The Chicago Blackhawks faced long odds when the Detroit Red Wings took a 3-1 lead in their second round series. The Blackhawks were used to winning three straight games all season, yet doing it while down 3-1 in the playoffs has been historically difficult. Only 20 NHL teams have ever done it – but despite some late interference, the Blackhawks became the 21’st with a 2-1 overtime win in Game 7 on May 29.
The Red Wings lost their chance to finish the Blackhawks in Chicago back in Game 5, then failed in Detroit in Game 6. Game 7 didn’t look good for the Red Wings through the first two periods, as they trailed by 1-0 with 20 minutes left. But just as Chicago did to start the third period of Game 6, Detroit tied the score a minute into the third on a Henrik Zetterberg tally.
Unlike the Blackhawks in Game 6, the Red Wings didn’t take the lead after that. They were marching towards overtime, until Niklas Hjalmarsson appeared to blast the go-ahead and winning goal for Chicago with under two minutes left. Yet right before the shot, offsetting minor penalties were called to negate the goal and give the Red Wings new life.
After overcoming a two-game deficit just to get this far, the Blackhawks would have to overcome highway robbery to survive in overtime. But Chicago spared the NHL and its officiating crew months, if not years, of backlash when Brent Seabrook got a wrist shot into the net 3 1/2 minutes into overtime, with no penalties called beforehand.
The rally from a controversial call only added to the legend of the Blackhawks’ overall rally. After breezing through the regular season, Chicago was stunned in three straight games by Detroit, only to stun the Red Wings right back.
Although a Blackhawks series win is far from shocking, the way it happened makes it one of the most improbable series in recent memory. Should Chicago go on to win the Western Conference and the Stanley Cup, it will be among the most historic rallies in NHL history.
Here is a list of the other most significant 3-1 series rallies in hockey history. In a few weeks, it will be easier to tell where the Blackhawks-Red Wings series belongs with them.
1942 Maple Leafs
1942: Maple Leafs over Red Wings — Stanley Cup Finals
Technically, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs rallied from a 3-0 deficit over the Red Wings, not just 3-1. Yet it was the first time any hockey team made a 3-0 or 3-1 rally, and it happened during the Stanley Cup Finals.
1975: New York Islanders over Pittsburgh Penguins — quarterfinals
It took 33 years for another team to erase a 3-1 hole, and it was another 3-0 hole first. The New York Islanders won four straight elimination games to upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL quarterfinals, then almost did it again to the defending champion Philadelphia Flyers in the semifinals before falling in Game 7.
1987: Islanders over Washington Capitals — divisional semifinals
The Islanders only needed to rally from 3-1 over the Washington Capitals in the first round 12 years later. But they still had to play four games in three, thanks to a four overtime Game 7 in Washington. However, Pat Lafontaine finally ended the classic marathon and completed the comeback on Easter morning.
1989: Los Angeles Kings over Edmonton Oilers — divisional semifinals
This series was big enough because Wayne Gretzky was facing the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs for the first time. It became historic when Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings stunned the two-time defending champions by erasing their 3-1 series lead in the first round. Although the Oilers would win one last Stanley Cup without Gretzky the next year, this series helped prove that the team of the 80s was about to lose their power.
1994: Vancouver Canucks over Calgary Flames — first round
The Vancouver Canucks were a seventh seeded team headed for a predictable early exit in the first round against the Calgary Flames. But three consecutive overtime wins, including a double overtime triumph in Game 7 at Calgary, got the Canucks rolling by — and they didn’t stop until Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals at Madison Square Garden.
2000: New Jersey Devils over Philadelphia Flyers — Eastern Conference finals
The Flyers had forfeited a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals to the New Jersey Devils six years earlier. Yet this collapse would top it, as the Devils won Games 5 and 7 in Philadelphia, ended Eric Lindros’s Flyers career with one Scott Stevens hit in Game 7, and finished it off on a late game-winner by Patrick Elias. Afterwards, the Devils merely needed an overtime goal against the Dallas Stars in Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup.
2003: Minnesota Wild over Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks: first and second round
The Minnesota Wild don’t have a lot of history as a franchise. But its greatest achievement is one that has never been matched, as the third-year Wild rallied from 3-1 deficits in two consecutive series — the first two in its postseason history. Nevertheless, Minnesota couldn’t make a 3-0 comeback in the conference finals and got swept by the Anaheim Ducks.
2010: Flyers over Boston Bruins — conference semifinals
Like the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1975 Islanders, the 2010 Flyers technically made a 3-0 comeback. But after an overtime win over the Boston Bruins in Game 4 to get their second round series to 3-1, the Flyers forced Game 7 and then made a 3-0 comeback in that game as well. However, the Flyers ran out of rallies against the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
2013: Blackhawks over Red Wings — conference semifinals
The Blackhawks not only stunned the Red Wings in their final three games, they avoided their own stunning collapse. A team that lost just seven times in regulation this season shouldn’t have needed this much effort to beat a seventh-seeded Detroit club. But if Chicago goes on to bigger things, no one will care about how it put its own back against the wall.