground, each winning all of their home games in a 7-game series eventually won by the Kings 4 games to 3. In between, the Kings had hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2012.

With all of the media predicting this to be the series to watch in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Sharks proceeded to absolutely dominate the Kings in the first two games, winning by 6-3 and 7-2 counts, the latter including seven unanswered goals after the Kings had taken a 2-0 lead. There is a lot of pride on that Kings team, and don't think for a second it's didn't piss them off mightily that the Sharks ran the score up like that.

Game 3 at Staples Center was a much closer affair in which the Kings kept grabbing leads but the Sharks kept tying the game up on flukey goals. In the end, although the ice had started to tip in the Kings' favor, the Sharks skated away with a 4-3 overtime win and a 3-0 series lead.

Game 4 looked similar to Game 3 as the Kings took 1-0 and 2-1 leads, only to see the Sharks tie it back up, but late in the second the Kings struck twice to stake themselves to a 4-2 lead and they held on in the third for a 6-3 triumph.

The teams returned to San Jose for Game 5. The Kings had won a regular season game there in January, but other than that, they had had little success in that rink for several years. That changed as they got off to an early start, scoring twice in the first period before Jonathan Quick slammed the door shut. The Kings pulled the series within 3-2 with a 3-0 win.

The Kings tied the series with another strong win in an evenly played game that went into the third period tied at one goal apiece. But Justin Williams struck midway through the period to give the Kings a 2-1 lead and then Anze Kopitar, absent from the series defeat in 2011 due to a late season injury, scored two himself within the next three minutes, leading the Kings to a 4-1 win that sent the series back to San Jose for the seventh and deciding game as a team that had been declared dead by the media only a week earlier had now put itself in position to make history.

Los Angeles Kings trailed San Jose Sharks 3-0, Game 7 is Wednesday night
    -4.17.14: @ San Jose 6, Los Angeles 3
    -4.20.14: @ San Jose 7, Los Angeles 2
    -4.22.14: San Jose 4 @ Los Angeles 3, OT
    -4.24.14: @ Los Angeles 6, San Jose 3
    -4.26.14: Los Angeles 3 @ San Jose 0
    -4.28.14: @ Los Angeles 4, San Jose 1
    -4.30.14: ???

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