NHL Playoffs: How many times has a team come back from a 3-0 deficit? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Hockey miracles aren’t exclusive to the Olympics.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are routinely one of the year’s most intense and unpredictable sporting events. Even when something appears certain, a game, series or championship can turn in an instant.
One of the rarest accomplishments in the NHL postseason is a 3-0 series comeback. Through the 2021 playoffs, 198 teams have fallen behind 3-0 in a seven-game series. Nine of those teams were able to force a Game 7 and four completed the comeback for a series win.
A 2% chance does not bode well for the trailing team, but the NHL still has a more favorable history with 3-0 comebacks compared to the NBA and MLB. Only one MLB team has accomplished the feat and no team has ever done it in the NBA.
For any team seeking inspiration after falling behind 3-0, here are the four NHL squads to complete the turnaround:
1942 Stanley Cup Final: Toronto Maple Leafs over Detroit Red Wings
The first 3-0 comeback in NHL history happened on the league’s biggest stage.
The Red Wings got off to a speedy start in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final. They picked up two wins in Toronto and scored five unanswered goals in Game 3 to take a 3-0 series lead.
The Maple Leafs countered with a come-from-behind win in Game 4 to finally get on the board. Game 5 was much easier, as the offense erupted for nine goals. Turk Broda followed that up with a shutout in Game 6 and put the Leafs on the precipice of the first 3-0 series comeback in playoff history.
Toronto completed the comeback and earned its fourth Stanley Cup with a 3-1 win at home in Game 7. Detroit opened the scoring in the second period, but the Maple Leafs netted three goals in the third en route to the title and the only 3-0 series comeback in Stanley Cup Final history.
1975 second round: New York Islanders over Pittsburgh Penguins
Head coach Al Arbour’s decision to bench Billy Smith for Glenn “Chico” Resch saved the Islanders’ season and propelled them to an improbable comeback.
Smith surrendered 13 goals over the first three games as Pittsburgh took command of the series. Arbour turned to Resch in Game 4, and the Penguins tallied just four goals over the next four tilts. The Islanders won each of those games, including a 1-0 Game 7 in which Resch earned a 30-save shutout.
Despite getting yanked out of the Islanders-Penguins series, Smith’s playoff story was just getting started. The Islanders won four straight Cups from 1980 to 1983 and he earned the Conn Smythe Trophy during the 1983 playoffs.
2010 second round: Philadelphia Flyers over Boston Bruins
Boston opened its second-round series against Philadelphia with a pair of one-goal wins at home before picking up a 4-1 road victory in Game 3. The Flyers turned things around with an OT win in Game 4 before shutting out the Bruins in Game 5 and earning a 2-1 win in Game 6.
Back in Boston for Game 7, the Bruins got out to a 3-0 lead in the first 14:10 of the contest. But like the series itself, the Flyers clawed back. By the midway point of the second period, the game was knotted at 3-3. Simon Gagne scored the game-winning goal on the power play with just over seven minutes to go to complete two improbable comebacks at once.
The Flyers kept that momentum going into the next series. The team picked up a gentleman’s sweep against the Canadiens in the next round before falling to the Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.
As for the Bruins, they bounced back in a big way the following season. The team ended a 39-year Stanley Cup drought by beating the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 final.
2014 first round: Los Angeles Kings over San Jose Sharks
The Kings’ 2014 Cup run began with three straight defeats against a division foe.
The Sharks took a 3-0 first-round series lead thanks to a 6-3 Game 1 win, 7-2 Game 2 win and 4-3 overtime win in Game 3. After that, it was the Jonathan Quick show.
L.A. beat San Jose 6-3 in Game 4 and then allowed just two more goals over the final three games. The Kings won those contests by a combined score of 12-2, including a 5-1 Game 7 triumph on enemy ice.
Each of the Kings’ next two series went the distance. They needed seven games to get past the Ducks in the second round and the Blackhawks in the conference finals. The Kings made quick work of the Rangers in the final, though, using Alec Martinez’s double-overtime winner to clinch the Cup in Game 5.