Stanley Cup Shockers

“Stanley Cup Shockers” 2023


Rockin’ Reese, Bleacher Brothers  

Stanley Cup Playoffs, Shocker after Shocker

Colorado Avalanche…the defending Stanley Cup Champion. Tampa Bay Lightning…Eastern Conference Champions for the past 3 seasons & winners of the 2 previous Stanley Cups. Boston Bruins…the team with the best record in the NHL, this season.  Three teams that were favored by many to win their conference quarter-final series, yet…all of them are eliminated.

Let’s start with the Lightning. After falling short of a Stanley Cup 3-peat, they had to deal with crucial free agents like Ryan McDonagh, Ondrej Palat, & Jan Rutta leaving during the off-season. Then, they struggled to find consistency, as they would go on losing streaks as fast as they went on winning streaks. Going into the playoffs, the Lightning lost 4 games in a row before winning their regular season finale against the Detroit Red Wings. When it came to their playoff opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Lightning were 1-2 against the Leafs, this season.

That was already bad enough. When you factor in that the Leafs were motivated (after blowing a 3-2 series lead against Tampa Bay in last season’s eastern conference quarter-finals), it seemed like Lightning wasn’t going to strike twice in the same round. Despite a dominant game 1 in Toronto, the Lightning would lose the next 3 games (including both in Tampa). They would survive game 5 in Toronto, before being eliminated at home in game 6 (just like they were in last season’s Stanley Cup Final).

The last time that the Lightning lost consecutive playoff series was the 2017-18 eastern conference finals (where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, Washington Capitals) & the 2018-19 eastern conference quarter-finals (where the Columbus Blue Jackets made them the first Presidents’ Trophy winners in NHL history to be swept out of the playoffs). Also of note, if you combined the regular season & the playoffs, the Lightning  were 1-4 against the Leafs in Tampa.

Next, let’s take a look at the Bruins. They set a record for most wins & points in a single NHL season. They earned their 4th Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history. They had a career year out of (9-year right wing player) David Pastrnak, who the Bruins just signed to an 8-year contract worth $90,000,000. It looked like the perfect farewell for Patrice Bergeron, who spent his entire 19-year career with the Bruins. Despite being 2-2 against the Florida Panthers in the regular season, the home team won all 4 games. It seemed like the Bruins wouldn’t have anything to worry about after winning game 1 in Boston. Despite losing game 2, they would go to Sunrise (in the Miami metropolitan area) & win both games there to take a 3-1 series lead. However, the ghosts of playoffs past would haunt the Bruins, again.

They returned to Boston to lose game 5 in overtime, after Brad Marchand had a chance to end the series with a breakaway goal in regulation, but Sergei Bobrovsky stopped him. In game 6 at Sunrise, the Bruins had a 5-4 lead with less than 10 minutes to go in regulation, but 3 Panthers goals would force a game 7 in Boston. The Bruins overcame a 2-0 lead with 3 goals, but with just under 1 minute left in regulation, Brandon Montour would tie the game, before Carter Verhaeghe’s overtime goal would stun the crowd at TD Garden. This was the 3rd time that the Bruins would lose a series after leading 3-1.

The other occasions were against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2004 eastern conference quarter-finals & against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 eastern conference semi-finals. Also, the Panthers have eliminated the Bruins both times they have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs (1996 eastern conference quarter-finals being the other occasion). In the regular season, the Bruins had never lost consecutive games. They would lose their final 3 home games of this series. The Bruins would join teams like the 1906 Chicago Cubs, 2001 Seattle Mariners, 2007-08 New England Patriots, & 2015-16 Golden State Warriors as teams who won the most regular season games in a league’s history, but failed to win the championship.

Finally, let’s look at the Avalanche. Despite missing (team captain) Gabriel Landeskog all season, while he recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery, and some uncharacteristic cold streaks from the defending champs, they would finish the season hot with a 7-1 April, en route to winning the central division. However, like the Lightning with the Maple Leafs, the Avalanche were playing a team that they had a losing record against. The Avalanche were 1-2 against the Seattle Kraken, with all 3 games being won by the road team.

The Kraken would win their NHL playoff debut to put the champs in a hole, but the Avs would recover & win game 2 in Denver, then game 3 in Seattle. The Kraken would return the favor & win game 4 in overtime, then go back to Denver & win game 5. While the Avalanche would win game 6 in Seattle, the Kraken would ultimately dethrone them by winning game 7 in Denver. With that loss, the Avalanche became the first defending Stanley Cup Champion in NHL history to an expansion team making their playoff debut. Home ice was no advantage for the Avs, as they were 1-5 against the Kraken in Denver, if you combined the regular season & playoffs. The Avalanche are 4-9 in game 7s, with 5 of those losses featuring them as the home team.

The conference quarter-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs provided some big shockers. Will the conference semi-finals, conference finals, or Stanley Cup Final provide some more? We’ll find out as the quest for the cup continues.

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