There have been quite a few blown 3-1 leads in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Which ones stand out as the worst in NHL history?
The 2010s was the decade of the blown 3-1 series lead. It all started when the Golden State Warriors infamously blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers. After that, it pretty much became a meme. No one is safe with a 3-1 lead. Not even NHL teams.
With the Dallas Stars, Vegas Golden Knights, and New York Islanders all nearly blowing 3-1 leads, I think it’s time to look at every blown 3-1 series lead in NHL history and find out which ones are the worst.
Let’s set some guidelines. First, a blown 3-0 series lead is not a blown 3-1 series lead. For me, the blown lead begins with you get to three wins in a best of seven series. Blown 3-0 series leads are their own, special category of sadness. Comparing them to blown 3-1 leads is like comparing your favorite local pizza shop to Papa Johns. The former’s going to win every time because they’re special.
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Secondly, these are some of the factors I’m considering.
- Heartbreak: How painful was the loss?
- What happened after: Did the blown lead cost the team in the future?
- The other team: The Cleveland Indians (the underdogs) blowing a 3-1 lead to the Chicago Cubs (the favorites) in 2016 wasn’t nearly as bad as the Golden State Warriors (the favorites) blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers (the underdogs).
31 teams have won a series after being down 3-1. However, four of those 31 were actually blown 3-0 series leads, so we’re left with 27. For the record, the Stars would have been in the top five had they lost. Losing three straight games to a third-string goalie is inexcusable. Vegas would have been just outside of the top five.
Had the Islanders lost to the Flyers, they’d have been close to the top 10. Now, if Game 7 was an overtime loss, heck yeah, the Islanders are in the top 10 because that’s four overtime losses in one series.
Now, let’s take a look at the top 10 blown 3-1 leads in NHL history. As always, feel free to voice your opinions in the comment section!
Best (Worst?) Of The Rest
I have to mention the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals series between the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks because both teams overcame a 3-1 deficit in the previous round. The Wild beat the Canucks after trailing 3-1.
In 1998, the Colorado Avalanche blew a 3-1 lead in the first round to the Edmonton Oilers. This potentially prevented us from seeing a Detroit Red Wings versus Avalanche series during the height of their brutal rivalry, so I’m mentioning it. The Avalanche should be ashamed!
10. Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings (1987)
Who blew the lead: Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs were the underdogs heading into the 1987 Norris Division Finals. But after a 4-3 win in Game 4, the Leafs held a 3-1 lead. The Red Wings proceeded to outscore the Leafs 10-2 in the final three games. Two of those three games were shutouts.
After 1987, the Leafs finished in last place in their division three times in five seasons. It took them until 1993 to bounce back. Also, this loss inadvertently set off a chain reaction that led to the Leafs trading a first-round pick to the Devils. That first round pick? Some guy named Scott Niedermayer.
9. Penguins vs. Rangers (2014)
Who blew the lead: Penguins
This series nearly marked the end of the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin era of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Luckily for them, they decided against making huge, sweeping changes, other than trading for Patric Hornqvist and firing Dan Bylsma. Henrik Lundqvist carried the Rangers in this series, allowing just three goals over the last three games.
8. Kings vs. Oilers (1989)
Who blew the lead: Oilers
When talking about the weirdest series of all-time, this one’s in the discussion. The games were either really close (two one-goal games) or blowouts (four games won by at least three goals). There was also a two-goal game, but let’s imagine it didn’t happen!
This one hurts for several reasons. Firstly, the Kings had just traded for Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky had seven points in the final three games, including a three-point effort in Game 7. Secondly, their loss to the Kings prevented them from possibly winning four straight Stanley Cups. An extra Stanley Cup might have made the Oilers the greatest dynasty of the modern era.
7. Capitals vs. Penguins (1992)
Who blew the lead: Capitals
No team has blown more 3-1 leads than the Capitals (five). This one’s a double whammy because the Capitals had a 2-0 lead to start this series and a 3-1 lead. A 7-2 win in Game 4 all but guaranteed the Capitals would win. But they did not.
The Penguins followed Game 4 with 5-2, 6-4, and 3-1 wins to comeback against Washington. Two of those games were home games for the Capitals. Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup, which makes this one hurt even more for the Capitals.
6. Golden Knights vs. Sharks (2019)
Who blew the lead: Golden Knights
Not only did the Golden Knights blow a 3-1 series lead to the Sharks, they also blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7. Leading 3-0 with about 10 minutes left, Cody Eakin got a game misconduct after injuring Joe Pavelski. This gave the Sharks a five minute power play. San Jose scored four goals in those five minutes to take the lead.
