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7 fascinating facts about NHL teams involved in 3-0 series comebacks

The Toronto Maple Leafs advanced to the second round of the 2023 NHL Playoffs, a spot in the bracket they last saw 19 years ago. Therefore, Maple Leafs’ fans cheered on the Florida Panthers to upset the Boston Bruins, as many expected the team to have a better opportunity to advance to the Conference Finals against their southern rivals.

However, a promising season is on the brink even though the Panthers have steamrolled through the Maple Leafs en route to a commanding 3-0 series lead. Historically, teams in a deficit this significant are 4-197, which means it’s not impossible to overcome. But the odds are not in their favor. 

Although hundreds of articles detail some of professional hockey’s grandest postseason collapses, we decided to dig through the statistics and find some fascinating facts about playoff series that have rewritten history.

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Two out of the four teams went on to win the Stanley Cup that season

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Interestingly, the Maple Leafs became the first team in NHL history to win a series after falling behind 3-0, overcoming a Detroit Red Wings team in Game 7 of the 1942 Stanley Cup Final. Although they were down, the Maple Leafs survived with a 4-3 win in Game 4, followed by a 9-3 blowout in Game 5, and then a 3-0 shutout win in Game 6. Eventually, they skated with the Stanley Cup on April 18 with a 3-1 win.

When we fast forward 72 years, the 2014 Los Angeles Kings claimed their second Stanley Cup title in three years by beating the New York Rangers in six games. Historically, they may have never gotten there because the Kings fell behind the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in the first round. After losing Game 3 in overtime, the Kings rallied in the next four games, winning each contest by at least three goals, taking Game 7 by a 5-1 score.

Eventually, the Kings reached the Final by winning back-to-back Game 7s in the second and third rounds, thus remaining the last team to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win the Stanley Cup.

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Syl Apps and his son Syl Apps Jr. were involved in two of the four series

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Toronto Maple Leafs
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned, the Maple Leafs won the 1942 Stanley Cup by outdueling the Red Wings in a thrilling seven-game series. As one of the star players in the Toronto lineup, Syl Apps served as captain that season, winning his first of three championships en route to the Hockey Hall of Fame after retirement in 1947. 

Interestingly, that was the same year Syl Apps Jr. was born in Toronto. Eventually, he made it to the NHL as a Rangers draft pick before a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1971. During the second round of the 1975 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Apps Jr. and the Penguins were up 3-0 on the New York Islanders before losing the series in Game 7. 

Consequently, the Apps family finished 1-1 in Game 7 when their teams were up or down 3-0 in a series.

Two of the four teams on the losing end won the Stanley Cup the following season

The Red Wings and the Bruins share a unique history as the only teams to blow a 3-0 series lead in the postseason, resulting in elimination but came back the following year to capture the Stanley Cup.

After losing in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final, Detroit wasted no time returning to the championship series and ousting the Bruins in a four-game sweep. Interestingly, the Red Wings only surrendered five goals in the entire series, winning the last two games by shutout.

Meanwhile, the Bruins avenged themselves against the Philadelphia Flyers the following season, sweeping them in the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs before winning their first championship in 39 years. Even though they had to win three Game 7s, Boston overcame their previous mistakes to kick off one of the franchise’s most successful periods.

Visiting teams are 3-1 in Game 7 when rallying from a series deficit

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Historically, the Maple Leafs remain the only home team to win a series in Game 7 when trailing 3-0. After dropping the first two games at Maple Leafs Gardens, they rallied for wins at home in Games 5 and 7 to keep the series alive, capturing the Stanley Cup after a 3-1 win in the finale. 

Meanwhile, the Penguins were the higher seed in 1975, taking the first two games against the Islanders at the Civic Arena. Ultimately, those were the last home wins of their season as New York rallied on home ice in Game 4 and 6 to force a Game 7 back in Pittsburgh, securing a 1-0 win. 

In 2010, the Bruins hosted the Flyers and jumped out in the series with wins at TD Garden in Games 1 and 2. After Boston took a stranglehold on the series at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, the Flyers didn’t lose another game, eliminating the Bruins on their home ice with a 4-3 win in Game 7. Interestingly, Boston also blew a 3-0 first-period lead, surrendering four straight goals in the loss. 

Then in 2014, the Kings were the underdogs against the Sharks, losing the first two games on the road at SAP Center in San Jose. When the series returned to Los Angeles, the teams split the two games, giving life to the Kings, who wouldn’t lose another game. Eventually, the Sharks lost the series and Game 7 in front of their hometown fans by a 5-1 score.

Seven teams involved in historical comebacks have won at least one Stanley Cup

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at San Jose Sharks
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Historically, the Maple Leafs became the first team to fall behind 3-0 in a series and come back to win it, claiming the 1942 Stanley Cup championship in the process. By then, their opponents, the Red Wings, already had two titles, with the Maple Leafs claiming their third.

Furthermore, the Islanders and Penguins had yet to reach their potential in 1975 before New York would win four Stanley Cup championships from 1980-1984, remaining the last team to achieve the feat. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh would eventually earn five titles from 1992 to 2017. 

Moreover, when the Flyers eliminated the Bruins in 2010, they were on the verge of another appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, looking for their first championship since winning back-to-back in 1974 and 1975. At the same time, the Bruins were looking for a sixth title since last winning in 1972. 

Finally, the Kings edged the Sharks in a thrilling first-round series en route to their second Stanley Cup title. After the loss, San Jose remains the only team on this list to never win a championship, losing during their only appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. 

Teams rally from 3-0 deficits more often in April than in May

Historically, three out of the four 3-0 series deficit comebacks took place in April, meaning the deeper teams go in the postseason, the more challenging it is to rally back.

Even though the season was shorter in 1942, the Maple Leafs finished their comeback on April 18, winning the Stanley Cup that evening. Meanwhile, when the Islanders edged the Penguins in Game 7 back in 1975, that contest took place on April 26.

Interestingly, the Flyers are the only team to mount a significant comeback outside of April, eliminating the Bruins on May 14, 2010. Finally, the Kings became the latest team to rally in a series by beating the Sharks on April 30, 2014. 

There has been a 3-0 series deficit comeback in each round, but one

The initial 3-0 series deficit comeback occurred in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final, a unique place for such a historical event. Realistically, that would be the worse place to blow a series lead, especially on the cusp of winning it all; however, history has yet to repeat itself in 81 years.

Regarding the other three series wins, the Islanders beat the Penguins in the second round, while the Flyers did the same to the Bruins. Meanwhile, the Kings remain the only team to pull off an upset in the first round, leaving the third round (Conference Final) as the only place that has never hosted a 3-0 series comeback. 

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