November 10, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
These "end of decade" rankings aren't all necessarily going to be confined to the National Hockey League. In some cases, other levels of competitive hockey are going to creep into the countdowns; and there's simply no way to recall the most significant upsets of the last 10 years without discussing at least three that occurred outside of NHL rinks.
That isn't to say that some miraculous (or heartbreaking, depending on which side of history your team was on) upsets didn't also occur in the Stanley Cup playoffs, because they certainly did. In fact, Detroit Red Wings fans might want to skip this list, unless the championships have balanced out the embarrassing defeats at the hands of underdogs.
Here are the Top 10 biggest upsets in the last decade ...
10. Calgary Flames (No. 6 seed) upset Detroit Red Wings (1), 2004 Western Conference semifinals
The Red Wings were a Presidents' Trophy-winning 109-point team that had overcome the pesky Nashville Predators in the first round. The Flames had outlasted the Vancouver Canucks in an exhausting seven-game upset. Detroit was, to put it mildly, a heavy favorite here.
That was before Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) outplayed Curtis Joseph(notes), the Flames won back-to-back 1-0 games and bookended their 4-2 Western Conference semifinal win with overtime victories -- the second clinching the upset via a Martin Gelinas(notes) goal. From blogger Jamie Fitzpatrick:
An upset? To be sure. But the Flames had the NHL's 3rd-best defensive team this season, and are now reaping the rewards. In terms of sticking to your game plan, Calgary is this year's most consistent playoff team. Iginla and Kiprusoff get the headlines, but you could argue that this series was won by Calgary's young defense, painstakingly assembled through years of drafting and trading.
This was also the series where Steve Yzerman took a puck to the eye in Game 5, which you may recall as No. 9 on our Most Brutal Injuries of the Last Decade list. The Flames went on to lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals, in a series vaguely remembered for Ruslan Fedotenko's(notes) heroics and the Vinny/Iggy fight.
9. Bemidji State upsets Notre Dame, 2009 NCAA men's hockey tournament
In 2009, we finally were given the answer to an annual scholastic hockey mystery: The hell's a Bemidji State anyway?
Turns out it's a small liberal arts college in Minnesota that was ready to shock the NCAA.
The Beavers were technically a No. 4 seed in the Div. I tournament, but were actually the lowest seed in the 16-team field. Which made their emphatic 5-1 stunner against No. 2 Notre Dame all the more unbelievable -- along with the facts that it was Bemidji State's first D-I tournament win in school history and just the second tourney victory in CHA conference history.
Because of the university's size and budget, the Wall Street Journal ranked the upset as the third most-shocking in recent NCAA sports history.
The emotions in this series were off the charts. Saku Koivu(notes) had returned from Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma with a few games left in the regular season, helping the Habs to the eighth seed. Anthems where disrespected, to the point where Bill Guerin(notes) and Doug Gilmour had to cut promos urging fans not to boo. It was as vicious a rivalry series as you'd expect from these old adversaries, crystallized by this Kyle McLaren(notes) hit on Richard Zednik(notes) that earned him a two-game suspension:
In the end, the Canadiens (87 points) stunned the first-place Bruins (101 points) in six games, backstopped by superb goaltending by Jose Theodore(notes). They lost to eventual conference champ Carolina in Round 2.
Sometimes, pictures are worth 1,000 words. The one above is worth five: Wild stun Avalanche in seven.
It was Minnesota's first playoff berth, and they were a defense-first team with Cliff Ronning as their third-leading scorer. Colorado? Uh, yeah, it had a little talent on the roster.
Things started out well for the Wild, with a 4-2 road win. Then came three straight Avalanche victories, and Coach Jacques Lemaire actually said his team had no shot to win the series after going down 3-1. But the Avs took their foot off of Minnesota's neck in Game 5, and the Wild rallied with back-to-back overtime wins to take the series in seven -- becoming, at the time, only the eighth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-1 hole with two road wins.
6. Los Angeles Kings (7) upset Detroit Red Wings (2), 2001 Western Conference quarterfinals
The Wings were a 111-point team taking on a 92-point Kings squad, and the difference in the standings was evident in the first two Detroit victories in the series. But Los Angeles won Game 3 before the series was turned on its head in Game 4: The Kings rallied for three goals in the final 6:07 to send the game to overtime, where rookie Eric Belanger(notes) scored to knot it at two games apiece. L.A. would win four consecutive games to eliminate the Wings, including Adam Deadmarsh's series-clinching tally in overtime of Game 6.
Here's a look back at Game 6, and what playoff hockey sounds like in Hollywood (it's been a while).
