Top 10 Second Round Series In NHL History


For the most part, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is filled with excitement and hype. Sometimes, the excitement is too much for some to handle. Which means the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is sometimes forgotten. After all, it lacks the finality of the Stanley Cup Finals. It is also further away from the Finals than the Conference Finals. But the second round has had its moments. It has had many different names over the years. The quarterfinals, the division finals, the conference semifinals. Yes, the second round has many different monikers. It has also had many memorable moments. Here are the Top 10 second round series in Stanley Cup playoff history.

1975 Second Round: New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh

The Islanders surprised the hockey world by eliminating their cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers in the first round. Their reward was a date with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the quarterfinals. The Pens had veterans such as Vic Hadfield, Ron Schock and Jean Pronovost mixed in with youngsters Pierre Larouche and Rick Kehoe to form a solid nucleus. The Islanders were mostly youth. Denis Potvin was only 20-years-young, but had emerged as the leader of the team. Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Bob Bourne and Glenn “Chico” Resch were rising stars in their own right.

But it was the Pens who took control early, grabbing a 3-0 lead in the series. Then the improbable happened. The young Islanders roared back into the series, winning the next three games to force a seventh and deciding game.

The Igloo in Pittsburgh was filled with tension as both teams battled in a close-checking game. Resch and his Penguin counterpart, Gary Inness were outstanding in their respective nets. Finally, with 5:18 remaining in the third period, veteran Ed Westfall fired a wrist shot that eluded Inness for the only goal of the game. The Islanders became the second team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. The Penguins were in shock. The Islanders completed the miracle.

1978 Second Round: Toronto vs. New York Islanders

Three years later, the Islanders ascended from a nice Cinderella story, to Stanley Cup contenders. With the addition of high-scoring winger Mike Bossy, the Islanders were looking to add some silverware to their resume.

Meanwhile. the Toronto Maple Leafs were trying to regain their championship form, from the previous decade. With Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald providing offensive punch, combined with Borje Salming’s steady defensive play and acrobatic goaltending from Mike Palmateer, the Leafs were blossoming into an exciting team that won the hearts of hockey fans throughout Canada.

The Islanders looked like they would runaway with the series early on, winning the first two games at home. But the Leafs fought back, taking the next two games at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Islanders needed to change the momentum, which they did thanks to Bob Nystorm’s overtime heroics in Game 5. Facing a must win in Game 6, the Leafs played their most physical game of the playoffs. Jerry Butler laid out Bossy with a devastating hit, that forced the star rookie to the sidelines. The Leafs never looked back as they scored a convincing 5-2 victory, forcing a seventh and deciding game.

Bob Nystrom 1973 (Wikimedia Commons)

A loud, yet tense crowd filled Nassau County Coliseum hoping for their Islanders to survive. The game was a classic as both teams traded scoring chances throughout. The goalies, Palmateer and Chico Resch were brilliant as the game remained deadlocked. After goals from Denis Potvin and Ian Turnbull, the game went into overtime. The extra session didn’t last long. McDonald, who had struggled in the series, broke through on his off-wing, and fired a snap shot past Resch for the series winner. The Islander crowd was stunned by the development as the Leaf players poured onto the ice to celebrate. The young Islanders learned a valuable lesson, while the Leafs advanced.

1980 Second Round: Minnesota vs. Montreal

In 1980, the Montreal Canadiens were looking to win their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup. However, their road to a fifth straight Cup hit a major pothole. In the Habs first round sweep of the Hartford Whalers, superstar winger Guy Lafleur was injured courtesy of a hit delivered by Pat Boutette. Even though the Canadiens won the series, Lafleur would not be available for the quarterfinals.

Guy Lafleur
Lafleur (Oldmaison/Flickr)

The Minnesota North Stars were making their first playoff appearance in seven years and the league was starting to take notice. The North Stars blew past the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, and were hoping to pounce on the wounded Canadiens.

