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Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak makes a save on the Washington Capitals during the third of action in Game 7 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final hockey series in Washington, April 28, 2010. (JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)
Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak makes a save on the Washington Capitals during the third of action in Game 7 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final hockey series in Washington, April 28, 2010. (JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)

Habs add to glorious history Add to ...

Now that the Montreal Canadiens have vanquished the best team in the NHL's 2009-10 regular season, the question is whether or not this is the greatest playoff upset of all time.

The answer is entirely subjective, of course, and the Canadiens have a few other upsets in their history, aside from last night's big win over the Washington Capitals, to throw into the argument.

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Thanks to goaltender Jaroslav Halak's heroics, the most common comparison is to the 1971 shocker, when Habs relied on rookie goaltender Ken Dryden to knock off the first-place Boston Bruins and went on to win the Stanley Cup. For fans of irony there is also the first round of the 2002 playoffs, when the eighth-seeded Canadiens, backed by goaltender Jose Theodore, beat the top-seeded Bruins in six games. (In sending the Capitals packing this year, the Habs first chased Theodore from the Washington net earlier in the series.)

The Canadiens have also been on the other end of a couple of big upsets. The most notable was in 1981, when a 20-year-old Wayne Gretzky led the 14th-seeded Edmonton Oilers to a three-game sweep of the third-ranked Habs in a best-of-five series.

It should also be noted the Capitals have a specialty in coughing up series leads. Last night's loss was the seventh time they have blown a two-game lead in a playoff series and lost.

In the post-lockout, salary-cap era, every NHL team has at least one weak spot, so seeing the eighth-seeded team in a conference knock off the No. 1 seed is not a rare sight. In the five years after the 2004-05 lockout, it has happened three times in the opening round of the playoffs. Aside from the Canadiens, the list includes the 2006 Oilers, who beat the Detroit Red Wings, and the 2009 Anaheim Ducks, who eliminated the San Jose Sharks.

Following is (an entirely subjective) list of the notable playoff upsets in the post-six-team-era of the NHL:

1971 - Even though Dryden came out of law school late in the season to win the No. 1 goalie's job from Rogie Vachon, the Canadiens still had a respectable campaign. They were third in the East Division, fourth overall, with 97 points, albeit 24 behind the Bruins. Dryden did his part, but Frank Mahovlich was outstanding as well for the Habs (27 points in 20 games).

1981 - The Oilers finished the season 29 points behind the Canadiens, but Gretzky, an equally young Mark Messier and company went into the playoffs knowing they had nothing to lose. They shocked an aging group of Habs by outskating them in all three games of the sweep.

1982 - One year later, the Oilers received the learning experience all developing dynasties seem to need when the Los Angeles Kings beat them 3-2 in a best-of-five series. The Kings were 48 points behind the Oilers in the regular season but prevailed in a wild, high-scoring series. The most notable game was the Miracle on Manchester, when the Kings came back from five goals behind to win 6-5.

1993 - The New York Islanders, long past their glory years, knocked off Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. They won the deciding game in overtime to end the Penguins' streak of Stanley Cup wins at two.

1994 - At the time, the Detroit Red Wings were a regular-season power but could not find the key to winning in the playoffs. But in '94, everyone thought the Wings, who were first in the West, had it figured out. Then came the eighth-seeded San Jose Sharks and goaltender Arturs Irbe who, in his own unforgettable words: "Played like wall."

1997 - Goaltender Curtis Joseph was the main figure in two upsets in as many years for the Oilers, who were the seventh seed in 1997, going against the No. 2 Dallas Stars. Joseph outplayed former Oilers goalie Andy Moog for the series win.

1998 - The Oilers were once again the seventh seed and this time the victims were the Colorado Avalanche. Joseph held off Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic, closing the deal with a shutout in Game 7.

2000 - The St. Louis Blues, with superstar defencemen Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis, were first overall, while the Sharks were still considered an expansion team. The Sharks may be known more for collapses in recent years, but this time they won the series in seven games.

2001 - Here comes Joseph again. He was now playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and led the seventh-ranked team to the first of three consecutive series wins over the Ottawa Senators. This one was a four-game sweep of the second-seeded Sens.

2001 - The Kings finished seventh in the West and fell behind 2-1 in the series to the No. 2 Red Wings. But they came back from three goals down in Game 4 to win in overtime and stun Detroit in six games.

2002 - Theodore had yet to begin his mysterious decline as a goaltender and he was the hero as the eighth-seeded Canadiens knocked off the No. 1 Bruins.

2003 - Jean-Sébastian Giguère took the seventh-seeded Ducks all the way to the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils. But first they knocked off the top-seeded Red Wings with a sweep in the opening round.

2004 - Once again, Joseph was a key figure but he was on the wrong end. He was the top-ranked Red Wings goaltender as they were knocked off by the No. 6 Calgary Flames in the second round.

2004 - Theodore and Saku Koivu once again led the No. 7 Habs to an upset over the Bruins, who were ranked No. 2. The Bruins had a 3-1 series lead, but goaltender Andrew Raycroft surrendered 12 goals in the last three games to the Canadiens.

2006 - The eighth-seeded Oilers began their run to the Cup final, where they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games, by knocking off the top-seeded Red Wings.

Follow on Twitter: @dshoalts

 

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