Epic Comebacks: History of Stanley Cup Playoff 3-0 Series Deficits

The first team to win the Stanley Cup was in 1893, and since its inaugural season in 1917-18, NHL teams have played through a grueling playoff tournament to claim the silver chalice.

Over a century later, teams continue to put everything on the line to win four games per series, which many sports experts consider the most challenging achievement in professional sports. 

Related: NHL Playoffs First Round Upsets

Historically, when a team has secured their third win of the series, the foregone conclusion, based on statistics, is the matchup is all but over. However, throughout the 204 incidents (as of 2023) when a team fell behind 3-0 in a series, only four of those clubs rallied back and won in Game 7. 

Toronto Maple Leafs – 1942 Stanley Cup Final

In 1942 the Toronto Maple Leafs finished the regular with the league’s second-best record, 27-18-3, with 57 points, finishing three points behind the New York Rangers. Meanwhile, their opponent in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final, the Detroit Red Wings, finished fifth with a 19-25-4 record for 42 points.

Syl Apps
Syl Apps receiving the old ‘stovepipe’ version of the Stanley Cup.

After beating the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in the quarterfinals, the Red Wings eliminated the Boston Bruins in the semifinals to draw a spot in the Final. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs earned a bye into the semifinals, eliminating the Rangers 4-2 to have the right to challenge for the Stanley Cup.

Interestingly, the Final began with the Red Wings grabbing a 3-0 series lead with victories at Maple Leaf Gardens in Game 1 (3-2) and Game 2 (4-2) before winning at home (5-2) at Olympia Stadium in Game 3. Now, with the season on the line, the Maple Leafs needed to succeed in Game 4, which they achieved with a 4-3 win thanks to Nick Metz’s game-winner with seven minutes left in the third. 

Although Toronto needed to repeat their performance in the next three games, they turned it up a notch back at Maple Leaf Gardens in Game 5, a 9-3 blowout to force another game. Then, in Game 6, Turk Broda collected a 3-0 shutout to give his team a chance in a winner-take-all Game 7. 

Then on April 18, 1942, the Maple Leafs won Game 7 by a 3-1 score, rallying back from a 3-0 series deficit to capture the franchise’s third Stanley Cup championship. On top of becoming the first North American sports team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit, Toronto remains the only team in NHL history to achieve the feat in the Stanley Cup Final.

New York Islanders – 1975 Quarterfinals

The Pittsburgh Penguins finished in third place in the Norris Division as members of the Prince of Wales Conference (Eastern Conference today) with a 37-28-15 record, good enough for 89 points. Meanwhile, their second-round opponents, the New York Islanders, also finished in third place in the Patrick Division in the Clarence Campbell Conference (Western Conference today) with a 33-25-22 record and 88 points.

After sweeping the St. Louis Blues (2-0) in the preliminary round, the Penguins drew the Islanders, who beat the Rangers in three games. While hosting New York at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh for Games 1 and 2, the Penguins grabbed a quick 2-0 series lead thanks to 5-4 and 3-1 victories. 

Eventually, the series shifted to Long Island, where the Islanders dropped Game 3 by a score of 6-4, creating an insurmountable 3-0 series deficit. Interestingly, New York head coach Al Arbour benched future Hockey Hall of Famer Billy Smith, turning to Glenn Resch to spark his team’s comeback. 

Coincidentally the gamble paid off as the Islanders won Game 4 by a 3-1 score before following that win up with another one back in Pittsburgh (4-2) to force Game 6. While fighting to stave off elimination again, New York won another game at Nassau Coliseum, forcing a pivotal Game 7 back in Pennsylvania. 

On Apr. 26, 1975, Resch secured a 1-0 shutout, becoming the only goalie to achieve the feat in a Game 7 while leading his team back from a 3-0 series deficit. Despite splitting the season series 2-2, the Penguins dropped four straight games, getting ousted by the Islanders, who lost in the semifinals to the Philadelphia Flyers en route to their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.

Philadelphia Flyers – 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals

The Bruins and Flyers met four times during the 2009-10 regular season, including the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park. After splitting the season series, Boston finished as the sixth seed with 91 points. In comparison, Philadelphia finished in seventh with 88 points, edging the Canadiens in the standings based on regulation wins. 