The Stars took advantage of the Habs injury woes early on, taking the first two games at the fabled Forum. North Stars goalie Gilles Meloche was outstanding in the Minnesota net, allowing only one goal in the first two games.

The Met Centre was rocking at the start of Game 3, as North Star fans were anticipating a rousing victory for the home team. But the Canadiens had other ideas. Montreal coach Claude Ruel decided to name Michel “Bunny” Larocque as the starting goalie, replacing the ineffective Denis Herron. The move paid dividends as Larocque provided excellent goaltending on the road. On the other hand, Meloche found it difficult to get comfortable on home ice. The Canadiens won both games in Minnesota by a combined score of 10-1 to tie the series.

The Met Centre. (Wikipedia)

Steve Shutt’s hat-trick in Game 5 gave the Canadiens a 3-2 lead in the series. When Mark Napier opened the scoring in Game 6, it looked like Montreal would continue their drive for five. But the North Stars came off the canvas to score 5 straight goals in the second period, to coast to a 5-2 win, forcing a seventh and deciding game.

The Forum was sold out, with hopes that the ghosts of Canadiens past, would haunt the North Stars. But a controversial decision by Ruel cast a pall over the crowd as Herron returned between the pipes, replacing Larocque. The move proved costly late in the first period. With the Habs on the power play, Herron tried to play the puck behind the net. But the puck caromed off the post and into the slot where Tom Younghans deposited the puck into the empty net. The North Stars went on to win the game 3-2, and shock the hockey world. They Canadiens dynasty was over.

1984: Montreal vs. Quebec

The Battle of Quebec was one of the most heated rivalries of the 1980s. Throughout the decade, the Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques were engaged in some of the most violent games the sport had ever seen. The violence peaked in 1984.

The Canadiens held a 3-2 lead in the series, with a chance to close out the series on home ice. Montreal had received spectacular goaltending from rookie Steve Penney in the first five games, bringing back memories of Ken Dryden’s heroics in 1971.

In Game 6, the Nordiques held a 1-0 lead as the siren sounded to end the second period. But the action was just about to begin. Both benches started to empty as fights broke out on the ice. The Good Friday brawl was taking place. Referee Bruce Hood desperately tried to maintain order, but the players would have none of it. The fatal blow happened when the Nordiques Louis Sleigher caught the Canadiens Jean Hamel with a left hand that felled Hamel and knocked him out cold.

The Quebec Nordiques.

When the teams returned to the ice for the third period, the brawl resumed as the Canadiens chased Sleigher around the ice, looking for revenge. Mark Hunter in particular, was desperately trying to get his hands on Sleigher. In total, the teams combined for 208 penalty minutes for their actions on Good Friday.

When the third period got underway, it was the Habs who responded. Steve Shutt led the way with a pair of goals, while Penney outperformed Dan Bouchard between the pipes. The Canadiens won the game 5-3, and the series 4-2. But most remember this series for the brawl that divided loyalties, in the province of Quebec.

1986 Second Round: Calgary vs. Edmonton

The Battle of Alberta was another sensational rivalry in the 1980s that had hockey fans buzzing across Canada. The Edmonton Oilers were the dominant team in that decade, led by the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey. The Flames played second fiddle to their provincial rivals, but were quietly building a solid nucleus.

The Oilers had won the two previous playoff encounters and were expected to overmatch the Flames in 1986. But the Flames had other ideas.

Calgary surprised Edmonton by playing a hard, physical game to offset the Oilers speed. It worked in Game 1 as the Flames won 4-1. The Oilers evened the series, thanks to Glenn Anderson’s overtime winner.

The series shifted to Calgary where the Flames won a tight Game 3. But the Oilers responded in Game 4 as Gretzky’s hat-trick propelled the Oilers to a 7-4 victory to tie the series.

Most thought that momentum was with the Oilers as Game 5 went northbound on Highway 2. However, the Flames responded with their best game of the season, winning 4-1 to take a 3-2 lead in the series.

