The Predators face the Ducks Wednesday night in Game 7 of their opening round series, with an opportunity to complete what would stand as the biggest upset of this year’s first round.
These days, of course, big upsets are relative. The Predators are a wildcard team facing a division winner, but they only finished seven points behind the Ducks in the standings. And the opening round’s other upsets were even closer – the Islanders were three points behind the Panthers, while the Sharks were four back of the Kings. Such is life in the age of parity, where the margin between average and elite is narrower than ever before.
So with all due respect to those plucky underdogs from Nashville, let’s take a moment today to look back at the real thing, by counting down five of the biggest first-round upsets of the 20+ team era.
No. 5 – 2000: Sharks over Blues
The only Presidents’ Trophy in Blues history is one that most of their fans would rather forget. To this day, you can ruin a St. Louis fan’s day by mentioning one name: Roman Turek. That would be the Blues’ starting goaltender during that 1999-2000 season, one in which he posted a career year and finished as the Jennings winner and runner-up for the Vezina while leading the Blues to a franchise-record 114 points.
But then the 87-point Sharks showed up, and things went south. San Jose jumped out to a 3-1 series lead before the Blues fought back with a pair of wins to force a seventh game on their home ice. A tense first period saw the Sharks jump out to a 1-0 lead, one that looked set to hold up as we headed to the intermission. And then this happened:
Owen Nolan’s center ice rocket put the Sharks up 2-0 and sucked the oxygen out of the building. It proved to be the winner, as the Sharks held on for a 3-1 win.
The Blues gained a measure of revenge the following season, knocking off the Sharks in a first-round rematch. They’ve split two more post-season meetings since then. We could be two weeks away from another, this time in the conference final. But if it happens, don’t expect Turek to handle any pre-game faceoff duties. He sometimes struggles with center ice.
No. 4 – 2006: Oilers over Red Wings
The first season after the 2005-06 lockout was one of the most unpredictable on record. Scoring was up, superstar rookies were everywhere, and new rules on and off the ice were changing everything. But there was one constant from the pre-cap era: The Red Wings were dominant. They racked up 124 points and went into the playoffs as a heavy favorite to win their fourth Cup in a decade. And then they ran into Edmonton.
The eighth-seeded Oilers weren’t a bad team, putting up 95 points of their own, and the late-season acquisition of goaltender Dwayne Roloson filled the biggest hole in their roster. Still, not many expected them to be much more than a speed bump for the Wings, and a Detroit win in the opener seemed to confirm that. But the Oilers took the next two, then split Games 4 and 5 to push the Wings to the brink.
The series ended in Edmonton in Game 6, with the Red Wings taking a 2-0 lead into the third period before a furious Oilers comeback leading to Ales Hemsky’s winning goal with just over a minute left.
The Oilers’ run continued all the way to the final, where they fell one game short of winning the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings didn’t lose in the first round again until 2012, including another Cup win in 2008.