It is the growing sports epidemic of the 21st century, where being the best team in the regular season of any of the four major professional leagues has never meant so little for the postseason. In fact, not only are the trophy cases of such teams likely to be empty at playoffs' end, but these regular season champions are lucky if they get past their first playoff opponent.
It happened again on Thursday, with the NBA regular season champion Chicago Bulls losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, joining the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, NFL's Green Bay Packers and MLB's Philadelphia Phillies as the most recent examples of teams with the best record in the regular season failing to win the championship. It completes the first sports year ever where the top seed in all four leagues went one-and-done in the playoffs.
Of the last dozen NBA teams with the best regular season record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, only two have won an NBA title (Gregg Popovich's 2002-03 Spurs and the 2007-08 Celtics, featuring first-year teammates Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce). Compare that paltry 16.7 winning percentage to the previous 17 NBA seasons, when 10 teams with the best record (58.8 percent) won the title.
And this is hardly an NBA phenomenon, as the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball are seeing the same shift in competitiveness.
• From 1983 to 1999, the teams with the best regular season record in the four leagues won 27 of the 67championships (40.3 percent). They went one-and-done 10 times (14.9 percent).
• Since 2000, the teams with the best regular season record in the four leagues have won eight of the 47 championships (17.0 percent). They've gone one-and-done 17 times (36.2 percent).
The percentages have nearly reversed. Today's regular season champions are losing to their first opponent at nearly the same rate past regular season champions used to win league titles. Today's teams are more than twice as likely to go one-and-done than they are to win the whole thing.
• From 1983 to 1999, the most common result for a top seed was to win the Stanley Cup, win the Super Bowl, win the NBA Finals and lose in the World Series.
• Since 2000, the most common result for a top seed was to lose in the first round of the NHL playoffs, lose in the divisional round of the NFL, lose in the conference finals of the NBA and lose in baseball's LDS.
(Editor's note: 1983 was chosen as the starting point in these comparisons because the NBA moved to a very familiar 16-team playoff for the '83-84 season, plus MLB had a strike in 1981 and the NFL in 1982.)
Does it spark fan interest in the leagues by having such parity? Of course. It's a better product for the fans when they truly believe in an anyone-can-win system. But what happens when the monster overtakes its creator? Chaos ensues. The fear factor that used to come with the best record and home-field advantage? It doesn't exist anymore. David is no longer the one under pressure when he meets Goliath.
Take Chicago. Unlike the Michael Jordan-era Bulls, who had the best regular season record three times and won the championship each of those years, today's Bulls have turned consecutive seasons with the best regular season record into two disappointing finishes. There was the Eastern Conference finals loss to LeBron James and Miami in 2011 and now the stunning upset loss to the 76ers after star guard Derrick Rose suffered a season-ending torn ACL in Game 1 of the series. In the wake of Chicago's demise, consider recent happenings in the other leagues:
NHL -- The Canucks have turned two straight NHL Presidents' Trophy seasons into a devastating Stanley Cup Finals defeat -- after leading Boston 2-0 last season -- and now a very sudden first-round elimination at the hands of the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings. (Also, those Kings just became the first eighth seed to knock off the top two seeds in the same NHL postseason.)
MLB -- The Philadelphia Phillies put together the best regular season record in 2010 and 2011 and have zero championships to show for it. They lost in the 2010 National League Championship Series to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants and in the 2011 NLDS to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. The final play of their 2011 defeat was almost too tragically fitting for the Phillies: star first baseman Ryan Howard tore his Achilles after grounding out to second base for the final out of the season.
NFL -- Finally, we can't forget the 2011 Green Bay Packers, who flirted with perfection in defense of their Super Bowl title from the previous season. Their 15-1 regular season -- tarnished by a 19-14 loss at Kansas City in Week 15 -- was followed by a one-and-done, 37-20 divisional playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Since 2005, a staggering 50.0 percent of the top seeds (14 of 28) have gone one-and-done in the postseason. Only four have won a championship.
Why is the upheaval happening more this century? That's the $64 million dollar question, and there's no simple answer. Part of it is that teams are getting too good to play the role of sacrificial lamb for the top seeds on their way to the championship. Now if a top seed has any kink in the armor, some coaching staff is going to find a way to expose it -- and thanks to the salary cap-era and free agency, that coaching staff now has the talent on the roster with which to do it.
