The Kings will be the first ones to tell you they’re only halfway to their ultimate goal. They need 16 wins and with their impressive win to kickoff the Western Conference Final, they’ve only racked up 9 wins. Even though they’ve been extraordinary against the two best regular season teams the Western Conference has to offer, they still need to find a way to win seven more wins or their postseason run will have a sour aftertaste.
There’s a reason that sports fans say the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports.
Even though the Kings are nowhere near their ultimate goal, their run in the playoffs thus far is starting to break some historical ground. They’re currently sitting with a 9-1 record as they prepare for Game 2 in Phoenix on Tuesday night. That’s a .900 winning percentage through 10 games for aspiring statisticians who are playing along at home.
That’s not only impressive for an 8th seed—that’s impressive for any team in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Only 11 teams have managed to win at least 9 of their first 10 games in the playoffs since the league expanded in 1967. Of the 11 teams that were able to start the postseason with a 90% winning percentage, all but one ended up tasting champagne from the Cup in the near future. Seven of the 11 won the Stanley Cup that season, two teams won the Cup the following season, and another would win consecutive Cups only two years later.
Here’s the breakdown:
Boston Bruins (1972): Won the Cup
Edmonton Oilers (1983, 1985, and 1988): Lost in Cup Final in 1983 to the New York Islanders before winning the Cup in 1984. They proceeded to dominate the rest of the 1980s with Cups in ’84, ’85, ’87, ’88, and ’90.
Montreal Canadiens (1968, 1976, and 1978): Won the Cup all three seasons.
Detroit Red Wings (1995): Lost in Cup Final to New Jersey; they would get back to Western Conference Final in 1996 before winning back-to-back Cups in 1997 and 1998.
Buffalo Sabres (1998): Lost in Conference Finals to Washington; made Cup Final in 1999.
Tampa Bay Lightning (2004): Won the Cup.
Pittsburgh Penguins (2008): Lost in Stanley Cup Final; won Cup the following season.
But before fans in Los Angeles start planning the parade route down Figueroa, the historical account isn’t unspoiled for the Kings. As a cautionary tale, the team that shares the most in common with the Kings from this list is the 1998 Buffalo Sabres. The Sabers stormed through the first two rounds of the playoffs before running into the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final. They were able to take the next step and reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1999—only to see their Cup aspirations dashed with Brett Hull’s left skate.
The Sabres haven’t been back since.
In 1998, Buffalo came out of nowhere to earn the right to play in the Eastern Conference Final. People will remember Dominik Hasek and his Hart and Vezina Trophy winning season—but the Sabres were an average team through the regular season. They finished 3rd in the Northeast Division and 6th in the Eastern Conference.
So we’re talking about a team that’s been carried by their goaltender all season, that finished third in their division and was an underdog starting in the first round. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Compare the Sabres regular season to that of the other 10 teams that had such a historic start to their playoff runs. Nine of the 10 won their division. That’s right—all but one of them won their division and were expected to go deep in the playoffs. The only one that didn’t win their division was the 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers—yet even though they finished second in the Smythe Division to the Calgary Flames. Then again, that may be a little misleading: they also finished in second place in the entire Campbell Conference. The Oilers were never considered “underdogs” in the 1980s; and their 16-2 run throughout the playoffs proved that 1988 was no different.
It’s still the best record for any team that had to win 16 games to win the Cup.
The Kings still have plenty of work to do before they’ll be happy with their playoffs. They don’t hand out trophies for nine wins in the playoffs. Still, the Kings’ run already puts them in some damn fine, historic company. Mix in that they were able to do it against the #1 and #2 seeds from the Western Conference, and we may have never seen a more dominant (or surprising) first two rounds in Stanley Cup playoff history. Ever.
None of that will matter if the Kings end up like the Sabres did in the late 1990s. History doesn’t remember the teams that start strong and fade down the stretch. They remember those who finish what they started.
9-1 is a great way for the Kings to start. Their start has already carved a place in history, but they still have seven games to go if they want anyone to remember.