Josh Boulton The Hockey Writers
6 Most Shocking Sweeps in NHL Playoff History
The 2016-17 Nashville Predators made extremely short work of the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning the series four games to none. It was the first sweep in Predators franchise history, and also the first time in NHL history a number 8 seed swept a number 1 seed. How it happened was impressive.
While the Blackhawks did out-shoot the Predators in three of the four games, they were shut out twice and managed just 3 goals on 126 shots against Predators goaltender Pekka Renne. They didn’t even score their first goal of the series until the second period of Game 3, in which they blew a 2-0 lead, eventually losing 3-2 in overtime. They also lost Game 4’s third period 3-1 en route to a 4-1 ticket to the golf course.
The historical “first time” factors combined with the complete dominance on the scoreboard (Nashville outscored Chicago 13-3) make a strong case for this being the most shocking sweep in Stanley Cup Playoff modern history. Here are six more candidates.
6) 2003 Western Conference Quarter-Final
In the world of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, what goes around seems to come around. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim probably know that better than any other team. Founded in 1993, they made the playoffs for the first time in 1997, and faced the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings in the second round. The Wings swept the series, hitting for the cycle with wins in regulation and single, double, and triple overtime. They then also swept the Flyers in the Final.
After missing the 1998 playoffs (also won by Detroit), Anaheim returned in 1999 and faced the Wings again, this time in Round 1. The Wings made shorter work of this one, outscoring the Ducks 17-6 in four games and shutting them out in front of their own fans at Arrowhead Pond in the deciding Game 4.
The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim licked their playoff wounds for four regular seasons, finally reaching the playoffs again in 2003 as the 7th seed. In one of those Hollywood type twists, that meant they’d be facing the 2nd seeded and yet again defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings.
Anaheim had lost all of their last 8 playoff games at the hands of the Wings heading into 2003 and were the clear underdogs, but ended up earning the franchise’s first victorious sweep. They almost carbon copied their first sweep loss, winning at least one game in regulation, triple overtime, and double overtime.
Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere was the first, second, and third star of the entire 2003 playoffs. Against the Wings he had 63 saves in Game 1 alone (triple overtime included), setting the trend that helped his franchise reach its first Stanley Cup Final and earning him the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the Playoffs, despite playing for the losing team.
This 2003 Round 1 sweep marked just the second time in history (1952 Toronto Maple Leafs) the defending Stanley Cup Champion was swept in the following season’s Quarter Final.
5) 2003 Western Conference Final
Anaheim followed its shocking sweep of the Western Conference 2nd seeded Detroit Red Wings in Round 1 with a six-game victory over the top-seeded Dallas Stars in Round 2. Minnesota had already knocked out the 3rd seeded Colorado Avalanche in their own Round 1 series and the 4th seeded Vancouver Canucks in Round 2, setting up a highly surprising Western Conference Final between the 6th and 7th seeds. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were in the midst of their first playoff appearance since 1999, and the Minnesota Wild were in the midst of their first playoff appearance ever. They only joined the league in 2000-01.
Both teams had 95 points in the regular season, and at least 40 wins. Both were riding huge playoff adrenaline, and both were in unknown territory making Conference Final debuts. With the teams so evenly matched and evenly inexperienced, a quick series seemed unlikely, but it took just four games for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to punch a ticket to their first Stanley Cup Final. The sweep itself was shocking enough, especially being the second sweep by Anaheim this playoff year.
What ranks it as one of the most shocking of all time is it was almost a perfectly clean sweep. Minnesota came dangerously close to not even scoring a goal, finally managing to break Giguere’s shutout streak in the first period of Game 4, which they lost 2-1. This single tally is still the lowest number of goals scored by any team in a series.
The 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs got the Anaheim franchise over the playoff hump. The Ducks went on to sweep Colorado in the second round of the 2006 post-season, and they won their first ever Stanley Cup in 2007.
4) 1995 Stanley Cup Final
The entire 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs were a sign of things to come, as the NHL entered into the start of goal scoring decline now known as the Dead Puck era. The New Jersey Devils, the poster team for the emphasis on goal prevention, just happened to win the 1995 Stanley Cup.
Curiously, the Devils were the only one of the four teams in the Conference Finals to not win via a sweep in the previous round. Over the final three rounds fans were only treated to 32 total games, just four games over the 28 game minimum. New Jersey advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a 6 game defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Detroit Red Wings were on perpetual cruise control, winning the opening round in 5 games before sweeping San Jose in Round 2. They then disposed of the Chicago Blackhawks in 5 games to make it to the Final only having had to play 14 games. Incredibly, they would finish the entire playoffs competing in just two more games than the required minimum of 16 games. Unfortunately for them, the final four games were all losses.
The Wings had been President’s Trophy winners, topping the entire NHL in the lockout-shortened regular season with 70 points. The Devils were 18 points behind, and just 5 points away from not even making the playoffs at all. A well rested and dominant Detroit team looked like a sure bet to win the Cup.
