Upset specials: 10 teams that foiled NHL experts

Teams that weren’t expected to thrive during the Stanley Cup playoffs occasionally do just that.

The Ottawa Senators might have some of their stars back in the lineup for the start of the playoffs, but not a single expert is picking this team to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Thanks to a late-season stumble, the Senators will start the playoffs on the road and with the same expectations as they had a year ago, when they scraped into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.
If the Senators are able to make a lengthy run this spring, they could find themselves on this list of the greatest underdog teams in NHL history.
1. 1990-91 Minnesota North Stars
The 1990-91 North Stars are the best example of a Cinderella team in recent history. They finished the regular season with just 68 points, 12 games under .500, but they went on a magical playoff run, knocking off the President’s Trophy winner (Chicago), the second-best team in the league (St. Louis) and the defending Cup champions (Edmonton). The clock finally struck midnight on them in the Stanley Cup final, but not before they took the Pittsburgh Penguins to six games.
2. 1937-38 Chicago Blackhawks
NHL historians will insist that the 1938 Blackhawks were the worst team to hoist the Stanley Cup. They finished with only 14 wins during the 48-game season, but squeaked into the playoffs because the Detroit Red Wings finished two points behind them. The Blackhawks were dead last in the NHL in goals scored during the regular season, but found their scoring touch during the post-season. They knocked off Montreal, New York and Toronto in succession to win the Stanley Cup.
3. 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers gained a lot of confidence in the first round of the playoffs, knocking off the Red Wings, who had won the President’s Trophy with 124 points. From there, Edmonton became the first eighth seed to reach the Stanley Cup final, coming up just a game short of winning against Carolina.
4. 1981-82 Vancouver Canucks
The 1981-82 Canucks will be best remembered for Roger Neilson’s towel-waving antics in the playoff series against Chicago. They were the classic plucky underdog team, finishing under .500 during the regular season, but finding their stride in the playoffs. They started the post-season on an amazing 11-2 run before being swept in the Cup final by the New York Islanders juggernaut.
5. 1995-96 Florida Panthers
While the 1982 Canucks were famous for waving the white towel, the 1996 Panthers became synonymous with plastic rats. Florida fans littered the ice with the tiny plastic rodents as their team reached the Stanley Cup final for the only time in franchise history. Along the way, they knocked off the top-seeded Flyers and heavily favoured Penguins.
6. 2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes
The 2002 Hurricanes went into the playoffs as the 15th-best team to qualify for post-season, but made it all the way to the Cup final. What made Carolina an intriguing case was that it found success using a tandem of goalies: Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes. However, Carolina proved this run had been a complete fluke by finishing dead last in the NHL a season later with just 61 points.
7. 1992-93 New York Islanders
The 1993 Islanders are the only team on this list that didn’t at least make the Stanley Cup final, but they deserve major consideration as one of the all-time great underdog teams. Despite losing leading scorer Pierre Turgeon in the first round – thanks to a brutal hit from the Washington Capitals’ Dale Hunter – the Islanders reached the Conference final. David Volek’s overtime winner in Game 7 over the two-time Cup-champion Penguins will go down as one of the greatest upset moments in NHL history.
8. 1998-99 Buffalo Sabres
Fans in Buffalo probably believe this team should be atop this list, if for no other reason than the Sabres were cheated out of the Stanley Cup on a controversial Brett Hull goal for the Dallas Stars. Before that, the Sabres became the lowest-seeded team from the Eastern Conference to qualify for the final.
9. 1994-95 New Jersey Devils
The Devils weren’t exactly major underdogs, considering they reached Game 7 of the Conference final the previous year, but they never had home-ice advantage during the playoffs and set an NHL record by winning 10 post-season road game. Nobody gave them a shot to win in the Cup final, but they stunned the hockey world by sweeping the Detroit Red Wings.
10. 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings
There is some debate here as to whether the 2012 Los Angeles Kings were major underdogs or just major underachievers during the regular season, but the Kings deserve some consideration for this list because they were the first eighth seed to hoist the Cup. They took a 3-0 lead in every series they played despite starting on the road each time.
Ian Mendes covers sports for Rogers Sportsnet and is co-author of the book The Best Seat in the House with Jamie McLennan. Follow him at Twitter.com/ ian_mendes.

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