The Flames looked to wrap up the series on home ice, but the Oilers answered back with a 5-2 victory, forcing a seventh and deciding game.

Once again, home ice advantage wasn’t an advantage. The Flames jumped out to a 2-0 lead, early in the second period. The Oilers did score twice late in the middle frame, setting up a dramatic third period. Just over five minutes into the period, Oiler defenceman Steve Smith picked up the puck from behind his own net, and tried to fire a pass up the middle. However, the puck hit the back of Grant Fuhr’s leg and ricocheted into the net. Smith collapsed to the ice as the Flames celebrated. The Oilers furiously tried to equalize the game, but the Flames held firm. When the final siren went off, the Oilers stood in shock as the Flames leapt for joy like they had won the Stanley Cup. For once, the Battle of Alberta was won by Calgary.

1996 Second Round: St. Louis vs. Detroit

The 1995-96 season was one to remember for the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings set the benchmark by recording the most wins (62) and points (132) in NHL history. Yet many wondered if the Wings could translate regular season success into playoff success. The Wings enjoyed plenty of success during regular season play the previous four years, but flopped in the playoffs.

The St. Louis Blues had a roller-coaster regular season, despite having superstars Brett Hull and Al MacInnes in their lineup. The Blues tried to bolster their lineup at the trade deadline, by acquiring Wayne Gretzky from the Los Angeles Kings.

The Wings took the first two games at home and looked to be cruising. The Blues answered back with two wins on their home ice.

In Game 5, Gretzky showed some of his greatness, tallying a goal and an assist in a 3-2 victory for the Blues. St. Louis returned home for Game 6 looking to record a major upset. Red Wing fans were worried that another playoff flop was forthcoming.

Steve Yzerman
Steve Yzerman (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

But the Red Wings didn’t flop. Kris Draper’s shorthanded goal in the first period was a turning point in the series, as the Wings doubled the Blues 4-2, to force a seventh and deciding game.

Game 7 is considered one of the greatest games of the 1990s. Both teams battled tooth and nail, withe the season on the line. The goalies, Jon Casey of the Blues and Chris Osgood of the Red Wings, were outstanding turning aside every scoring chance. The game was scoreless going into overtime. Both teams had opportunities in the first overtime, but failed to click. A second overtime was needed.

Just 1:15 into double overtime, Wings captain Steve Yzerman picked up an errant pass in the neutral zone, stepped over the blue line, and whistled a shot over Casey’s blocker and into the top corner of the net for the series winner. The crowd at Joe Louis Arena screamed with delight as Yzerman was mobbed by his teammates. The Red Wings survived. The Blues were going home empty-handed.

2002 Second Round: Ottawa vs. Toronto

The Battle of Ontario had been considerably one-sided in the playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs had the better of the Ottawa Senators the previous two seasons, including the Leafs sweeping the Senators in four straight games in 2001. The Senators were desperate to turn the tide. Senator fans got into the act as an Ottawa radio station recorded a song dedicated to their provincial counterparts.

Ottawa looked to get revenge early, as they hammered the Leafs 5-0 in the first game. The Leafs evened the series on Gary Roberts triple overtime winner. The teams split the next two games in Ottawa, leaving the series tied 2-2.

Game 5 saw one of the most controversial moments of the series. Late in the third period with the game tied 2-2, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson nailed Darcy Tucker from behind, leaving the Leafs agitator sprawled on the ice. Referees Rob Schick and Stephen Walkom decided to let the play carry on. Alfredsson then took a pass from Juha Ylonen, and went top shelf on Curtis Joseph giving the Senators the lead. Radek Bonk added an empty-netter giving the Senators a 4-2 victory. The Leafs were furious after the game claiming it should have been a penalty on Alfredsson. Tucker was sidelined for the rest of the series with a shoulder injury.

The Leafs were furious with the officials after the game. Tucker was sidelined for the remainder of the series with a shoulder injury. 

