As a sports fan, there is perhaps no greater emotion then watching your team finish off a heroic comeback. Conversely, there is no greater disappointment than watching your team disintegrate before your very eyes. Whether it's in the playoffs or a simple regular season game, true athletes understand the depth of determination and grit that is necessary to pull off a great comeback; to resurrect one’s team from the brink of despair and defeat. When lesser individuals are packing it in for the season, when the bandwagon jumpers have left their seats to get a head start on traffic, loyalty shines through and genuine fans stay strapped to their seats, knowing that the game's never over until the final horn. A true competitor never gives up hope and keeps playing- even when, especially when the odds are seemingly insurmountable.
In honour of the Minnesota Wild’s come-from-behind win against the New York Islanders last week, We're taking a look at some of the most epic comebacks in NHL history. From the Miracle on Manchester to the Maple Leafs’ meltdown in Beantown in 2013, these wins are so improbable that even the most daring Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t dream them up.
Every sports fan loves to root for the underdog and hockey is no exception. In the midst of the Miracle on Manchester at the Forum in Los Angeles, the Kings’ play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson marveled at the spectacle he was witnessing: “I started looking around the building and just about everyone was standing and reacting in disbelief as to what they just witnessed. There was a distinct feeling, a buzz from the crowd, and it was as if everyone was thinking the same thing…‘My God, did I really just see what I saw?”
P.S. Is it at all surprising that there is some crossover between the Top 10 Heartbreaking Losses in Leafs’ History and Top 10 Epic NHL Comebacks?
11 Quebec Nordiques vs. Calgary Flames, 1989
The now-defunct Quebec Nordiques led 4-1 after the first period, 6-3 after the second and 8-3 with just over seven minutes left. Most incredibly, Quebec still held a two-goal lead with only one minute to play, and they were on the power play. The Flames’ Doug Gilmour scored shorthanded with 15 seconds left and Paul Ranheim scored just four seconds later to complete the comeback. Though the game would eventually end in a tie (as was permitted by NHL regular season rules back then) and doesn’t technically qualify as a legitimate comeback, there is no doubt that this was a complete and utter collapse on the part of the Nordiques.
10 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. St. Louis Blues, 2000
“I don’t know how the hell this happened,” fumed a rightly furious Pat Quinn. Trailing 5-0 in the third period, St. Louis would go on to score six goals in 15:27, which still stands as the fastest time span that a team has erased a five-goal deficit in NHL history. After St. Louis made it 5-1, one commentator wondered aloud whether a Blues’ victory was possible. As St. Louis Captain Chris Pronger stated simply, “Never give up.” Leafs Netminder Curtis Joseph called it the “strangest game” he had ever played in.
9 Florida Panthers vs. Colorado Avalanche, 1999
Pavel Bure had a hat trick and the Panthers were up 5-0 in the second period. Peter Forsberg then answered and made it 5-1. The Avalanche scored seven unanswered goals and Forsberg would finish with three goals & three assists, including the final goal. The oddest element to this game was that, with his team trailing 5-0, the recently acquired Theo Fleury predicted his new teammates would win the game 6-5. Fleury was either trying to ingratiate himself amongst his new brethren with a bold prediction or he has an incredibly knack for spot-on, yet ludicrous prophesying. Well, he was still one goal off. You would've thought the Avs did enough damage to the Panthers in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Calgary Flames, 1987
It is oddly coincidental that Toronto would surrender another five-goal lead in the third period. Though it is these types of peculiar stats that breed a certain type of Leafs’ cynic. No lead is ever truly safe when you bleed blue and white. In 2000, Toronto would yield six goals and a 5-0 lead in 15:27 to lose in overtime to St. Louis. Thirteen years earlier, they had ‘accomplished’ a nearly identical feat by giving up six unanswered to Calgary in 15:28, with Al MacInnis (a defenseman) recording a hat trick. Who says there’s no room for improvement in Toronto?