Bad luck, injuries to a star player? Those surely have been a factor, too, in this century's one-and-dones (see Rose, Derrick), but those hurdles also existed before 2000. Then how about additional pressure past teams didn't have to deal with? The Pittsburgh Steelers' 1970s dynasty didn't have to worry about ESPN highlights or what some NFL Network analyst said about them Sunday night, or negative feedback from an opposing player through social media. Can you really picture Jack Lambert having a Twitter account?
These days, Amare Stoudemire cuts his hand after punching a fire extinguisher and we get a story on other teams making fun of him, and another to look at the stitches. Washington star Alexander Ovechkin logs just 13:36 of ice time in Game 2 against the Rangers, and it becomes an in-series drama. Sports really have turned into your grandma's soap operas, and a player has to be cut from a different cloth to handle the pressure. It's not foolish to assume some buckle under that pressure, or at least suffer from the ramifications.
At a media session just days before the 2010 AFC Divisional playoffs, New England wide receiver Wes Welker made 11 references to "feet" as a way of poking fun at New York Jets' coach Rex Ryan and his connection to foot fetish videos that had recently gone viral. Unfortunately for Welker, Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn't find the deadpan delivery humorous, as he benched Welker for the first offensive series of that weekend's game against New York.
New England was on an eight-game winning streak at the time, having scored at least 31 points in every game en route to finishing with the league's best regular season record. On the first drive, without Welker, Tom Brady threw an interception, ending his record streak of 335 passes without one, and the Patriots never got settled on offense. In the end, it was Welker who had to remove foot from mouth, as he finished with just 57 receiving yards, and the Jets pulled off the 28-21 upset over the top seed.
But that hardly explains every top seed's loss. What follows is a league-by-league look at this century's top seeds, starting with the NFL and concluding with hockey. Bear in mind that the "regular season champion" was defined by the team that had the best record in each league (most points in the NHL). When teams had the same record in a conference, the tiebreaker went to the team that had the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage. If teams tied for the best record in different conferences, the best season result was used.
For the "since 2000" stats used throughout this article, that would begin with the 2000-01 seasons in the NBA and NHL, as it is based on seasons that started in the year 2000, rather than ones that saw their postseasons end in 2000 -- like the 1999-2000 seasons.
One caveat. None of this is particularly a bad thing. Who doesn't love an underdog defying the odds? And how boring would sports be if the best teams remained the best all season long? Oh, and rest assured, we'll see more of these upsets and crazy playoff results in the future. Maybe not as crazy as a 7-9 team beating an 11-5 team, like the Seattle Seahawks did to the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints two playoff seasons ago, but this trend seems to have some staying power. Just ask the city of Chicago.
As cliché as it may sound, today's postseason truly is a different beast. While you can enjoy your team's accomplishments in the regular season, just remember that the best record has never been more irrelevant come the playoffs than it is today. (Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Playoff Evolution: The league did not use a true seeding system in which the top seed was guaranteed home-field advantage until 1975. That is why the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins actually had to travel to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship game. A strike in the 1982 season led to an unprecedented 16 teams (out of 28 in the league) making the playoffs; a large increase over the traditional 10. By 1990, the league extended the playoff field to 12 teams, and division realignment in 2002 created the system in use today.
What's Different?:Top seeds are going one-and-done at a shocking rate since 2000. The problem has only gotten worse with five of the last seven top seeds losing after their bye week to a team that had to win on Wild Card weekend.
Part of the reason for this change is the superior opponents in the Divisional Round. From 1983 to '99, the top seed's opponent in this round won 59.2 percent of its regular season games, while on average outscoring its opponents by 2.2 points per game. Just one of these 17 teams won more than 10 games (1996 San Francisco 49ers). Since 2000, the average Divisional round opponent for the top seed won 67.4 percent of its regular season games, and had an average scoring differential of 6.6 points per game. Eight of those 12 teams won at least 11 games.