Darcy Tucker Wikipedia
Darcy Tucker. (Wikipedia)

The Senators returned home and their fans were waiting to celebrate. Most thought the series was over as the Leafs had more players on the injured list, than on the ice. Tucker, Mats Sundin, Mikael Renberg and Dimitry Yushkevich were all out with injuries. The Senators were healthy and hungry. The fans were ready to celebrate.

Game 6 started brilliantly for Ottawa. Goals by Marian Hossa and Alfredsson gave Ottawa a 2-0 lead in the first four minutes. But the Leafs bounced back, getting goals from Bryan McCabe and Roberts to even the score at the end of the first period. The teams traded goals in the second, setting up a dramatic third period. Just 4:28 into the third, Alexander Mogilny fired home his fifth of the playoffs, giving Toronto the lead. Curtis Joseph made the lead stick, thwarting every Ottawa scoring chance in the final period. The Leafs emerged with a thrilling 4-3 victory forcing a seventh game.

Game 7 was all Toronto as the Leafs dominated the game from the opening whistle. The Senators looked deflated after their heartbreaking loss in Game 6 and couldn’t recover. Mogilny scored twice while McCabe added another as the Leafs blanked the Senators 3-0 to clinch the series.

2009 Second Round: Pittsburgh vs. Washington

The two best players in the world were finally going to meet in the playoffs. Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin were the faces of the NHL since the league returned from the lockout that wiped out the 2004–05 season. They would finally face each other in postseason play in 2009.

The Caps took the first game thanks to a terrific goaltending performance from Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 34 out of 36 Penguin shots.

Game 2 saw the superstars strut their stuff. Sid the Kid and Alexander the Great showed the hockey world what they could do on the big stage. Both players recorded hat-tricks in a wonderful game that showcased skill and style. Ovechkin got the best of Crosby as the Caps won 4-3 to take a 2-0 lead to Pittsburgh.

The Penguins were in a must-win situation in Game 3 and they needed overtime to get that win as Kris Letang’s point shot found the net to give Pittsburgh life. The Pens carried the momentum into Game 4 as they recorded a 5-3 victory to even the series.

Evgeni Malkin (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Game 5 was back in Washington, but the Penguins didn’t care. Evgeni Malkin’s overtime winner gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead in the series and a chance to clinch the series in the Steel City.

Game 6 was another overtime thriller that saw both teams go end-to-end. This time, it was the Capitals who emerged victorious as David Steckel potted the winning goal to force Game 7.

Early in the deciding game, Ovechkin had a great chance to open the scoring as he walked in all alone on a breakaway. Marc-Andre Fleury was equal to the task, as he made an enormous glove save to thwart Alexander the Great. The Penguins used that save as a catalyst as Crosby and Craig Adams scored 8 seconds apart midway through the first period. Pittsburgh never looked back as they smoked the Caps 6-2 to clinch the series.

Crosby and Ovechkin each finished the series with 13 points. Crosby tallied 8 goals and 5 assists while Ovechkin notched 7 goals and 6 assists.

2010 Secound Round: Philadelphia vs. Boston

The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers had some memorable playoff meetings in the 1970s but hadn’t faced each other in 32 years in postseason play. These two franchises known for hard-hitting, physical hockey finally renewed hostilities in 2010. It turned out to be their most memorable series to date.

The Bruins won the first game, thanks to Marc Savard’s overtime winner. Game 2 was another close affair. Milan Lucic’s goal with 2:57 left in the third period, gave the Bruins a 3-2 victory and a 2-0 lead in the series.

The Flyers were hoping that they could stem the tide, as the series shifted to the City of Brotherly Love. But it was the Bruins who took control of the series, winning handily 4-1 and taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. Everything looked great for Boston.

But there were underlying problems for the Bruins. David Krejci went down with a season-ending injury, while the Flyers welcomed Simon Gagne back into the lineup, following a foot injury. This proved to be the turning point of the series.

