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Down Goes Brown: Ranking the worst Game 7 losses for each NHL team

Welcome to a weekend of Game 7s. If your favorite team isn’t playing in one, prepare to be entertained. If they are, well, prepare for pain.

Whenever I make a ranking, I know what I’m in for. It’s a fun format to play with, and readers usually enjoy them, but somebody will always get mad. It doesn’t matter how obvious the topic might be. Some fan out there will take it personally. I could do a ranking of the NHL’s best players that had Connor McDavid and Cale Makar at the top, and some Columbus fan will show up to yell at me that it’s actually Zach Werenski. And that’s cool — a little bit of hometown bias is part of the deal.

But today … I’m not sure today is going to go well for me. That’s because of this ranking’s topic: Every team’s most painful Game 7 loss, ranked from least to most heartbreaking.

I’m willing to bet that just about every fan who saw that headline immediately thought that their team has to rank high. Maybe you even figure you’re a slam dunk for top spot. After all, it might be true that every fan base has suffered, but surely no fan base has suffered as much as yours. I’m pretty sure that’s a universal trait of every die-hard sports fan. We all have the scars, we’re weirdly proud of them, and we’ll show them off if you ask, or even if you don’t. Nobody knows your pain. Of course, this sort of list has to build towards your team, who else could even come close?

Sounds like fun, let’s do this.

Here’s how this will work. For every team in the league, I’ve gone through their history and picked what I think was their most agonizing Game 7 loss. (In some cases, I reached out to others for help, but I made the final call so you can blame me if you think I missed a better choice.) We’re considering a team’s entire history, although we’ll try to lean towards the modern era where we can. It goes without saying that I’m only looking at a team’s current location, because nobody in Carolina should feel bad about something that happened in Hartford.

And most importantly, I’m looking for all the different kinds of misery a Game 7 can provide. A close game or a late collapse will hurt, but so can an especially embarrassing blowout. Overtime is a bonus. So are any controversies, bad bounces or memorable mistakes. Context matters too, so we’ll consider the season, the recent history, what came after, and even how likable the team was before it all came crashing down. To borrow a term some of you will recognize, we’re looking for Those Games.

We all have our pain, and this is going to get ugly. There’s no such thing as a pleasant Game 7 loss, but we’ll start at the merely painful and work our way into the depths of utter misery. Read it now, before we get a few new candidates this weekend.


Not ranked: Seattle Kraken, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets

OK, maybe we don’t all have our pain, at least when it comes to the subject at hand. The Hurricanes have never lost a Game 7 since moving to Carolina, going a sickening 5-0 in winner-take-alls. They did drop a few in Hartford, including that legendary night back in 1992, and of course could lose one tomorrow. But for now, they’re safe.

The Kraken (obviously) and the Blue Jackets (somewhat surprisingly) are the only other current NHL teams that have never lost a Game 7, meaning our actual ranking will have 29 teams to work with. Sorry Seattle, and Columbus fans, better worse luck next year.

29. Minnesota Wild: 2021 vs. Vegas

This one isn’t all that painful, coming by a 6-2 final on the road in a series in which they were underdogs. It’s also the only Game 7 loss the Wild have ever had, so here we are. Man, this franchise’s history is so boring that it can’t even do gut-wrenching agony right. Yet.

28. Arizona Coyotes: 2010 vs. Detroit

The Coyotes have three losses to choose from, but we have to go with the most recent. The 2009-10 edition of the club was arguably the first truly good team that fans in the Phoenix area had seen, finishing with 107 points that still stands as the franchise record. But they drew the veteran Wings and bowed out in an embarrassing home-ice blowout, giving up 50 shots on goal and losing 6-1.

27. Florida Panthers: 2012 vs. New Jersey

This is one of the only picks that nobody will disagree with, because it’s the only Game 7 loss in Panthers’ history so far. And on the surface, it’s not all that bad. The Panthers weren’t good that year, and their loss to the Devils came in the first round. But they did lose Game 6 and Game 7 in overtime, the latter on home ice, and I have to give a few bonus points just for the immediate cutaway to Dale Tallon and Bill Torrey looking like a devastated Statler and Waldorf.