The Bruins advanced past the Buffalo Sabres in six games during the opening round. Meanwhile, the Flyers quickly eliminated New Jersey in five games, setting up the fifth playoff meeting between these Eastern Conference rivals. 

As the higher seed, the Bruins opened the series at TD Garden, winning the first two games by one goal, 5-4 in overtime, and then 3-2 to take a commanding lead in the matchup. After switching venues to the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, the Bruins continued to roll, picking up a 4-1 win in Game 3 to secure a 3-0 series lead. 

However, that game would be the last win for the Bruins, as the Flyers avoided elimination with an overtime win (5-4) in Game 4 to force a Game 5 back in Boston. On the verge of being knocked out, Flyers’ goalies Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton combined for a 23-save shutout (4-0) to bring the series back to Pennsylvania for another game, which the Flyers won 2-1, setting up a historic night back at TD Garden. 

On May 14, 2010, Philadelphia became just the third team in NHL history to win a series after falling behind 3-0, eliminating the Bruins in a thrilling 4-3 win. Additionally, Boston built up a 3-0 first-period lead in Game 7, surrendering four straight goals, costing them the series. Ultimately, the Flyers’ playoff journey ended when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final a month later.

Los Angeles Kings – 2014 Western Conference First Round 

After winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history during the 2011-12 season, the Los Angeles Kings failed to repeat as champions in 2012-13, losing in the Western Conference Final. Then, during the 2013-14 season, they collected 100 points to finish as the third seed in the Pacific Division, 11 points behind the San Jose Sharks, their first-round opponents. 

Despite all the talent in the Kings’ lineup, the Sharks roared out of the gate, taking the first two games at SAP Center by 6-3 and 7-2 scores. Then, future Hall of Famer Patrick Marleau gave San Jose a commanding 3-0 series lead with an overtime winner in Game 3 to win the contest 4-3. Now facing elimination in just the fourth game of the playoffs, the Kings rallied for a 6-3 win at Staples Center to send the series back to northern California. 

Dustin Brown Los Angeles Kings owner Philip Anschutz 2014 Stanley Cup
Dustin Brown and Los Angeles Kings team owner Philip Anschutz celebrate after winning the 2014 Stanley Cup. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Although Kings’ netminder Jonathan Quick gave up 12 goals in the first two games, he rebounded with a 3-0 shutout in Game 5 to give his team a chance in another game back in Los Angeles. Thanks to an injection of confidence from back-to-back wins, the Kings responded with a 4-1 victory in Game 6 to set up a winner-take-all meeting back at SAP Center.

On April 30, 2014, the Kings became the fourth and final team in NHL history to win Game 7 after trailing 3-0 in the series. After falling behind 1-0, Los Angeles scored the contest’s following five goals to skate away with a 5-1 win. Eventually, their season ended with a Stanley Cup parade after beating the Rangers in six games. 

Interestingly, Kings’ forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter became the first players ever to be members of two franchises to rally back from 3-0 series deficits since both were members of the Flyers in 2010. 

Historical Perspective

As previously mentioned, there have been 204 matchups in NHL history that have seen a team go up 3-0, with only four coming back to win in a Game 7. Interestingly, there have been five times when a team fell behind 3-0 and lost in Game 7, which include several names already on this list. 

During the 1939 Stanley Cup Semifinals, the Rangers rallied to force a winner-take-all game against the Bruins; however, Boston saved themselves from the record book with a triple overtime win. Then, in the 1945 Stanley Cup Final, the Red Wings were on the verge of avenging their historic 1942 collapse against the Maple Leafs before becoming the first team in history to lose Game 7 of the Final on home ice. 

Surprisingly, the 1975 Islanders rallied against the Penguins and almost accomplished the feat against the Flyers in the next round before Philadelphia won in Game 7 to return to their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final. 

Related: Miracle on Manchester, LA Kings & the Best NHL Playoff Upset of All Time

The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs featured two teams rallying from 3-0 deficits to force a Game 7. However, the Blackhawks eventually lost to the Vancouver Canucks in overtime, while the Red Wings lost to the Sharks by a single goal.

It has been 12 years since the NHL witnessed a team down 3-0 in a series force a Game 7. Since anything is possible in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, history could repeat itself at any time. 

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