|Readers: Stanley Cup playoff chokes|
From the Page 2 mailbag
Earlier this week, Page 2 presented our list of the 10 biggest chokes in Stanley Cup playoff history, and we asked you to send us your choices.
After going through nearly 200 e-mails, here is how Page 2 readers ranked their picks. Be sure to vote in the poll at right to crown the No. 1 NHL postseason choke of all time.
1. 2000 Philadelphia Flyers (34 letters)
The Flyers had built a seemingly insurmountable three-games-to-one advantage. No team had ever come back from 3-1 to reach the Stanley Cup finals. Ever. The Devils were done -- they had lost three in a row. All that was left to do was to stick the proverbial pitchfork in 'em.
The Flyers also had destiny on their side: Coach Roger Nielson had overcome cancer, the team was succeeding in spite of the ongoing Eric Lindros concussion saga. Brian Boucher (a rookie that year) was providing fantastic goaltending, and Craig Berube, of all people, scored the overtime winner in Game 4 (after the Flyers had been down two goals) to put the Devils on the brink. How could this team lose?
Easily. First, they lose Game 5 at home 4-1. And then the rumors began. Lindros was cleared to resume regular practices. Would he come back for Game 6? How could he, after ripping the Flyers' medical staff? What kind of disruption to the team would this be? Sure enough, No. 88 was in the lineup. Unfortunately, so was Claude Lemieux. Lemieux, one of the greatest playoff players and Flyers nemesis dating back to his short-side goal from the blue line on Ron Hextall that eliminated the Flyers in 1995, broke a scoreless tie with a goal in the third period. The Devils went on to win 2-1. Series tied 3-3.
By the start of Game 7 in Philly, Lindros' return had once again caused a circus around the team. The team had succeeded all year in spite of it, but finally succumbed in the first period when Scott Stevens caught Lindros with his head down coming across the blue line. As Lindros was helped off the ice, the whole arena was dead silent. There was no way the Flyers were coming back from this one. That was one high-wire act too many. When Lindros was knocked out, so were the Flyers.
Patrik Elias would break a 1-1 tie late in the third period to take a 2-1 lead in the game and the Devils would go on to win the series 4-3. Critical to allowing the Devils to complete the comeback was the Flyers' goal-scoring ineptitude in the final three games. After scoring 12 goals en route to taking a 3-1 lead, they could only muster three goals in three successive losses.
Even though the Lindros-Bobby Clarke era would likely be history anyway, that loss guaranteed the impending divorce. The Devils would go on to win the Cup against Dallas. Flyers fans continue suffering ...
They had done the near impossible for them (winning two games at New Jersey, where they never won) and had a 3-1 lead coming home. And then they came out and laid down like dogs in Game 5 and went on to drop three in a row to lose the series. Even with all the Flyers' first-round losses in the playoffs lately, this one stung even more.
I cannot believe you forgot the biggest hockey choke out of Chokerville, USA.
How about the Flyers up three games to one in the Eastern Conference finals in 2000? How about them losing two straight games to New Jersey to even the series? How about Eric Lindros returning to First Union Center ice, only to be knocked cold by Scott Stevens in the first period?
For those who say God is against Boston and Chicago, God must have a death wish for Philly.
2. 1993 Pittsburgh Penguins (13 letters)
So the best team in the league by far played a perennial laughingstock without its only star. And the Pens lost.
David Freakin' Volek, who was arguably the worst player in the entire league that season, scored two goals in Game 7, including the series-winner in OT.
So a middling franchise with no star player ousted the Mighty Penguins, with Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens, Tom Barrasso and the like.
That is a choke.
A Hall of Fame team with players such as Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens, Tom Barrasso and Ulf Samuelsson were knocked off by ESPN's own "Chicken Parm" Ray Ferraro, Glenn Healy and Darius Kasparaitis. The Islanders did this without their franchise player, Pierre Turgeon, who was injured in the first round against the Caps.
I'll never forget when "Super" Mario did his best submarine impression and took a dive, Kasparaitis responded to his poor acting by jacking him in the face when the referee wasn't looking. Good stuff! This was the greatest playoff upset I've ever witnessed and reminded me why regular-season records don't matter!
3. 1996 Red Wings (11 letters)
They needed six games to finish off a weak Winnipeg team, seven games and double OT to finish off an aging St. Louis team (with backup John Casey in net, no less!) They actually trailed 3-2 in that series. Then they hit the wall that is Patrick Roy and fell in six to the 'Lanche.
God only knows how much money Vegas bookies lost on the Wings in '96, but I can't recall any team being that heavy a favorite and performing so poorly.
4. (tie) 2002 Boston Bruins (nine letters)
Building the second-highest point total in the NHL: $39,942,000.
Having home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs: 43-24-6
Duration of home-ice advantage: One game
Choking in the first round of the playoffs against an outsized, outgunned, just-happy-to-be-in-the-playoffs Canadiens: Priceless.
(George Bush should invite the Bruins to the White House for a bowl of pretzels ... er, well, maybe not.)
4. (tie) 2000 St. Louis Blues (nine letters)
San Jose, Calif.
6. 2002 Philadelphia Flyers (eight letters)
I'm sure there have been plenty of situations where a No. 1 seed was knocked off by a No. 8, or a 3-0 lead in the series was erased (which us Flyers fans experienced two short years ago) that have left fans weeping. But there's nothing harder than watching a team struggle for five games to score a regulation goal. Especially a team picked to compete for the Cup and that showed offensive dominance for a good chunk of the season. It's one thing to watch your team lose close games. It's another to watch your team roll over and die from the start of Game 1.
7. 1994 Detroit Red Wings (seven letters)
In addition, the Wings had acquired Bob Essensa for their playoff run. He played so horribly that the Wings were forced to put 21-year-old rookie Chris Osgood in goal. Osgood had almost zero playoff experience. He got the Wings to Game 7, which they lost on a goal off a bad clearing pass by -- yes -- Osgood. The Wings were fortunate they didn't destroy a goalie along with their playoff run.
At least in 2000, when the Sharks upset the Blues, they were a halfway decent team with the newer Sharks uniform ... but in '94, all you remembered were those ugly teal jerseys, and that midget Arturs Irbe in net with that Jofa roller hockey mask.
8. 1998 Washington Capitals (six letters)
It was not to be. The Red Wings swept us 4-0. I couldn't bear to watch it, but I heard the Wings wore their practice jerseys for Game 4.
9. 1942 Red Wings (five letters)
Detroit losing the Cup after going up 3-0 isn't just the biggest choke in Stanley Cup history, it's the biggest choke in playoff history of any of the four major sports.
10. (tie) 2001 Red Wings (four letters)
A rare case of a Scotty Bowman-coached team overlooking their opponent.
10. (tie) 2002 Montreal Canadiens (four letters)