Miraculously, the defensive wizardry of the Devils actually created 16 goals for in the final series compared to 7 against. The Wings were never out of it but were never fully in it, and the Devils went on to win their first ever Stanley Cup. It would be the first of 3 Championships in 9 seasons, solidifying New Jersey’s reign as Dead Puck Era darlings.
3) 2013 Eastern Conference Final
The Boston Bruins heroically came back from a 4-1 deficit in Game 7 of Round 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, breaking hearts the world over with a 5-4 win to advance. After that, it was remarkably smooth sailing for the Bruins all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. That path went almost literally straight through the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After clinching the regular season Eastern Conference title, the Penguins breezed through the first two rounds with an 8-3 record. They were scoring almost at will, averaging 4.27 goals per game and only scoring less than 4 goals once. Somehow they went cold against Boston, scoring just two goals in the entire series. It was a complete reversal of fortunes for the high-flying Penguins, and is possibly the most convincing sweep in history.
2) 1992 Stanley Cup Final
This playoff year featured one of the more hotly contested opening rounds we’ll ever see. 6 of the 8 series went 7 games, and the other ones went 6 games, providing fans with 54 out of 56 possible games played. Game 6 between the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars was decided in overtime on a video review of a Sergei Federov winner, marking the first time a playoff game was decided by video review. The Wings went on to win the series. After these teasers, the 1992 Playoffs became even more dramatic.
Minnesota had eliminated the Presidents’ Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of 1991. With the Stars eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings in 1992, Chicago was still able to get some retribution. The Wings had finished the regular season as Norris Division champions and Campbell Conference champions (2nd overall), but the Hawks swept them clean 4-0 with four regulation wins. Not to be outdone, the Boston Bruins swept the Adams Division champion Montreal Canadiens in the second round. It was somewhat shocking to have two Division champions swept in the same round, but it also marked the first time in history all four regular season divisional winners were eliminated in the same round.
It gets better. Chicago then had the nerve to sweep Edmonton in their Round 3 series. The Oilers finished the year with a lowly 82 points, 5th worst among playoff teams that year, so perhaps the most shocking thing about this sweep is the Oilers made the third round. What this meant though is that the Hawks entered to 1992 Stanley Cup Finals on a record 11 game playoff winning streak going back to Game 3 of the opening round against the St. Louis Blues.
Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins had to overcome a 3-1 games deficit in the first round against the Washington Capitals. They also won the final three games of their second round match up with the New York Rangers, taking out the Wales Conference regular season champion Rangers in 6 games. As mentioned, Boston had advanced to play Pittsburgh by sweeping the Canadiens. The Penguins turned the tables on the Bruins, outscoring them 19-7 in a sweep of their own. They were now entering the Finals on a 7 game win streak.
The 1992 Final saw two teams facing each other who had won the previous 18 playoff games between them. It was a dramatic series with games that were as back and forth as they come. There were three one-goal games, including an amazing 6-5 series clinching victory. Somehow, it ended in a sweep. This particular sweep was shocking enough based on how the series was played, and was even more shocking considering the context. Chicago had an 11 game win streak snapped by a team who went on to extend their own streak to 11. Also, After a remarkable first round with 6 of 8 series going 7 games, it’s hard to conceive 5 of the next 7 series being sweeps, including both Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final.
1) 1993 Adams Division Semi Final
The Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres met in the opening round of the 1992 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the Bruins prevailing in 7 games. Then, as mentioned, they swept the Montreal Canadiens in Round 2, before being swept themselves by Pittsburgh in the Conference Final. One year later, the Bruins were Adams Division Champions and were second in the Wales Conference only to the now two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
The Bruins finished a full 23 points ahead of the 4th seeded Buffalo Sabres, setting up a much more lopsided first round rematch between the two rivals. Even the most delusional Buffalo fans weren’t hopeful coming into this one, but the Sabres did have playoff veteran and Stanley Cup champion goaltender Grant Fuhr, so anything was possible. They won a 5-4 see-saw Game 1 in overtime, and then stunned the Bruins 4-0 in Game 2. The Boston armor was now off, and Buffalo won the third game in overtime as well, creating the opportunity for a sweep.
Game 4 was about as exciting a game as there ever was. 60 minutes and 10 goals after it started, the teams were knotted at 5 goals apiece. For the third time in four games, the series needed overtime. The Sabres didn’t disappoint, and the unforgettable sweep-clinching goal by Brad May was a fitting ending. The magic of the goal was only outdone by the even more famous call of “Mayday” by Buffalo Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret. The Sabres avenged the opening round loss of the season before at the hands of the Bruins.
Remember, the Bruins also swept the Canadiens in 1992? In one of those twists only supplied by the NHL Playoffs, the Sabres advanced to face the Canadiens, who promptly (and not so shockingly) sent them packing in four games. Montreal had avenged its loss from the year before as well with a sweep of their own. It’s worth noting that of Buffalo’s 8 playoff games in 1993, 6 of them needed overtime. Montreal needed three overtime wins to beat them, and went on to win a record 10 more overtime games to clinch the 1993 Stanley Cup.
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