With their win in Game Five of the Western Conference Final, the Los Angeles Kings became the second 8th seed to go to the Stanley Cup Final. The NHL changed the format of how teams were seeded in the 1993-94 season, moving from having to play out of your division to playing out of the conference. While it seemed impossible, with Brian Burke saying that the 8th seed is pretty much a sitting duck; the Kings decided to only lose two games in three rounds and showing their utter dominance over their conference.
The only other team as an 8th seed to make the Stanley Cup Finals was also from the Western Conference and was the last “real” underdog contender to win a Cup, the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers.
It was the year after the lockout and with a salary cap in place, a team like the Oilers could be competitive with other big market teams; they could actually get some name players without having to sacrifice their budget and farm club to get a marquee player. The Oilers were able to use their low payroll and other teams bursting payroll to pick up some big additions–namely Michael Peca and Chris Pronger.
With high hopes, the Oilers didn’t set the league on fire, but they did put up their first 40-win season since the 1987-88 season. They also picked up some pretty key players in Sergei Samsonov and the guy who would be their surprising hero–Dwayne Roloson–who replaced Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen in net. While struggling during the season, he played well enough to get the Oilers to the playoffs, where he would really shine.
In the first round, the Oilers had to take on the top team in the NHL in the Detroit Red Wings—and with the 29-point difference between the teams, many thought it’d be a walk-over for the Wings. The Red Wings were dominant in Game One, doubling the Oilers in shots—but would have to use two overtimes to beat the Oilers. However, the Oilers would take four of the next five, winning Games Two, Three, Five, and Six. Game Six was a dramatic, comeback win, as the Oilers went down 2-0, but on the back of Fernando Pisani’s two goal effort and Ales Hemsky’s game winner—the Oilers won their first playoff series since 1998 when they beat the Colorado Avalanche.It was a trend in the West, as all four top-seeds would be eliminated in the first round. The Oilers (as the lowest seed) would take on the 5th seeded San Jose Sharks, which would be a crowd-noise series; the Shark Tank would peak out at 109 decibels and Rexall Place hitting 114 decibels. However, the Oilers dream looked like it was going down the drain, losing both games in San Jose. Yet, the never-say-die attitude on the Oilers would help them go back home and win in triple overtime in Game Three, then they added a pair of dominant 6-3 victories in Game Four and Five. Roloson’s first playoff shutout in Game Six closed out the series.
The last hurdle before the chance at the chalice, the Oilers would have to take on the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Edmonton had a flu bug going around the dressing room and they had some issues with keeping hydrated, but it didn’t stop them from taking the first three games. Despite losing Game Four, the Oilers would get clutch goals from Raffi Torres and Ethan Moreau and would take Game Five 3-1 (and the series 4-1); pushing the Oilers to their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1990 and putting them as the first eight-seed in the Finals.
Yet, all good things must come to an end. That started with the loss of Dwayne Roloson going down with a major knee injury during Game One of the Finals during a 4-4 tie game; putting Ty Conklin in the net and after a gaffe of his behind the net—the Oilers would drop Game One 5-4 to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes dominated in Game Two and won 5-0, with Jussi Markkanen taking the loss in net after Conklin was resigned to the bench. The Oilers came back home and were victorious in Game Three, but the Canes would put them on the brink with a 2-1 win in Game Four. In Game Five the Hurricanes were starting to feel the injury bug, and timely scoring from Pisani again, the Oilers would win in overtime—pushing the series back to Edmonton. The Oilers would overwhelm the Canes in Game Six on the back of Pisani scoring his eventual 5th game-winning post-season goal and Markkanen’s first playoff shutout to win 4-0 to push to a Game Seven. The Oilers got down early to the Canes in Game Seven off two defensive goals by Aaron Ward and Frantisek Kaberle, before Pisani would net his 14th goal of the playoffs. Unfortunately, thanks to an empty-net goal, the Oilers dream was dead and the Hurricanes won their first Stanley Cup.
No one would know what happened if Roloson wasn’t injured, but Oilers fans will always play the guessing game. However, the bright spot about the Oilers was not only Fernando Pisani potting 14 goals (the most in the playoffs), but that a small market team could work well in the new salary cap era. That said, they haven’t been able to recapture that magic, as the Oilers haven’t made the playoffs since that magical run.
The Oilers proved that it can be done–the Los Angeles Kings could prove it will be done. The Oilers served as the catalyst that such magic can happen. They were one of the bigger underdog stories to make it all the way to the Finals and gave some of the other teams in that last playoff spot some kind of hopeful outlook when it comes to making a big run. Even though they were the first 8th-seed to make the Finals, the Oilers could become a mere footnote should the Kings win it all.
But at least the fans will always remember that magical run.