7 Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks, 2011
Comebacks are difficult at the highest level of hockey, but they are even more difficult in the playoffs against a team built on the back of defensive stalwarts and backed by an elite goaltender in Jonathan Quick. Tied 1-1 in their best of seven series, the Kings jumped out to a 4-0 early lead (and had scored eight unanswered in the series). San Jose would score five goals in the second to even things up and after a scoreless third period, Devin Setoguchi would bury the game winner three minutes into overtime. The game marked just the second time in NHL playoff history that a team had rallied after going down four goals or more.
6 Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota North Stars, 1985
The Minnesota North Stars didn't have many great moments in their history, but this is one of them. Minnesota fought back to overcome the Blackhawks in overtime. After falling behind 4-0 in the first period, Minnesota would score five consecutive goals, including the game-tying goal with just three minutes remaining. Chicago would eventually go on to eliminate Minnesota the next game in overtime, though that doesn’t lessen the impressive nature of Minnesota’s comeback.
5 Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens, 1971
In just another chapter of this historic rivalry between two original six teams, Montreal was able to stage a heroic comeback in the second game of their Stanley Cup quarterfinal series. Led by the likes of Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr, Boston had been heavily favoured to win the series in just four games after finishing 24 points in front of the Habs. And things were on schedule with the Bruins up 1-0 in the series and leading 5-1 in the second period before an unassisted goal from the legendary Henri Richard. That was just the beginning, as the Habs would score six straight goals to win the game 7-5. The Habs would go on to thrash the Bruins in seven games and land themselves on the cover of Sports Illustrated for their surprise upset of the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.
4 St. Louis Blues vs. Los Angeles Kings, 1998
As any hockey player will tell you, one bone-headed penalty can cost a team a game. Kings’ defenseman Sean O’Donnell learned that the hard way when he earned himself a game misconduct and five minutes for fighting Geoff Courtnall, who had just taken a run at the Kings’ goaltender Jamie Storr. The Kings were up 3-0 in the third period and, in spite of the major penalty, should have been able to hold on to the game. However, it was not to be, as St. Louis would score an unbelievable four power play goals in a span of just 3:07. St. Louis won the game, going up 3-0 in the series and would eventually sweep the Kings in four.
3 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins, 2013
“That’s one thing you’re probably going to remember for the rest of your life,” stated an exuberant and emphatic Johnny Boychuk. I can assure you it is seared into the minds and memories of every Leafs fan. With Toronto leading 4-1 and just 14:31 remaining on the clock, Leafs Nation was in a (far too premature) frenzy. It appeared the Leafs were going to complete a great comeback, as they were ahead by three in a Game 7 after having trailed the series 3-1. Nathan Horton would get one back for Boston midway through the third. Boston would then score two goals with just 82 seconds remaining and Patrice Bergeron would seal the deal six minutes into the overtime frame. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Toronto’s loss in Boston was the worst Game 7 collapse in NHL history. Leafs Defenseman Cody Franson summed it up, reflecting that “We had a chance to win this series, and we gave it away… It’s that simple. We gave it to them."
2 Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings, 1982
The Miracle on Manchester tops our list as the largest deficit ever surmounted by an NHL team during the post-season. The Edmonton Oilers dominated that year and, in just their third season in the league, finished 48 points ahead of Los Angeles. Tied 1-1, the series shifted to the Forum in Los Angeles for Game 3 and Edmonton came storming out of the gates, going into the third period with a commanding 5-0 lead. In later interviews, Gretzky and some of his teammates admitted they had been laughing at the seemingly inept Kings during the second intermission. “The only thing we talked about between the second and third periods was the fact that they were laughing at us. We wanted to play hard in the third and earn back some respect,” remembered Kings head coach Don Perry.
They earned back that respect and the laughter ended abruptly after a devastating third period in which the Kings scored five unanswered, including the game-tying goal with just five seconds left. From there, the result was almost a foregone conclusion and L.A. would complete the comeback just 2:35 in the overtime frame. As for the great Gretzky, he would eventually leave Edmonton for Los Angeles in 1988 in what became known around Canada simply as “The Trade”.
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