26. Los Angeles Kings: 1976 vs. Boston

The Kings have been remarkably resistant to Game 7 misery, with just four losses in 55 years, none in the Gretzky or Stanley Cup eras and none past the second round. I’ll go with the 1976 loss to the Bruins, which came in Marcel Dionne’s first year as a King. It was a classic underdog battle, with the Bruins winning Games 1, 4 and 5 by a combined score of 14-1 but the Kings hanging around with three close wins, two of which came in overtime. That included a memorable Game 6 winner by Butch Goring, but the Bruins would slam the door with a 3-0 win in Game 7.

25. Tampa Bay Lightning: 2011 vs. Boston

I realize nobody is too eager to offer much sympathy to the two-time defending champs, but the Lightning have lost three conference finals in a Game 7, and watched the team that beat them go on to win the Cup each time. I’m going to go with the first of those, in 2011, in part because Game 7 ended 1-0, but 2016 and 2018 would work too.

24. Dallas Stars: 1997 vs. Edmonton

The Stars have lost four Game 7s in Dallas, but I think this one pretty clearly comes down to the two that went to overtime: 1997 against Edmonton, and 2019 against St. Louis. Recency bias says we should go with the latter, and it was a double-OT loss that wasted a heroic effort by Ben Bishop, but that Stars team wasn’t all that good. I’m going to reach further back for the Oilers loss, if only for how it happened. A spectacular Curtis Joseph save at one end, a “blink-and-you-miss-it” Todd Marchant rush to the other, and the best season in franchise history is over.

23. New York Islanders: 2021 vs. Tampa Bay

The Islanders only offer six options from over five decades of history, which I guess is what happens when you have one dynasty where you never lose and another stretch where you never make the playoffs. We could go back to a tough 1975 loss to the Broad Street Bullies, but we can probably settle for something more recent: Last year’s conference finals loss to the Lightning, a 1-0 nail-biter with the 18th-place Habs waiting in the Final. That stung, and to make it even worse, the fans who said there’s always next year turned out to be wrong.

22. Nashville Predators: 2018 vs. Winnipeg

We’ve only got two options here, but the 2018 loss is a worthy pick. The Predators had been to the Final the previous year, and had just won the Presidents’ Trophy when the Jets showed up on their home ice and knocked them out with a 5-1 win in which franchise icon Pekka Rinne lasted just 10 minutes. Like we said, context matters, and this Predators team had seemed to be on the verge of a championship. They haven’t won a round since.

21. Montreal Canadiens: 1955 vs. Detroit

I’ve got to be honest, for a 105-year-old franchise, they don’t give us a ton to work with. Sure, losing to the Bruins always hurts, and so did dropping a series to the hated Nordiques in 1985. But considering how many gut-wrenching games we’re going to get to for the other teams, the Habs get off annoyingly easy here.

We’ll go with 1955 for the historical significance – this was the year of the Rocket Richard suspension, one that cost the Habs home ice in a Final in which the home team won every game. The fans rioted and said they were robbed. Then the Habs won the next five Cups, because even the heartbreak in Montreal usually ends well. Screw it, I’m ranking this one in the 20s.

20. St. Louis Blues: 2000 vs. San Jose

The Blues are a bit of a weird one, since in 55 years of franchise history they’ve only had two Game 7s past Round 2: The 2019 Cup Final that they won, and the 1986 Campbell finals that they lost. We could go with that latter one, but instead I’m leaning to the 2000 loss to San Jose in the first round. That Blues team won the Presidents’ Trophy with a franchise-record 116 points and were heavy favorites over the Sharks. But a flat effort and a buzzer-beating Owen Nolan hail mary on Roman Turek spelled the end of a dream season, and left Blues fans wondering if their day would ever come. It did, but it took a while.

19. Chicago Blackhawks: 1971 vs. Montreal

It’s very tempting to use the 2014 loss to the Kings, which came in a fantastic series and cost the Blackhawks a chance to win three straight Cups. But I’m going to go old school by going back to the 1971 Final, in which the Stan Mikita/Bobby Hull/Tony Esposito core came within a game of winning it all. The Hawks had home ice for Game 7 in a series in which the home team won each of the first six games, and they jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the game. That’s when coach Billy Reay left Hull and Mikita on the bench in favor of his grinders, only to watch Montreal claw back for a 3-2 win. The Hawks wouldn’t win a Cup for nearly 40 years.