THE ONE AND DONES:
2011 Packers (15-1): Green Bay flirted with a perfect regular season behind MVP Aaron Rodgers, but the Giants and quarterback Eli Manning were clearly the stronger team in a 37-20 win at Lambeau Field in the Divisional playoffs. Manning threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, and New York's defense repeatedly attacked Rodgers, who never got comfortable in the pocket. The Giants sacked Rodgers four times and recovered three fumbles. New York went on to beat New England in Super Bowl XLVI.
2010 Patriots (14-2): The Patriots closed the regular season on an eight-game winning streak, including a 45-3 rout of the Jets on Monday Night Football. But Rex Ryan kept alive his preseason promise of a Super Bowl for one more week when his Jets dominated the Patriots at the line of scrimmage. Tom Brady was sacked five times, and New England's high-powered offense was held under 30 points for the first time in more than two months in a 28-21 loss. The Jets fell the following week to Pittsburgh.
2008 Titans (13-3): Tennessee rookie running back Chris Johnson showed his Pro Bowl form early in his team's playoff opener with the Ravens. He rushed in the game's first touchdown and averaged 6.5 yards per carry before leaving with an ankle injury late in the first half. Without Johnson, the Titans offense struggled to finish drives, and Baltimore kicker Matt Stover booted a 43-yard field goal with less than a minute left to give his team a 13-10 win. "We really have no one to blame but ourselves," Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins said afterward. "This one's going to hurt for a while."
2006 Chargers (14-2): San Diego, undefeated at home all season, entered the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak. In a game filled with mistakes by both teams, San Diego led the New England Patriots 21-13 in the fourth quarter. After intercepting Tom Brady for the third time in the game, safety Marlon McCree had the ball stripped by Troy Brown. New England recovered, tied the game, and eventually won 24-21 on a late field goal. San Diego's last-second gasp was kicker Nate Kaeding's failed attempt on a 54-yard field goal, sealing the fate of head coach Marty Schottenheimer. A week later the Patriots would blow a championship-game record 18-point lead in Indianapolis.
2005 Colts (14-2): Indianapolis' season ended in one of the craziest finishes in NFL history. Pittsburgh dominated from the start but held only a 21-18 lead late in the game. With the chance to close Indianapolis out, running back Jerome Bettis fumbled for the first time all season. Nick Harper, who had been cut in an alleged domestic dispute the previous day, picked up the loose ball and ran it downfield. He seemed on his way to the end zone, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made a touchdown-saving tackle. The Colts' had a shot at a game-tying field goal, but kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed the 46-yarder.
2000 Titans (13-3): Tennessee ran into division rival Baltimore and an all-time great defense in its divisional playoff game. Baltimore dominated the Titans' offense, holding Eddie George to 3.4 yards per carry and Steve McNair to 24-for-46 passing. With the game tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter, Al Del Greco's field goal attempt was blocked and returned 90 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. Later, a McNair pass to George bounced off the running back's hands, and Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, the league's defensive player of the year, returned the interception for a touchdown. The Titans' defense was also strong, holding Trent Dilfer to 5-for-16 passing, but it wasn't enough against the eventual Super Bowl champions.
THE TOP SEEDS WHO WON IT ALL
2003 Patriots (14-2): You cannot talk about the 2000's in the NFL without focusing on New England. A franchise that knocked off top seeds like the 2001 St. Louis Rams, 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers and 2006 San Diego Chargers, the 2003 Patriots are the only top seed in the last 15 seasons to actually win the Super Bowl, defeating the Carolina Panthers 32-29. They did so after Adam Vinatieri made his second career game-winning field goal in the final seconds of a Super Bowl.
Playoff Evolution: From its early roots, the NBA had seen a fair share of changes to its playoff format. Going back to the 1970s, you can find teams getting first-round byes, best-of-three opening series, and series that went back-and-forth between cities each game instead of the more common 2-2-1-1-1 format. Finally, for the 1983-84 season, the league simplified and changed it to a 16-team playoff system, and the first round was a best-of-five series. For the 2003 playoffs, this was changed to a best-of-seven series like the other rounds, forcing a team to have to win 16 games to win a championship.
What's Different?: The problem that plagues NBA's top seeds today has been getting past the conference finals. From 1983 to '99, the top seed's opponent in the conference finals won 66.5 percent of its regular season games, and had an average scoring margin of 5.10 points per game. Since 2000, the top seed's opponent in the conference finals has won 69.8 percent of its regular season games, and had an average scoring margin of 6.37 points per game. Top seeds are playing slightly tougher teams today, hence fewer appearances in the NBA Finals.
