In 2019, the Tampa Bay Lighting capped off one of the most impressive regular seasons in NHL history after racking up 128 points and earning the right to head into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa understandably opened as the massive favorite to lift Lord Stanley’s trophy when everything was said and done, and no one really expected the eighth-seeded Blue Jackets to give them much trouble in the opening round.
However, Columbus was able to flip the script and further the argument that the “Presidents’ Cup Curse” does indeed exist by sweeping the Lightning in a shocking upset that led to the defeated team issuing a statement that probably should’ve stayed in the drafts.
We don’t have any words and we know you don’t want to hear them.
We understand your anger, your frustration, your sadness. Everything you’re feeling – we get it.
This isn’t the ending we imagined, and certainly not the one we wanted. Thank you for being there the entire way.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 17, 2019
That was just one of the many examples that highlight the truly unpredictable nature of the NHL postseason, as there’s something about “playoff hockey” (the somewhat esoteric term used to describe the increased level of intensity and physicality—and relaxed officiating—that tends to define it) that means you can never really count any team out.
The NHL stands in stark contrast to the NFL and NBA, two leagues that have historically lacked the parity that makes it possible for teams who received a low seed in the playoffs to stage some improbable championship runs.
However, hockey’s premier organization has spawned a number of underdog stories over the years—including one that stands out from the rest of the pack.
How the Los Angeles Kings became the lowest-seeded team to ever win the Stanley Cup
The NHL officially expanded the Stanley Cup Playoffs to 16 teams ahead of the 1979-80 campaign, and since then, a grand total of two franchises who headed into the postseason as the eighth seed have been able to punch their ticket to the final round.
It took more than 25 years for the Oilers to become the first franchise to do so after Edmonton earned the right to face off against the Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 (which ended with Carolina securing the title in a series that needed seven games to be decided).
Two members of that Edmonton squad (Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll) were playing for the Kings when Los Angeles kicked off its season in 2011. L.A. was hoping to make some progress in the wake of two consecutive one-and-done showings in the postseason, but it was facing an uphill battle after securing the eighth seed.
However, it quickly became clear the Kings were a force to be reckoned with.
The top-seeded Canucks were angling for a shot at redemption a year after losing the Stanley Cup to the Bruins on their home ice, but the Presidents’ Trophy winner lost the first three tilts of its opening series before the Kings sent them home packing in five games.
Los Angeles was once again the underdog after meeting the second-seeded Blues in the second round, but they made incredibly quick work of St. Louis and advanced to the Western Conference Final after pulling off the sweep.
The Coyotes were also no match for the Kings, who once again jumped out to a 3-0 series lead and coasted to the Stanley Cup Finals in five games.
It seemed like the Devils had the upper hand in that matchup, as they’d also staged a pretty impressive run as a sixth-seed and had beaten the Kings in both of their regular season showdowns.
New Jersey needed a bit of a miracle after it became the third team to fall into a 3-0 hole against Los Angeles, and while it was able to win the next two contests, the Devils (somewhat appropriately) were unable to benefit from the divine intervention seemingly needed to pull off the comeback after the Kings (also appropriately) earned the crown with a 6-1 thrashing in the six and final game of the series.
As things currently stand, the Kings are the only eight-seed to win the Stanley Cup—but if the NHL playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that there’s always a chance someone else could end up joining that club in the future.