NHL playoff choke artists

NHL Playoff Choke Artist: Will A Canadian Team Win It Again?

The bright lights of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are just too much for some. The pressure of the postseason is just too much and they crack. That's what you call a choke.

Here are just some examples of the biggest chokes in the NHL playoffs:

Toronto Maple Leafs: From 2013 to 2022

A lot of Toronto fans are going to be mad at me for putting the Leafs first, but look, you knew Toronto was going to make the list. Might as well get it out of the way early, no? Rip the band-aid so to speak?

Since 2012-13 the Leafs hold the 10th-best regular season record in the NHL. But when it comes to the playoffs, they hold the 19th-best record. Toronto has made a habit of getting to the playoffs but has been unable to get past the first round.

In the last 10 years, the Leafs have made the postseason seven times and were eliminated in the first round each time. 

No exit was more memorable than in 2013 when the Leafs were up in Game 7 by a score of 4-1 against the Bruins with just a little bit more than 11 minutes to go.

And then Boston powered back to tie the game with goals from Nathan Horton (9:18 of the third), Milan Lucic (18:38) and then Patrice Bergeron (19:09). Bergeron finished it off in overtime with this winning goal.

Massive choke for the Leafs. And embarrassment for Leafs fans.

Canadian Teams

The Cup was crafted in Canada, and that's where it should stay. And while technically it does live in Canada — it's housed in Toronto's Hockey Hall of Fame — no Canadian-based team has won it in some time. The last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. 

Since that last championship by the Habs, Canadian teams have made the playoffs a combined 101 times, but not once have they won the championship. Since 1993, Montreal has made the postseason the most with 17 appearances. Here's a breakdown of the number of appearances (and failed Cup runs) per Canadian side since 1994:

Canadian Teams In Playoffs Since Last Cup
TeamPlayoff Appearances
Calgary Flames13
Edmonton Oilers11
Montreal Canadiens17
Ottawa Senators15
Quebec Nordiques1
Toronto Maple Leafs16
Vancouver Canucks15
Winnipeg Jets6


Will a Canadian team ever win the Cup again? Because they've been choking for 30 years now.

Presidents' Trophy Winners

In the 36 years since the Presidents' Trophy has been awarded only three times the best team during the NHL regular season also won the Stanley Cup that year. The 1989-90 Boston Bruins, the 1994-95 Detroit Red Wings and the 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks.

That means 92% of regular-season champs (since 1986) don't go on to postseason glory. If that's not a choke job, I don't know what is. Check out our page about the Presidents' trophy curse to find out more.

The 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning

After a then-historic 62-win regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were supposed to breeze through the postseason. The playoffs were to be nothing more than a formality for the Bolts. 

That was until they ran up against the Columbus Blue Jackets and their red-hot goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets' keeper stopped 109 of the 117 shots he faced in the series for a .932 SV% and 1.50 GAA. And Columbus pulled the unlikely sweep over Tampa. In the first round. Unbelievable choke job by the Lightning.

The 2014 San Jose Sharks

San Jose was destined to make the second round of the 2014 playoffs after going up 3-0 in their series with the Kings. In NHL playoff history, only three sides had ever come back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit. The Sharks were destined to win. 

Except the Kings pulled off a win in Game 4. And then games five, six and seven. In the final three games, Los Angeles only allowed three goals while scoring 12 of their own. It was an incredible turn of fortune and an unimaginable choke job by the Sharks. 

Josh Bailey & Kyle Palmieri

The Islanders were on an excellent run to the 2021 Stanley Cup and found themselves in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against Tampa. At the start of the second period, with the score still 0-0, the Isles got a power play when disaster struck. They conceded a stupid short-handed goal. The first time they had allowed a short-handed goal that year.

Veterans Josh Bailey couldn't stop the pass to the slot and Kyle Palmieri was caught in no man's land as Yanni Gourde scored the decisive series-clinching goal.

Steve Smith's Dynasty Breaker

There's nothing worse than an own goal. Edmonton Oilers defenseman Steve Smith couldn't find a hole big enough to crawl in after this own goal that would eventually eliminate the Oilers from the 1986 playoffs

Oilers fans probably feel extra salty about this because they won Cups in 1984, 1986, 1987, and 1988. Had Smith kept it together maybe we're talking about the Edmonton Oilers being the only other team to win five cups in a row.

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