Even if that was all that happened, it’s easily top 10. But then Vegas scored to tie the game at 4 just before the end of regulation. The Sharks went on to win in overtime. Imagine having your heart ripped out, put back in, and then ripped out again.
5. Devils vs. Flyers (2000)
Who blew the lead: Flyers
This one happened in the Eastern Conference Final. The Flyers jumped out to a 3-1 lead after winning Games 2, 3, and 4, scoring 11 combined goals in those three games. It seemed like they had solved Martin Brodeur.
Unfortunately for them, they did not solve him. Brodeur allowed one goal in each of the last three games of the series, allowing the Devils to make a comeback for the ages. Also, Eric Lindros played his last game as a Flyer in Game 7, so yeah, this game hurts if you’re a Flyers fan.
4. Capitals vs. Islanders (1987)
Who blew the lead: Capitals
Game 7 of this series is best known as being “The Easter Epic”. To this day, it’s the longest Game 7 in NHL history and the only Game 7 to require more than one overtime. It required four of them. Kelly Hrudey set a postseason record by stopping 73 of the 75 shots he saw. This record stood until this year, when Joonas Korpisalo of the Columbus Blue Jackets saw 87 shots on goal.
The Capitals have a dark history in Games 7. Their fans look forward to Games 7 like everyone else looks forward to visiting the DMV. This game is why they feel that way.
3. Blackhawks vs. Red Wings (2013)
Who blew the lead: Red Wings
There’s a saying – “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” This rings true for this series, as the Chicago Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup and this was the beginning of the end for the Red Wings. The Red Wings haven’t been the same since.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup. If they don’t win this series, they’re not a dynasty. For Red Wings fans, that’s indescribably heartbreaking.
Detroit won Games 2, 3, and 4 by outscoring Chicago 9-2. Every ounce of momentum was with them. But hockey’s a cruel, evil game, so Chicago was able to grab momentum thanks to a 4-1 win in Game 5 and that propelled them to two one-goal wins in Games 6 and 7, with the latter coming in overtime.
This one’s in the top 5 because the Red Wings had to watch the Blackhawks become a dynasty. The Red Wings haven’t won a single postseason series since their heartbreaking Game 7. It didn’t quite kill Detroit’s playoff streak, but it put it on life support, as it ended 4 years later.
2. Flames vs. Canucks (1994)
Who blew the lead: Flames
This one’s painful for Calgary Flames fans for several reasons. First of all, Calgary was the overwhelming favorite heading into the series. They were the top team in the Pacific Division with 97 points and finished as the second seed in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Canucks barely snuck into the postseason with 87 points.
Calgary dominated the first four games of the series, winning Games 2, 3, and 4 by a combined margin of 14-7. And then Canucks goalie Kirk McLean woke up, allowing just six goals on 103 shots in the last three games. Each of the last three games went to overtime. Worst of all, Game 7 went to double overtime. That’s heartbreaking.
Losing this series is what started a decline for the Flames. They lost in the first round in 1995 and 1996. After that, the Flames didn’t make the postseason until 2004, when they lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
1. Capitals Vs. Canadiens (2010)
Who blew the lead: Who do you think? The Capitals!
Capitals fans are used to being disappointed in the postseason, but this series was especially frustrating. Imagine dominating a team for three straight games, solving a goalie, and then having his backup channel prime Dominik Hasek in the last three games of the series.
Jaroslav Halak is someone Capitals fans still loathe to this day, all because of the pain he caused them in 2010. Ironically, he was temporarily a member of the Capitals in 2014. As a Caps fan, I wasn’t even sure how to feel about Halak back in 2014. Imagine Bucky Dent wearing a Red Sox jersey. Yeah. It was like that.
The Capitals pretty much ran into a goalie. Montreal was an otherwise fairly unimpressive team. Mike Cammalleri had a team-high 10 points and Tomas Plekanec had 7 points. But what makes it’s frustrating is the Capitals lost 2-1 in Games 5 and 7. Here’s a list of the Canadiens’ goal scorers in those games. Good luck remembering who they are.
- Mike Cammalleri
- Travis Moen
- Marc-Andre Bergeron
- Dominic Moore
Washington outshot Montreal 292-194 and outscored them 22-20 in the seven game series. And they lost.
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What happened to the Capitals after this series is why it’s number one. It led to the high-flying, goal-scoring, fast-moving Caps adopting the gosh darn TRAP. Eventually, it led to Bruce Boudreau being fired and a lot of questioning of Alex Ovechkin’s leadership. It set the Capitals back at least five years.