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Biggest First Round Upsets in NHL Playoff History

Upsets regularly happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially in the first round.

The Florida Panthers and Seattle Kraken completed huge come-from-behind series upsets against Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins and defending champion Colorado Avalanche, both in Game 7s, both on the same night. 

Let's reflect on these historic series, and then look back at some of the other biggest first-round upsets in NHL Playoff history.

Panthers vs. Bruins, Kraken vs. Avalanche (2023)

Two of the greatest first-round triumphs in NHL Playoff history happened on the same night of Sunday, April 30, 2023.

The Florida Panthers eliminated the best team in NHL regular season history and the Stanley Cup favorite Boston Bruins with a Game 7 overtime winner, all after coming back from a 3-1 series deficit.

Three hours later, the Seattle Kraken, in their second season as an NHL franchise, knocked the defending champion Colorado Avalanche out with a 2-1 victory in Game 7.

The Bruins' first-round loss further proves the incalculable nature of the NHL Playoffs. They won the most games (65) and recorded the most points (135) of any team ever, running away with the Presidents' Trophy. Boston was the rightful favorite to win it all going into the postseason.

But the Panthers didn't care, even after going behind three games to one. Florida won Game 5 via a Matthew Tkachuk overtime winner. Game 6 in Florida was a nightmare for Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark, whose performance in the 7-5 loss earned him a spot on the bench in Game 7.

The all-important seventh game in Boston saw the home team lead 3-2 with a minute remaining - until Brandon Montour silenced TD Garden with a game-tying goal, sending the game to OT.

Florida had already won Game 5 in OT, and did so again in Game 7 thanks to Carter Verhaeghe's dart past new Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman 8 minutes and 35 seconds into overtime.

The Kraken provided the second shock of the night, becoming the first expansion team to defeat the reigning Stanley Cup champions in their first ever playoff series.

Led by Nathan MacKinnon and 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cale Makar, the Avalanche were among the favorites to win it all having done so the previous year, their first cup win since 2001.

But behind an overall effort by Seattle that included scoring first in all seven games, the Kraken prevailed on to the Western Conference semifinals.

Blue Jackets vs. Lightning (2019)

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ opening round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019 remains fresh in the memory and goes down as one of the biggest shocks of all-time.

The Lightning won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2018/19 with 128 points and entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the record of joint most wins (62) from a single regular season, which was beaten this season by Boston Bruins (65).

Despite that, they failed to win a single game against the Blue Jackets who dumped the Lightning out with a clean sweep.

Columbus had finished 30 points behind Tampa Bay in the regular season and scored 67 fewer goals.

They won the series with a +11-goal differential and it was the first time that a Presidents' Trophy winner was swept by an eighth seed.

The silver lining for the Lightning is that they learned lessons from the historic defeat to win back-to-back Stanley Cups and make a third consecutive Final appearance last season.

Kings vs. Oilers (1982)

The Los Angeles Kings finished 48 points behind the star-studded Edmonton Oilers of 1982 and were given no chance of getting past a team which had the talents of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jan Kurri to name but a few.

But that’s exactly what happened as the Kings stunned the Oilers in five games, highlighted by Game 3’s ‘Miracle on Manchester,’ which saw the Kings overcome a five-goal third-period deficit en-route to earning a 6-5 overtime victory – the largest comeback in NHL playoff history.

The Oilers dynasty would begin two years later, but given the disparity of talent between the two rosters, this upset will forever live in NHL history.

The current Kings are also proving problematic in the first-round for another Oilers team stacked with talent. Their Western Conference series is tied 2-2 and the Kings may well dump out Connor McDavid, Leon Draisatil et al.

Canadiens vs. Capitals (2010)

Led by Alexander Ovechkin (109 points) and Nicklas Backstrom (101 points), the Washington Capitals hit the playoffs with one of the most potent offenses in NHL history (313 goals).

They had finished the regular season with 121 points and their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy, which set up an opening-round meeting with the Montreal Canadiens, who scraped into the playoffs with 88 points.

After losing Game 1 in overtime, the Capitals won three straight and looked set to surge on, but shockingly lost the next three to be eliminated, going 1-for-30 on the powerplay in the process.

It took nearly a decade after the painful defeat for the Capitals to figure it out in the playoffs and in 2018 the relief for Ovechkin and co. was plain to see as they beat Vegas Golden Knights in the Final to lift the franchise’s first long-awaited Championship.

Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens (1945)

The 1944/45 Montreal Canadiens recorded an astonishing win percentage of .800 in the 50-game regular season (38-8-4) and met the rather average Leafs (24-22-4) in the opening round of the playoffs.

The 28-point gap didn’t show in the post-season encounter as Toronto used the excellent goaltending of Frank McCool to win four games by one goal and progress past their rivals in six games.

Not satisfied with one upset, the Maple Leafs would go on to beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals in a classic seven-game series that saw the Wings rally from a 3-0 deficit but fail to complete the comeback.

The over-achieving 1944/45 Maple Leafs prompted a run of several championship seasons for the famous franchise up until 1976 which is the last time the Stanley Cup was won by Toronto.

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