March Madness season is upon us, and everyone has their brackets filled out. While experts say not to pick too many upsets, people cannot help but pick their fair share of bracket busters to move past the first and second rounds. Once the sweet 16 begins, that's when the real Cinderella stories start to come to the forefront of the tournament. Maybe it's a double-digit seed like Steph Curry's Davidson in the past advancing past the Sweet 16, or maybe it's a small school like Butler making a run all of the way to the National Tournament game.
Regardless, people love to see their Cinderella stories in the biggest event happening in college basketball. With that being said, college basketball is not the only sport or tournament that features teams advancing much further than they were supposed to. Teams in all of the major sports work their ways into the later rounds of their respective postseasons when they were not previously expected to. Those teams often rally fans to root for them, as once again everyone loves to see an underdog or a Cinderella story make a run in tournaments.
The NHL playoffs consist of 16 teams, so seeing any of the six to eight seeds make a deep run through the postseason is normally considered a rarity. Of course sometimes those teams deserve to be thought of in a higher regard, but let's take a look at 15 recent Cinderella stories in the NHL playoffs. These teams made fascinating runs as underdogs.
15 2014 New York Rangers
Okay, so this is the part where we explain that not all Cinderella stories revolve around a team being poorly seeded or expected not to go far into the post-season. Sometimes teams can create their own Cinderella stories based on the context of the runs they make. The 2014 New York Rangers did not go into the playoffs expected to be a Cinderella story, but context created such a run.
After a wild seven-game series win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, the Rangers fell down to the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the second round. Martin St. Louis' mother passed, then St. Louis scored the opening goal in game six. The Rangers came back against Pittsburgh, then St. Louis scored the overtime winner to give the Rangers a 3-1 series lead in the Conference Finals. New York would advance to lose in the Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings.
14 2012 Los Angeles Kings
When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014, it was their second NHL championship victory in three years. While the 2014 run was by no means a Cinderella run, the 2012 Stanley Cup Final run certainly was. The Kings defeated a Cinderella in their own right in the sixth seeded New Jersey Devils, but had to do so as the road team. The Kings owned the 8 seed in the Western Conference, being the worst regular season team in the West to make the playoffs. Yet the Kings rolled through the post-season, defeating the top seeded Vancouver Canucks, then the St. Louis Blues in the second round, and the Arizona Coyotes in the Western Conference to work their way to the Stanley Cup Final.
13 2010 Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers' Cinderella story began in the last game of their regular season. Matched with the arch-rival New York Rangers, the Flyers faced a winner-take-all game. Whoever won the game would make the post-season, and whoever lost would miss the post-season. The game was a back and forth thrill-ride that resulted in a shootout, one that the Flyers would go on to win. Next, Philadelphia dispatched of the second seeded Devils, setting themselves up for a match-up against the Boston Bruins. Philadelphia fell behind 3-0 to the Bruins, yet managed to come back and defeat the Bruins in the next four games, creating history. Philadelphia would advance to the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Chicago Blackhawks.
12 2010 Montreal Canadiens
One of the teams the Philadelphia Flyers defeated to reach the Stanley Cup Final was the Montreal Canadiens. The Flyers were expected to have to take down the Washington Capitals to get to the Stanley Cup Final, but the eighth-seeded Canadiens had other ideas. The Canadiens took down the top seeded Capitals in the first round after falling down 3-1 in the opening series, looking clearly outplayed and outmatched. Next, Montreal defeated Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round to set up a matchup against the other Cinderella story, Philadelphia Flyers, where they eventually fell. Despite turning into pumpkins, their victory over the Washington Capitals serves as a tremendous Cinderella story in recent history of the NHL. Jaroslav Halak made a name for himself.
11 2006 Edmonton Oilers
Notice that Cinderella stories often do not end in championships, as this is going to be a trend you see in this post, and other posts covering Cinderella stories. Many teams make tremendous runs but cannot finish them off in college basketball, and the same reigns true for the National Hockey League.
One of the best Cinderella stories in recent NHL history came in 2006, when the Edmonton Oilers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final to play the Carolina Hurricanes, despite being the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for the Oilers, their storybook tale ended with the Hurricanes hoisting the Stanley Cup, but the Oilers' run through the loaded Western Conference spoke volumes about their ability to ignore the context and make a run.
10 2003 Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks followed a similar path to the Edmonton Oilers, making a run to the Stanley Cup Final before seeing their run end at the hands of a more experienced, better team. The New Jersey Devils, led by a team of experienced players and management such as Martin Brodeur, dispatched of the Ducks to end their tremendous run. That run included being a seventh seed in the loaded Western Conference, but still managing to roll through the likes of the Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, and Minnesota Wild. In fact, in one game during the run goaltender Jean-Sebastian Giguere stopped 63 shots in a triple overtime winner to aid the Ducks' run. If that doesn't scream storybook team, well then nothing does, right?