18. Winnipeg Jets: 1990 vs. Edmonton

The 2.0 era has yet to produce a Game 7 loss, and the Thrashers didn’t have one either so we can’t even break the rules to reach back for that. But that’s OK, because as per longstanding DGB protocol, The Jets Are The Jets. That means we can use the original version, and it’s an easy call. The Oilers kicked sand in the Jets’ faces all through the 1980s, but with Wayne Gretzky gone by 1990, it felt like payback time. Winnipeg built a 3-1 series lead, and we all thought it was over. Instead, the Oilers won a pair of one-goal games to get to Game 7, then finished the job.

17. New York Rangers: 1950 vs. Detroit

The team that famously didn’t win a Game 7 until the franchise was nearly 65 years old also hasn’t lost all that many; just a half-dozen in almost a century, and only one of those coming since 1974. We’ll reach back to the 1950 and one of only two Stanley Cup Final Game 7s to end in sudden death, and the only one to go to double-OT before Detroit’s Tony Leswick ended it. To make matters worse, the Rangers didn’t get a single home game in the series because the circus had bumped them from Madison Square Garden.

And yes, we just did a double-OT loss in the Cup Final and we’re barely into the Top 20. I told you, this is going to get ugly.

16. Ottawa Senators: 2003 vs. New Jersey

While the Leafs delivered a pair of painful losses, this one comes down to two choices. There’s a strong case for the 2017 conference finals OT loss to the Penguins that ended a Cinderella run, and that one will obviously resonate more with younger fans. But I’m going to go with 2003, when the Senators hosted the Devils, with the winner getting a trip to the Final and a potentially easy matchup with the upstart then-Mighty Ducks. That Senators team had won the Presidents’ Trophy, and the stars seemed to be aligning for the franchise’s first championship.

Instead, a game that appeared to be heading to overtime turned on a disastrous defensive misread on a harmless rush that left a stunned crowd dead quiet. Nearly two decades later, that Cup seems further away than ever in Ottawa.

15. Colorado Avalanche: 2002 vs. Detroit

The Avs have had eight of their 25 seasons end with a Game 7 loss, including five in a six-year span from 1998 to 2003. But with apologies to Andrew Brunette ending Patrick Roy’s career, I think this one is an easy call. It has to be the humiliating 7-0 to the Red Wings in 2002. That game might not have even happened if it weren’t for Roy’s Statue of Liberty in Game 6, and what seemed to be setting up as a classic ended up as a relentless butt-kicking from the team’s great rival. To this day it’s both the last playoff game of the Avs/Wings rivalry, and the last time we’ve seen Colorado in a conference finals.

14. Philadelphia Flyers: 2000 vs. New Jersey

The Flyers are another tough one, and if you wanted to go with the 1987 Cup Final loss to the Oilers then I could hardly blame you. Instead, I’m going to go with 2000 against the Devils, if only for what’s become the lasting image of that series: Eric Lindros crumpled on the ice after a monster headshot from Scott Stevens. While we didn’t know it at the time, it was the last we’d see of Lindros as a Flyer, spelling the abrupt end of an era that never delivered the championship it seemed destined for.

13. Buffalo Sabres: 2006 vs. Carolina

The post-lockout Sabres were probably the best teams in franchise history, and deserved at least one trip to the Final. Instead, back-to-back seasons ended one round short, including a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to Carolina in 2006. Pretty much every Sabres defenseman was injured, they were on the road, and they got screwed on the game-winning goal by the new “puck-over-glass” rule. And all of it with an eight-seed waiting in the Final.

12. Washington Capitals: 1987 vs. New York Islanders

I know, I figured the Capitals would rank higher than this too. But the problem is that they’ve had so many crushing Game 7 losses — a dozen in total, all in the last 35 years (and eight of them in the salary-cap era). For their fans, each one is its own kind of awful, but for the rest of us, Washington Capitals heartbreak suffers from three stooges syndrome.

I couldn’t figure this one out, so I turned to my go-to source for Capitals’ misery, Japer’s Rink. Here’s what he told me:

Such a hard call. The Easter Epic was obviously a 12 out of 10 for sheer agony. The 2010 game was brutal because of the potential that team (ostensibly) had and the 3-1 lead in the series, plus (Jaroslav) Halak. The 1992 game was underrated awful (a 3-1 series lead and a loss to Pittsburgh), ditto 1995. The 2009 loss was bad (2-0 blown lead, Pittsburgh, Ovi stoned on an early breakaway, blowout loss). And 2017 was back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, Pittsburgh yet again, and felt like the window had closed. The others weren’t quite as bad as these six (OMG).