Gagne made an immediate impact in the series, as he netted the overtime winner in Game 4, to keep the Flyers alive.

Gagne continued his strong play in Game 5, as he scored twice while Scott Hartnell broke out of his scoring slump, by tallying his first in the playoffs as the Flyers blanked the Bruins 4-0.

Game 6 saw more drama as the Flyers goalie Michael Leighton made his first career playoff start, after Brian Boucher was injured in Game 5. Leighton was superb, stopping 31 out of 32 Bruin shots, while the Flyers got goals from Mike Richards and Daniel Briere to eke out a 2-1 victory and force a seventh and deciding game.

The Flyers had a chance to make history in Game 7. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders overcame a 3-0 deficit to win a best-0f-seven series. The Bruins were looking to avoid infamy.

Boston got off to a flying start as they built an early 3-0 lead, thanks to two goals from Milan Lucic and a goal from Michael Ryder. The Flyers did halt the momentum late in the first as James van Riemsdyk’s goal made it a 3-1 deficit.

The Flyers carried the play in the second period and were rewarded with goals from Hartnell and Briere to tie the game.

The third period proved to be fatal for the Bruins. A too many men on the ice penalty with under 9 minutes remaining gave the Flyers the power play and Philadelphia took advantage. Once again, it was Gagne who notched his fourth goal in as many games to complete the historic comeback for Philadelphia.

In 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers made history, while the Boston Bruins were history.

2013 Second Round: Detroit vs. Chicago

The Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks were rivals going back to the Original Six days, but this would be their last playoff meeting as divisional rivals. The Red Wings were set to move to the Eastern Conference in time for the 2013-14 season. To celebrate, the two longstanding foes had one last playoff get-together and it turned out to be one of their best playoff meetings.

The Blackhawks were favoured to make quick work of the Red Wings and in Game 1, they looked like they would do just that. Chicago scored three times in the third period to give them a 4-1 victory and first blood in the series.

The Red Wings returned the favour in Game 2, posting a 4-1 victory themselves thus deadlocking the series.

When the series moved to Detroit for Games 3 and 4, the Blackhawks started to lose their cool. The Blackhawks took four minor penalties in the third period alone as they fell 3-1.

Jonathan Toews. (Andy Martin Jr)

Game 4 saw Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews become uncharacteristically undisciplined. The normally poised leader of the Hawks took three consecutive minor penalties in the second period, and needed to be calmed down by Brent Seabrook after the third penalty. The Wings maintained their composure and recorded a 2-0 victory to take a a stranglehold in the series.

The Blackhawks bounced back in Game 5, playing their best game of the series. Toews finally scored his first of the postseason while Andrew Shaw scored twice in the Hawks 4-1 victory.

Game 6 saw the Blackhawks on the ropes, but not quite dead. Detroit held a slender 2-1 lead going into the third period, despite carrying the play. The Blackhawks roared out of the gate in the third, scoring three times in the first ten minutes, including a penalty shot goal from Michael Frolik. The Red Wings did score in the final minute of the period, but couldn’t find an equalizer. Game 7 was required.

Controversy reigned in the deciding game. Late in the third with the score tied, Niklas Hjalmarsson looked like he scored the go-ahead goal for the Blackhawks. However, referee Stephen Walkom blew the play dead before the shot, as he called coincidental roughing penalties to each team. The Blackhawks were furious with the call, as the referees had put their whistles away for much of the game.

Overtime saw controversy as well. Dave Bolland nailed Gustav Nyquist in the neutral zone, that forced a turnover. Brent Seabrook picked up the loose puck, skated over the blue line, and fired a wrist shot off Niklas Kronwall’s stick and over the glove of Wings goalie Jimmy Howard into the top corner of the net. Some thought a boarding penalty should have been called on Bolland but the goal stood.

The Blackhawks survived the scare and went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2013.

This article was originally written in May, 2014.