Despite Chicago's loss to Philadelphia, the first round of the playoffs has not been much of a problem for the top seed. Usually, eight-seeds are not quality opponents. After the 16-team playoff format began in 1984, the first five teams that were eight-seeds had losing records and a negative scoring margin.
There have been eight-seeds with a better record than the 2011-12 Philadelphia 76ers (35-31), but none of the 28 teams in the top seed vs. bottom seed matchup had a better scoring margin than Philadelphia's +4.24 points per game, which ranked fifth in the NBA this season. Combine that with the injuries to Rose and Joakim Noah, and Chicago's fate makes sense.
THE ONE AND DONES
2011-12 Bulls (50-16): A year after Chicago reached the Eastern Conference finals, the team earned home-court advantage, even though reigning MVP Derrick Rose missed 27 regular season games. With Rose back, the Bulls looked like a title threat. But with a minute left in a playoff-opening win over the 76ers, he tore his ACL on a move near the basket. With its star out for the postseason, Chicago lost in six games to Philadelphia.
2006-07 Mavericks (67-15): Dallas drew its nightmare matchup in the first round: Ex-coach Don Nelson and the Warriors had won five straight over the Mavericks. Golden State's success continued in the series as the Mavericks became the first team with more than 65 wins in a season to be eliminated in the first round. Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki was widely criticized for his playoff performance, especially his 2-for-13 shooting in the Warriors' 25-point win in Game 6 to close the series.
THE TOP SEEDS WHO WON IT ALL
2007-08 Celtics (66-16): The first-year pairing of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in Boston worked beautifully, as the team cruised to the NBA's best record, and clicked as one of the league's stingiest defenses. The postseason would prove to be more difficult, as Boston didn't win a road playoff game until the Eastern Conference finals, and needed all seven games just to advance past Atlanta and Cleveland. In the Finals, they beat longtime rival the Lakers in six games. The series-clincher was a dominant 131-92 Game 6 win in Boston.
2002-03 Spurs (60-22): Behind league MVP Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich's defensive-minded Spurs won the second of four championships in a nine-year span. Statistically, the Dallas Mavericks (also 60-22) were the best team in the regular season, but the Spurs eliminated Dallas in the Western Conference finals, winning the series 4-2. In the NBA Finals, they beat the New Jersey Nets in six games that may have set offensive basketball back several years.
Playoff Evolution: Baseball has been a much simpler game in terms of the playoff format. For decades it just played the World Series. Then in 1969 a league championship series (LCS), played as a best-of-five (changed to best-of-seven in 1985), was added, putting four teams in the postseason. That worked fine until 1981, when a strike wiped out 38 percent of the scheduled games, and the league used a split-season format that added a division series and basically negated the team with the best overall record. The Cincinnati Reds were a league-best 66-42, but didn't even make the playoffs under this split system. Things returned to normal the following year, until another strike canceled the 1994 postseason. Starting in 1995, the league division series (LDS) were permanently added, starting the postseason with a best-of-five series, and bringing the total postseason count to eight teams.
Where baseball likes to get tricky is with home-field advantage. It wasn't until 1998 that the team with the best record was actually given home-field advantage in the LCS. Before that they would alternate each year. Likewise with the World Series, home-field advantage was often alternated between the American and National leagues until they decided to use the winner of the All-Star Game as a way to award it.
Thus, by current rules no team is guaranteed home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which makes having the best record and top seed less important than in the other sports.
What's Different?:One could say the addition of Wild Card teams and the LDS has made getting to the World Series harder. Other than that, the numbers remain fairly similar. Of course that could be leveled as a complaint against the salary cap-less MLB, as a lot of the same teams (ones with large payrolls) are finding themselves in the playoffs year after year.
Statistically, first-round opponents (LCS from 1983 to 1993, LDS from 1995 to present) won 56.5 percent of their regular season games from 1983 to '99. Since 2000, they have won a near-identical 56.6 percent of their regular season games.