It’s hard not to pick the Easter Epic for heartbreak, but 2010 wins for disappointment and embarrassment.

Good enough for me. The only quadruple-overtime Game 7 loss in NHL history gets the nod.

11. Anaheim Ducks/Mighty Ducks of Anaheim: 2003 vs. New Jersey

With all due respect to the Bruce Boudreau era, we don’t have to overthink it here. A storybook Mighty Ducks season ended with a Game 7 loss in the Staley Cup Final, with Martin Brodeur shutting them out. To pour salt in the wound, while nobody could have imagined it at the time, this ended up being Paul Kariya’s last game as a Mighty Duck, and they didn’t even make the playoffs the next year.

And yes, we’ve still got 10 of these to go. We’re well past the point where a lot of this misery all starts to bleed together, but we promised you a ranking to get mad about, and that’s what we’ll deliver. Hey Penguins fans, you know who else delivered when it counted?

10. Pittsburgh Penguins: 1993 vs. New York Islanders

Maybe you could make a case for the 1996 conference finals with Florida, or when they got Halak’d by the Habs in 2010. But I don’t think there’s going to be much dispute here, as quite possibly the single greatest team in franchise history has its quest for a threepeat stopped by David Freaking Volek.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs: 1993 vs. Los Angeles

First things first: I know a lot of you are expecting “It Was 4-1” here. But that was a bad Leafs team that deserved to lose, and upsetting the Bruins would have probably set them back years. As embarrassing and/or hilarious as that loss was, it ended up being a good thing for the franchise.

Instead, our pick comes from the 1993 run, which remains the closest that two generations of Leafs fans have seen their team come to a Cup. Wayne Gretzky’s five-point night at Maple Leaf Gardens, in what he calls his single greatest game, put an end to the dream. Coming so close and falling one goal short is bad enough; having it come on the heels of one of the most infamous missed calls in NHL history just cements this as the Leafs’ worst of the worst.

8. Vegas Golden Knights: 2019 vs. San Jose

This is the only Game 7 loss in Golden Knights’ history, but it’s excruciating. Leading 3-0 midway through the third, the Golden Knights were basically coasting. That’s when Cody Eakin took a controversial major for cross-checking Joe Pavelski, and San Jose roared back to score four power-play goals. To make matters even worse, the Golden Knights managed to get off the mat and force overtime in the final minute, which only ended up prolonging the agony.

7. Detroit Red Wings: 2009 vs. Pittsburgh

Red Wings’ history offers 11 options, including three separate losses to the Maple Leafs in the Final during the Original Six era, the Nikolai Borschevsky game, the Sharks stunner of 1994, and an overtime near-miss against the Hawks in 2013. Still, I don’t think we have to galaxy-brain this pick. Let’s go with the 2009 Final, in which the Wings’ quest for back-to-back titles falls just short at the hands of the Penguins, and one of the greatest Final-ending moments we’ve ever seen.

6. Calgary Flames: 2004 vs. Tampa Bay

The Flames have had their share of Game 7 heartbreak, including memorable losses to the Oilers in 1991 and the Canucks in 1994. But it’s one thing to get beat in the first round by Pavel Bure or even Theo Fleury. It’s another to lose in the Final to Ruslan Fedotenko. And that’s especially true when the game shouldn’t even have happened because you already scored the series-winner in Game 6. (Yes, it was in — fight me, you parallax view weirdos.)

Bottom line: Jarome Iginla deserved a Cup, and when the league screwed up and he didn’t get one the hockey gods were so mad they cancelled the NHL for a year.

5. Edmonton Oilers: 2006 vs. Carolina

I went back-and-forth on the Oilers more than any other team, and I’m still not sure this is the right call. After all, Steve Smith’s own-goal in 1986 may have been the biggest gaffe in hockey history, costing the Oilers a shot at five straight Cups. It feels almost sacrilegious to rank awful Game 7 losses without including that one.

