The Florida Panthers have become the NHL's biggest story this postseason. Much like their NBA neighbors in the Miami Heat, the Panthers have overcome every obstacle in their way after nobody predicted them to do anything.
After winning the President's Trophy last season, Florida struggled throughout much of this season and were in severe danger of missing the playoffs. They eventually snuck in thanks to a late season run and the Pittsburgh Penguins imploding, but few expected them to make any noise.
After all, they were facing the Boston Bruins, who just had the greatest regular season in NHL history. The Bruins quickly jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, putting the Panthers' season on life support.
Since then, though, Florida has been almost unbeatable. The Panthers came back from that deficit to stun the record-setting Bruins, winning a dramatic Game 7 in overtime.
Next, they took out the Toronto Maple Leafs in a five-game series in the second round. Most recently, they swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1996.
In that Stanley Cup Final, they'll match up against the top team in the Western Conference, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The Panthers' run is already up there with the greats, and they are just four wins away from making it arguably the greatest run in NHL history.
In honor of this run, let's look back at some other great runs throughout the NHL's history.
Lowest Seeds to Win the Stanley Cup
2012 Los Angeles Kings – No. 8 Seed
So far, the 2012 Kings stand as the only No. 8 seed to claim the Stanley Cup. Granted, the Kings, who finished the season 40-27-15, weren't quite a typical No. 8 seed.
They made a big splash at the trade deadline by acquiring Jeff Carter and went 13-5-2 afterward. Even still, L.A.'s first cup run stands as arguably the most impressive in history, at least for now.
The Kings humiliated the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks with a five-game victory in the first round. In the second round, they made short work of the No. 2 seed St. Louis Blues in a four-game sweep. Then in the Western Conference Final, they bested the No. 3 seed Phoenix Coyotes convincingly in five games. Finally, they stifled the New Jersey Devils, the east's No. 6 seed, in a six-game Stanley Cup Final victory.
The biggest story of the Kings' run was star goalie Jonathan Quick. With a .946 save percentage, 1.41 goals against average and a Conn Smythe Trophy, Quick's run was simply legendary. On offense, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar led the way with eight goals and 20 points each in the playoffs.
1995 New Jersey Devils – No. 5 Seed
We have to go a bit further to find the next-lowest-seeded team to win it all. No No. 7 or No. 6 seeds have won the Stanley Cup, but one No. 5 seed has. That team is, of course, the 1995 Devils, who finished the lockout-shortened season at 22-18-8.
New Jersey began its run against No. 4 seed Boston, dispatching the Bruins in five games. The Devils then took out the No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Penguins in five games, before defeating the No. 2 seed Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the Eastern Conference Final. They capped off their run with a sweep over the President's Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final.
Martin Brodeur had an outstanding postseason, posting a .927 save percentage and a 1.43 goals against average. However, the Conn Smythe Trophy instead went to Claude Lemieux, who led the playoffs with 13 goals. This was before Lemieux became the most-hated man in Detroit as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, but the bad blood certainly began here.
The 1980 New York Islanders were technically another No. 5 seed to win the cup, but there's an asterisk there. The NHL didn't divide the playoffs by conference that season due to bringing in four new expansion teams. As such, the Islanders were the No. 5 seed in the entire league, not in any one conference.
Other Low Seeds to Make the Stanley Cup Finals
Those are the lowest seeds to win it all, but we still wanted to mention those that almost made it. These teams fell short in the Stanley Cup Final, but their runs were still very impressive.
- 1991 Minnesota North Stars – No. 4 seed in Norris Division: The North Stars finished at just 27-39-14, and they somehow didn't have the worst record in the playoffs. They made it there though, and that's all they needed. They upset the Blackhawks, Blues and Oilers in the playoffs before losing to the Penguins in the Final.
- 1994 Vancouver Canucks – No. 7 seed: The Canucks beat the Flames in seven in the first round before beating the Stars and Maple Leafs in five games each. Unfortunately for the Canucks, their run came up short against the Rangers in the Final.
- 1999 Buffalo Sabres – No. 7 seed: Led by star goalie Dominik Hasek, the Sabres upset the division-rival Senators, Bruins and Maple Leafs en route to the Stanley Cup Finals. Their run came to a controversial end in a six-game loss to the Stars in the Final.
- 2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim – No. 7 seed: The Mighty Ducks were truly mighty this year, besting the Red Wings, Stars and Wild in the postseason. Their run came to an end against the Devils in a tight, seven-game Final. However, goaltender Jean-Sebastian Giguere still won the Conn Smythe Trophy despite being on the losing team.
- 2006 Edmonton Oilers – No. 8 seed: The Oilers upset the Red Wings, Sharks and Mighty Ducks in the Western Conference playoffs. They came up just short in the Final, falling to the Hurricanes in seven games.
- 2010 Philadelphia Flyers – No. 7 seed: The Flyers upset the Devils in the first round, then overcame a 3-0 series deficit against the Bruins in the second round. They beat the No. 8 seed Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final before falling to the Blackhawks in the Final.
- 2017 Nashville Predators – No. 2 Wild Card: Nashville wasn't listed as a No. 8 seed due to the new playoff format, but it's effectively the same thing. They convincingly beat the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks before falling to the Penguins in the Final.
- 2021 Montreal Canadiens – No. 4 seed in North Division: The Canadiens played in an all-Canadian division this season due to COVID, and if it were a normal season, they wouldn't have even made the playoffs. They made the most of their opportunity though, scoring upsets over the Maple Leafs, Jets and Golden Knights. Their run came to an end in the Final against the Lightning, normally a divisional opponent.
The Panthers already cemented their run as one of the greats, but they're still looking for more in the Final.