Over the last year or so, the underdogs have been the flavor of the month in the American sporting landscape. In the NBA, the Miami Heat stunned everybody as they reached the Finals series, picking up victories against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and the heavily favored Boston Celtics on the way. In the NHL, it was the wildcard, the Florida Panthers.
Despite being a flailing franchise for a number of years, the Panthers managed to put their woes behind them to embark on an epic post-season run. They first defeated a Boston Bruins side that won the Presidents’ Trophy in record-breaking fashion in the opening round of the playoffs.
Further victories against the 13-time champion Toronto Maple Leafs and the Metropolitan Division-winning Carolina Hurricanes followed, setting up a first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 27 years. Unfortunately, the Vegas Golden Knights would have too much to handle in the showpiece series, but the Panthers have started the 2023/24 season in a similarly impressive fashion, prompting a popular NHL sportsbook to install them as +1600 contenders once again this term.
But it isn’t just the Floridians that have put their low seeding behind them to have an impressive postseason. Here are four other teams that have done exactly the same in recent years.
In 2021, the Montreal Canadiens entered the playoffs as the fourth seed in the North Division. Despite being the record 24-time champions, the Habs were without a Stanley Cup victory since 1993 and as such, were far from favorites to win it all. However, they defeated fellow their fellow Canadian and archrival Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round, and that was a sign of things to come.
In the second round, they swept another compatriot in the form of the Winnipeg Jets, before beating the upstart President’s Trophy-winning Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the semifinals. That set up a spot in the Stanley Cup finals against the reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Sunshine State side would ultimately have too much to handle, winning out by four games to one. Throughout the run, Carey Price was an absolute monster in goal, and the rest of the team stepped up and supported him when they needed to.
The Nashville Predators in 2017 were the second wild card and faced the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. Despite being the eighth seed in the Western Conference, they stormed through the playoffs with no regard for the higher seeds they were facing. The top seed in the West Hawks were swept and that set the tone for the rest of their playoff run.
They then took down the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks in six games each to secure their spot in the biggest series in hockey. There, they faced the Pittsburgh Penguins and ultimately lost in six games, but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that it was still an impressive run by the Tennessee outfit, who showed how dangerous they could be getting hot at the perfect time.
The Kings barely secured the last playoff spot in the Western Conference 12 years ago, but they didn’t let that stop them from going on an absolute tear. They went an incredible 16-4 in the playoffs, taking down the Vancouver Canucks in the first round in five and sweeping the St. Louis Blues after that. In the conference finals, they beat the Phoenix Coyotes in five to finally secure their spot in the Finals.
There they met another team that had surprised everyone in the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed New Jersey Devils and their fairytale run came to an end, with the SoCal side winning in six. Rookie netminder Jonathan Quick was incredible in goal, and the Kings’ top players – Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty – all played their best hockey when it mattered most.
Back in 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers shocked the world by making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. They had to fight tooth and nail just to make the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, but once they got there, the potent combination of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Claude Giroux, was unstoppable.
They pulled off an incredible comeback against the Boston Bruins in the second round, becoming just the third team in history to overturn a three-game deficit. They then took down the Montreal Canadiens and set up a date with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Finals, which they would ultimately lose after a heartbreaker of a game six.