But that came in an era where the team had it good, which is why I think it may not sting quite as much as the 2006 loss in the Cup Final. That team was a wonderful underdog story that came within one game of a miracle championship despite losing their goalie in Game 1. Do they win the series if Dwayne Roloson is healthy? We’ll never know for sure (the answer is obviously yes), but we do know that a decade of darkness and counting would follow.

4. New Jersey Devils: 1994 vs. New York Rangers

Another tough one, as the 1994 loss was crushing but the Devils also lost the 2001 Final in seven to Colorado. I reached out to lifelong Devils fan Greg Wyshynski for his advice:

It was 1994. Even though (winning the Cup in) 1995 happened, 1994 was the moment when we finally thought we were going to get our revenge for a decade of hell from the Rangers. Plus, you gotta remember, we had to coexist in life with those Rangers fans too.

Yep, I have to agree. Greg also points out that the Matteau winner only happened because the Devils sent the game to overtime with seconds left (the original Zelepukin goal). Plus the 2001 loss at least gave us the feel-good Ray Bourque moment, while 1994 still gets brought up endlessly by the league’s marketing machine, meaning even to this day Devils fans can’t escape it.

3. Vancouver Canucks: 2011 vs. Boston

The Canucks are kind enough to offer us a pair of Game 7 losses in the Stanley Cup Final, and you could absolutely go with either of them. (Fun fact that is not remotely fun: No other team in NHL history has lost a Game 7 in the Final without ever winning a Cup, and Vancouver has done it twice.) You really can’t go wrong with either choice. Unless you’re a Canucks fan, in which case you’re still not ready to talk about it.

In my first draft of this piece, I went with 1994. That team was just so easy to love, even if you weren’t a Canucks fan, and they fought back from down 3-1 in the series to force a deciding game that saw them come within a Nathan LaFayette goal post of forcing overtime. That’s where I wanted to cast my ballot.

But I figured I’d check in with a few Canucks fans, and they all told me the same thing: It has to be 2011. As Thomas Drance put it:

It’s 2011. By a ton. Arguably the organization never recovered from it. If you look at the decision tree that’s followed, it’s almost like it was a trauma.

Yeah, I have to concede this one. The 1994 Canucks were a feel-good team that almost went all the way. The 2011 Canucks were the favorites who collapsed, then tore the city apart in a collective rage. They’re not just the right pick for Vancouver, they’re a legit candidate for top spot on this list.

2. Boston Bruins: 1979 vs. Montreal

You’d expect an Original Six team to offer up plenty of options, and Boston does. Thirteen, to be exact, including the 2019 Final and one of the only blown 3-0 series leads in NHL history.

As bad as those were — and they were very bad! — I still don’t think this one is all that close. It has to be a loss so painful that to this day, it can be invoked with three words: Too Many Men.

That game wasn’t for the Stanley Cup, but with the Rangers waiting in the Final, it kind of was. The loss was as crushing as they come, especially since it was self-inflicted.

1. San Jose Sharks: 2014 vs. Los Angeles

There are lots of candidates for top spot on this list, and maybe it feels wrong to you to give the honors to a first-round loss. But most of these other fan bases have a Cup or two to fall back on, or at least some vague hope for the future. Not in San Jose, where this loss came to define an era where the Sharks were always good, just never good enough.

Put it this way: Other games on this list are a team at its low point. This one is a team cementing its reputation for all time.

This was, of course, the series that saw the Sharks blow a 3-0 lead, becoming just the fourth team to ever do so. Joe Thornton’s mournful face after the loss still haunts me, and that was before Drew Doughty twisted the knife with his quote about seeing fear in the Sharks eyes, but it’s not like anyone needed help with the misery index here. Even the typically chipper NHL.com called the Sharks “devastated” in its headline, and featured quotes like “this one is a type of series that will rip your heart out.” Then they had to watch the hated Kings go on to win it all.

The Sharks missed the playoffs a year later, but to their credit they recovered to go all the way to the Final in 2016, where they of course lost. That’s what they do in San Jose, often in the most heartbreaking ways possible. They chased another shot at glory for so long that now the team is old and capped out, not to mention bad. All they’re left with is a history of misery, with this game standing head and shoulders above the rest.

It all probably leaves Sharks fans wondering if anyone has ever had it quite as bad as them. Maybe, sure, at least overall. But in a single Game 7? I’m honestly not sure.

(Photo: Harry How / Getty Images)

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