9 2004 Calgary Flames
Another Cinderella story, another team that just could not put the finishing touches on their run. The 2004 Calgary Flames made their own run all of the way to the Stanley Cup Final, only to be stopped by the Ruslan Fedotenko, Vincent Lecavalier, and former-Calgary Flame Martin St. Louis-led Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flames ran through the post-season as the sixth seed with little fanfare, and few believing they could make any kind of a run at all. The Flames used the doubters as fuel, taking down the top seeded Detroit Red Wings among other teams in a surprising run that reached the Stanley Cup Final. Jarome Iginla came so close to winning his first and only Stanley Cup, but it wasn't meant to be.
8 2013 Boston Bruins
Not only did the Boston Bruins fail to win the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, but they were also the four seed in the year we are discussing, so we understand if you are questioning how they could possibly be a Cinderella team. Yet the Bruins were simply because of their first round match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins not only fell down to the Maple Leafs 3-2 in the series, but they then fell behind in Game 7 4-1 with only nine minutes remaining, a deficit that should have been impossible to make a comeback from. The Bruins did not believe in impossible, however, scoring a trio of goals in the final nine minutes, then winning in overtime. Boston went on to the Stanley Cup Final in their run.
7 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins
Once again we ask you to re-consider the definition of Cinderella, as this story is one of the most fascinating in recent sports history. The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins came off of a brutal loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh wanted revenge, but even they could not have predicted matching up once again against the same Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. Being able to match up against the same team the following year and exact revenge is one of the most tremendous stories possible. The Penguins fell down 2-0 and 3-2 in the series, but never surrendered and eventually worked their way to a series victory, and a Stanley Cup victory for Sidney Crosby.
6 2003 Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild were only a few years into their team history when they made the post-season for the first time in 2003. The Wild were expected to be bounced out early due to their inexperience and overall lack of talent compared to other teams, but the new playoff team had other ideas. The Wild defeated the third seeded Colorado Avalanche led by all-world goaltender Patrick Roy, coming back from a 3-1 first round deficit. That comeback included back to back overtime wins in games six and seven, showing that they had a run in them. Minnesota defeated the Vancouver Canucks in a seven game series in the following match-up, but fell to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals to end their run.
5 2006 Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks were not expected to make the playoffs in 2006, nor were they expected to make any kind of a run once they managed to make the playoffs. Led by young goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, the Ducks managed to secure the sixth seed in the Western Conference. With that seed, the Ducks faced off against the Calgary Flames in the first round, facing off for one of the most exciting playoff matchups in recent history. The Ducks came back from 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 deficits in the series to advance, then easily took care of business against the Colorado Avalanche in the following round. Unfortunately the run ended there, as the Ducks fell to the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals.
4 2015 Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators are not on this list for their post-season performance, as they did not even make it out of the first round. They attempted to continue their Cinderella run by winning a pair of games consecutively against the Montreal Canadiens, but could not score a goal in Game Six, ending their chances. The Ottawa Senators are on this list because they got off to a horrific start in the 2015 season, and nobody expected them to work their way into the playoff mix. Led by a goaltender with zero NHL experience that was not even drafted in Andrew Hammond, the Senators managed to inch into a spot in the post-season, serving as a regular season Cinderella story that all enjoyed to see.
3 2015 New York Rangers
One team that did advance in the 2015 playoffs was the top seeded New York Rangers. When a team wins the Presidents' Trophy, it's admittedly difficult to think of them as a Cinderella story. Yet what happened in the second round of their playoff run speaks volumes to their status as a Cinderella. New York fell down 3-1 in the series, looking like their chances of winning anything was hopeless. Yet down 1-0 with under two minutes remaining in Game 5, the Rangers scored late to tie the game, then scored in overtime to win the game. After winning Game 6 by the score of 4-3, the Rangers battled the Capitals in Game 7 for a spot in the Eastern Conference Final. The game went into overtime, when Derek Stepan shot the puck past Braden Holtby to give the Rangers a thrilling, improbable series win.
2 2013 Chicago Blackhawks
2013 was the year of comebacks for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks were one of the best teams in the regular season, earning the top seed in the Western Conference. Yet when the playoffs rolled around, the Blackhawks found themselves down 3-1 in the Western Conference Final to the arch-rival Detroit Red Wings. Despite the series deficit, the Blackhawks continued on, coming back to win the series and move onto the Stanley Cup Final. That included a game 7 series clinching overtime winner of their own.
Once they reached the Stanley Cup Final, the Blackhawks fell down 2-1 in Game Six with under two minutes remaining, yet scored two goals in under 40 seconds to give themselves the lead that would give them a Stanley Cup Final victory.
1 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins
The 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins were expected to go far in the post-season, but it's the path that made them a Cinderella story. The Penguins had to vanquish their darkest foes to find their way to a Stanley Cup victory, all of this without their starting goalie, who suffered an injury and missed the majority of the post-season. Despite Marc-Andre Fleury's absence, the Penguins, led by 21 year-old Matt Murray who only had under 20 games of NHL experience, took down the New York Rangers, league-best Washington Capitals, and the defending Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Once there, the Penguins worked some overtime magic and defeated the San Jose Sharks to show they were not pumpkins.
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