The Kings would push the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche to seven games in the following round.
5. Denmark upsets U.S., 2003 Ice Hockey World Championships
Trust us: If you lived in Denmark, you'd know this game like gospel.
The IIHF world championship tournament was held in Tampere, Finland in 2003. The U.S. had a roster of 12 NHL players, including Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller(notes). Denmark, meanwhile, was making its first appearance in the tournament's elite pool since 1949; yes, its time between tournament appearances was the same duration as the Rangers' Stanley Cups between 1940 and Mark Messier.
In the opening game for both nations, Denmark chased Miller and shocked the U.S. with a 5-2 victory, considered one of the biggest upsets in the tourney's history. The loss sent the Americans to an 0-3 death spiral that had them last in their pool, and propelled Demark to another classic hockey moment: a 2-2 tie against eventual champ Canada.
Then-Blues Coach Joel Quenneville said it best: "I've never seen as many crazy goals as I have in this series ... That's not an excuse, it's a fact."
We'll, it's sort of an excuse, too. The Blues were a 113-point juggernaut in the regular season, finishing first overall in the NHL; all it got them was the ignominious honor of being just the second Presidents' Trophy winner (at the time) to get bounced in the opening round.
They looked flat and played underwhelming hockey against a dangerous Sharks team, losing three games in a row for the first time all season in the middle of the series. The Blues attempted a comeback, pushed it to a Game 7, but were eliminated in a 3-1 San Jose victory. It was a game that featured this Owen Nolan(notes) goal/Roman Turek whiff that personified Coach Q's weird-crap-o-meter reading on this series:
The difference between the teams was 27 points; yet doesn't the Sharks' upset in 1994 against the Red Wings (a difference of 18 points) still loom larger?
3. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (7) over Detroit Red Wings (2), 2003 Western Conference quarterfinals
Had this been an 8-vs.-1 series, it may have hopped into the No. 2 slot on the countdown. Instead, it was a 110-point division champion getting absolutely stunned in a sweep by the No. 7-seeded Mighty Ducks and their untested goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes), who quickly became "tested" in stopping 165 of 171 shots he faced in the four games.
Giggy faced 64 of those shots in a classic triple-OT Game 1 that was ended with a Paul Kariya(notes) goal. The Ducks would win each game by a one-goal margin, including Game 4's overtime victory to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions and a squad that still had many of the names from its "team of the decade" run in 2002. Well, outside of Scotty Bowman and Dominik Hasek(notes), that is.
The Ducks would lose to the Devils in a seven-game Stanley Cup final that saw Giguere win Marty Brodeur's Conn Smythe.
2. Edmonton Oilers (8) upset Detroit Red Wings (1), 2006 Western Conference quarterfinals
The Oilers snuck into the playoffs, for the first time since 2003, in the final week of the season, with 95 points. The Red Wings were the Red Wings: 124 points and the Presidents' Trophy in a dominating season.
It looked like business as usual for the Winged Wheel when they won Game 1 in double OT. But the Oilers and goalie Dwayne Roloson(notes) won Game 2, and Edmonton would win three one-goal games to stun the Wings and Manny Legace(notes) in six. Here's how the clinching game went down in what was an unbelievable atmosphere in Alberta:
The Oil would advance all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. These would be Steve Yzerman's last games in the NHL. As Mike Babcock said: "I am shocked we're in this situation."
It's something this next juggernaut can relate to ...
1. Belarus upsets Sweden, 2002 Winter Olympic quarterfinals in Salt Lake City
"For sure, it is a miracle for us ... But sometimes a gun without bullets can shoot, and that was us. We've made our place in history."
That was Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin, and we're still not entirely sure what that metaphor meant, although it's vaguely sexual. Here's what we did know: Belarus had been outscored 16-2 in its earlier two games. It was a 10 million-to-1 shot to win the gold. A guy named Andrei Mezin was their goalie. Ruslan Salei(notes) was their only NHL player.
Despite all of this, Belarus found a way to slow down the Swedes' attack and play even with the international powerhouse until one of the single most stunning moments in recent Olympic history, courtesy of Vladimir Kopat and soon-to-be-hockey-punchline Tommy Salo:
Belarus won, 4-3, advancing to the semifinals, where they lost to Canada, 7-1. In the immortal words of former Toronto Maple Leafs star Mats Sundin(notes): "I don't understand how we could lose against this team."
Puck Daddy's Best & Worst of the Decade lists will run on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through the end of 2009. (Yes, that includes holidays; cynical appraisal never sleeps.)