THE ONE AND DONES
2011 Phillies (102-60): Philadelphia won a major league-best 102 games during the regular season, but the team was designed for success in the postseason behind its deep rotation. The opposing Cardinals found enough offense to split the first four games of the series, though, setting up a winner-take-all matchup between aces. St. Louis star Chris Carpenter outdueled Roy Halladay in a 1-0 win in Game 5. The only run of the game came in the top of the first when Skip Schumaker doubled home Rafael Furcal. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series.
2008 Angels (100-62): The Angels' prize for winning a major-league best 100 games? The defending champion Red Sox, who had won nine straight playoff games against the Angels entering the series. Boston was in control from the start, and the only positive for Los Angeles was that it ended its losing streak with a Game 3 victory. The turning point might have been in Game 2. J.D. Drew, who had battled back problems that some thought would end his season, drilled a two-run home run in the ninth inning to give Boston a 7-5 win.
2006 Yankees (97-65): The high-powered Yankees' offense was clicking in Game 1, with shortstop Derek Jeter going 5-for-5 and New York dominating in an 8-4 win. From there, Detroit's pitching took over. New York scored only six runs in the final three games as the Tigers eliminated the World Series favorites. "You kind of get tired of giving the other team credit," Alex Rodriguez told reporters after the team was eliminated. "At some point you've got to look in the mirror and say, 'I sucked.'"
2002 Yankees (103-58): It was the year of the Rally Monkey, and the Yankees were just the first stop for the Angels. Anaheim, with their white-headed capuchin monkey acting as mascot, made a run to the World Series title. New York took Game 1 of the ALDS, but the Angels responded by taking three straight. Anaheim scored 31 runs in the four games and hit .376 in the series.
2000 San Francisco Giants (97-65): The Giants had their opportunities and, with a couple breaks, may have swept the Mets. Instead, they dropped both Game 2 and Game 3 in extra innings. In Game 2, the Giants rallied to score three runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. But their momentum stopped when the Mets' Jay Payton drilled an RBI-single to center in the top of the 10th. In Game 3, San Francisco didn't score after the fourth inning. Benny Agbayani drilled a walk-off home run in the 13th to seal the New York win. The Mets then closed the series at Shea Stadium in Game 4.
THE TOP SEEDS WHO WON IT ALL
2009 Yankees (103-59): After eight years of postseason frustration that included two World Series losses, four one-and-done ALDS losses, and an excruciating 2004 ALCS against Boston, the Yankees added a 27th World Series victory to the trophy case. Not bad for a team that missed the postseason the previous year. In the World Series, the Yankees prevented a Philadelphia repeat by winning the series in six games.
2007 Red Sox (96-66): What happens when two teams on different waves of momentum meet in the World Series? The 2007 Colorado Rockies finished the regular season winning 14 of their last 15 games, before sweeping the first two rounds of the playoffs. That's a 21-1 run. Meanwhile, Boston fell behind 3-1 in the ALCS to Cleveland, but rallied back again with a dominant three-game winning streak. Boston outscored the Indians 30-5 in the last three games. While Colorado was hotter, its momentum fizzled away thanks to a record eight-day layoff before it played Game 1 of the World Series, which Boston won easily by a score of 13-1. Boston went on to sweep the series.
Playoff Evolution: There have been numerous changes to the NHL playoffs throughout history. By the mid-1970s, 12 teams were making the postseason in a league that only had 18 teams. Teams were even given first-round byes, meaning only 12 games were needed to win the Stanley Cup instead of 16 if you had a bye. In the 1979-80 season, the league changed to allow 16 teams out of 21 make the playoffs. The 1981-82 season reintroduced the idea of divisional matchups, with the top four teams from each division making the playoffs. The first round of the playoffs was still a best-of-five. It became a best-of-seven in the 1987 playoffs. The league then switched to two conferences (Eastern and Western) for the 1994 playoffs, with eight teams from each conference making the postseason. Finally, each conference featured three divisions starting in 1998-99, creating the playoff system we see today.
The Presidents' Trophy was first awarded in the 1985-86 season. It goes to the team with the most points in the regular season.
What's Different?:After the entire 2004-05 season was lost over a labor dispute, the NHL returned in 2005-06 with hopes of more exciting scoring and shootouts replacing ties. But the most interesting development has been the increase in postseason upsets and drama. In the seven seasons since the lockout, four Presidents' Trophy winners have lost in the first round of the playoffs.
It started immediately with the 2005-06 Red Wings, and has happened in three of the last four seasons. In those same 2006 playoffs, the bottom seeds (5-8) all won their opening round series in the Western Conference. The eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers even made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The first round of this season's playoffs featured a record 16 overtime games; yet another sign of increased competitiveness.
Like with other leagues, a reason for this is an improvement league-wide in the bottom seeds of the playoffs. As for stats, since the number of games in a season has been uneven, we looked at the points percentage for playoff teams. From 1983 to '99, the eighth seed averaged just 46.7 percent of points in a season. Since 2000, that number has increased to 55.8 percent.
Vancouver has played the two eighth-seeds with the best record in the last two seasons: 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks (97 points), who forced the Canucks into a Game 7 after trailing 3-0, and of course the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings (95 points).
THE ONE AND DONES
2011-12 Canucks (111 points): Vancouver finished with a league-best 111 points. Its first round opponent, Los Angeles, sneaked into the playoffs with only three regular season games left. But from the start, the Kings were the aggressor. In Game 2, L.A. scored two short-handed goals. Jonathan Quick was strong in the net for the Kings, recording 46 saves in Game 2 and shutting out the Canucks in Game 3. Vancouver struggled between the pipes. The Canucks benched starter Roberto Luongo after he gave up four goals in each of the first two games. Backup Cory Schneider played better but still went only 1-2 in his starts.
2009-10 Capitals (121 points): The President's Trophy winner jumped out to a three-games-to-one lead in its opening round series with the Canadiens. But the Capitals scored only one goal in each of the final three games as the No. 8 seed downed the Cup favorites. Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak put on a clinic in the final three games, recording 141 saves over those three contests. "It'll be on ESPN Classic tomorrow as one of the greatest goalie performances," Halak's teammate Mike Cammalleri said after the goalie's 53-save performance in Game 6.
2008-09 Sharks (117 points): San Jose's home-ice advantage didn't last long. No. 8 seed Anaheim swept the first two games of the series on its way to eliminating the Sharks. San Jose was shut out twice in the series, after being shut out only three times in the entire regular season. "Did we get what we deserved? We could have played better, obviously, in some games," Sharks coach Todd McLellan told reporters after his team was eliminated.
2005-06 Red Wings (124 points):Top-seeded Detroit ran into a team ready to make a big run. The Red Wings were first on the Oilers' path to the Stanley Cup finals. In the clinching Game 6, Edmonton's Ales Hemsky scored with 1:06 left in the third period to give the Oilers a 4-3 lead. "I am shocked we're in this situation," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said afterward. Defenseman Mathieu Schneider put it more bluntly: "We didn't play like the No. 1 seed."
THE TOP SEEDS WHO WON IT ALL
2007-08 Red Wings (115 points): After some early stumbles in the Mike Babcock era, Detroit put it all together for a complete season. With the best record and scoring differential in the league, Detroit eliminated all of its opponents in six games or fewer on its way to a Stanley Cup victory over Pittsburgh. The Red Wings shut down the Penguins' talented offensive duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The teams would meet in a Stanley Cup Finals rematch the next season, but Detroit squandered a 2-0 series lead and lost Game 7 at home.
2001-02 Red Wings (116 points): As you can see, Detroit's had plenty of ups and downs. Heading into the 2002 playoffs, the Red Wings won just one of its final 10 games in the regular season. Its opponent, the eighth-seeded Vancouver Canucks, was hot and already in playoff mode, going 8-0-1 in that span. Vancouver would seize a stunning 2-0 series lead. However, the momentum didn't matter. The superior Detroit team rallied to win Game 3 on its way to a sweep of the last four games. It took a while, but the switch was finally turned on. After surviving the first round scare, Detroit won its third Stanley Cup in the Scotty Bowman era.
2000-01 Avalanche (118 points): With a talented roster featuring Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy, the Avalanche won its second championship in a six-season span. After falling behind 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Finals against New Jersey, Roy had a 24-save shutout in Game 6's 4-0 victory. Game 7 was played in Colorado, and Roy outplayed Martin Brodeur, as Colorado won 3-1 to hoist the Stanley Cup.