Hockey can be a cruel game.
Bounces, breaks, puck luck, call ’em what you like. Sometimes they just don’t go your way, ruining a shift, a game or even a season.
This being Friday the 13th, let’s take a look back on 13 of the unluckiest moments in NHL history. (Note: For the sake of keeping things light, we’re not including examples of real misfortune such as career-threatening injury, disease and, of course, death.)
• A miserable 2006-07 season offered the Flyers one reward: a 48% chance of winning the lottery and securing the first pick in the 2007 NHL draft. Typically, they found a way to lose even that contest to a Blackhawks team that had just an 8% chance of landing the top prize.
“That's the luck of the draw, I guess, or the unluck of the draw,” Philly GM Paul Holmgren said. “But what are you going to do? I’m not sure it really matters. I’m confident we’re still going to get a good player. As I’ve said all along, I’m not sure there’s an immediate impact guy there, anyway.”
Turned out, there was. While the Flyers’ choice at No. 2, James van Riemsdyk, spent the next two years maturing at the University of New Hampshire, Patrick Kane, the player Chicago selected with that top pick, stepped into the lineup and tallied 21 goals and 72 points on his way to winning the Calder Trophy.
He also scored a pretty big goal two years later. His OT marker in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final was the championship clincher as the Blackhawks knocked off the team that might have drafted him.
• Goaltenders understand that crazy bounces are part of the game, but few have suffered from one quite like Tomas Vokoun. The Penguins netminder dodged one flukey redirection early in a Feb. 3, 2013 game against the Capitals but was completely baffled by John Carlson’s second period dump-in. As Vokoun left his crease to corral the soft shoot-in, the puck hit a stanchion and caromed directly into the open net. It was such an unlikely goal that Carlson was head down and halfway to the bench before he realized what had happened.
• Poor Patrik Stefan. As if it isn’t enough that he’s considered one of the biggest busts in NHL draft history, hes also remembered for authoring one of the game’s most epic fails. On the ice for the dying seconds as his Dallas Stars battled to protect a 5–4 lead, Stefan swiped the puck from Edmonton’s Marc-Andre Bergeron at the Oilers blueline and drove in alone toward the empty net to ice the victory.
He didn’t make it. Instead he overskated the puck, blew a tire and turned it over in cartoonish fashion, allowing the Oilers to retrieve it and break out of their zone. Seconds later, Ales Hemsky beat Marty Turco to send the game to overtime. The Stars managed to pull it out in extra time, but too late to save Stefan from himself.
• Billy Harris (left, in photo below) was an original New York Islander, leading that sad sack club in scoring during its 12-60-6 inaugural season of 1972-73 and suffering through more than 100 losses during its first two campaigns. Dave Lewis (right) arrived a year later. Together, they played vital roles as the Isles matured from expansion laughing stock to viable championship contender. By rights, they should have been there when New York finally captured the first of its four consecutive Stanley Cups. Unfortunately, they were sacrificed at the 1980 trade deadline, sent to Los Angeles in exchange for Butch Goring, the player GM Bill Torrey considered “the final piece of the puzzle” and as a result missed out on their chance to be part of history.
• Speaking of bad Cup luck, spare a moment of compassion for the members of the 1968-70 St. Louis Blues. For three consecutive seasons, they battled their way out of the expansion teams-only Western Division to challenge for the Stanley Cup ... only to be swept each time in the final by elite foes—Jean Béliveau’s Canadiens twice and Bobby Orr’s Bruins once. While some of them, like Dickie Moore, Jimmy Roberts and Glenn Hall already had sipped from the old mug, and others, like Terry Crisp, would get their chance down the road, these three consecutive whuppings at the hands of elite opponents was as close as they’d ever get. And for the coup de grace, the third was famously memorialized by the iconic photo of Orr sailing through the air after delivering the Cup-winning goal in 1970.
• The Bruins fired 73 shots at Quebec’s Ron Tugnutt on March, 21, 1991, the second-most in NHL history. Tugnutt was brilliant, making 70 stops, but Boston’s shooters were snakebit on an epic scale. Ray Bourque, who took an amazing 19 shots, had it worst of all, blowing one final chance from point-blank range with eight seconds remaining in overtime. “I couldn't believe it,” he said later. “On that last one, I saw all net, nothing but net, and I thought, ‘No way he’s gonna get this.’ I shot it as hard as I could, with a guy in front of him, and he still caught it.” The frustrated B’s had to settle for a 3–3 tie.
• Nothing worse for an attacker than hearing the chimes after he’s launched a shot towards the net. So you can imagine how Vincent Lecavalier felt after he heard them ring three times ... on a single shot.
With his Flyers trailing 1–0, Lecavalier drove to the front of the Los Angeles Kings net and, after accepting a sweet dish from Wayne Simmonds, had Jonathan Quick dead to rights. He fired from point blank range toward the gaping cage, but instead of hitting twine it was right post, cross bar, left post, and out.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Simmonds said. “You couldn’t do that if you tried.”
• When you’re out on the ice playing a high-speed game against large men carrying clubs in their hands, injuries are part of the equation. Even players waiting their turn on the bench understand they need to keep their heads up. But David Poile? He never saw it coming ... which actually isn’t surprising. The Predators GM was standing in a hallway during practice when an errant puck left the surface and against all odds smacked him directly in the head. Poile required surgery to repair the resulting eye socket fracture and as a result missed traveling to Sochi to watch the American team he built compete in the 2014 Olympic Games.
• Again, injuries are part of the game, but when Columbus lost a record 508 man games to them during the 2014-15 season, it was a legendary run of bad luck. Ten players missed 20 or more games, including goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, centers Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Mark Letestu and defenseman Ryan Murray. At one point in November, 11 of the team’s projected starting 20 players were sidelined and the toll ended up costing the Blue Jackets a playoff berth many people had predicted they would grab.
“We’ve studied our doctors, we’ve studied our trainers, we’ve studied how our players are conditioned,” groaned team president John Davidson. “It’s just flat-out bad luck what we went through last season.”
• Penguins winger Beau Bennett has dealt with more than his share of injuries during his brief career, but the one he suffered over the course of a 3–2 loss to Montreal on Oct. 13 (hmmm), 2015 wasn’t the result of a heavy hit, a jammed wrist or a blocked shot.
“I hurt myself celebrating a goal, unfortunately,” the Penguins winger admitted. “That’s just unlucky. But I’ve learned to keep my arms down and celebrate less, I guess.”
“It’s very unique, the way the injury happened,” coach Mike Johnston said. “[The way] the game is, anything can happen, and sometimes for Beau, that’s the way it goes.”
• With a little bit of luck, things could have been very different for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their infamous Game 7 loss to the Bruins in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Remember, with just 3:35 remaining and the Leafs holding a 4–2 lead, Matt Frattin stole the puck from Boston’s Dougie Hamilton at the Toronto blueline and raced in alone on goalie Tuukka Rask. But instead of salting away the game, Frattin sailed a backhander wide of the net.
If you don’t remember what happened next, just ask a Leafs fan ... but remember to take a couple steps back first.
But that hasn’t always been the case. Consider poor Robin Burns, who spent three seasons as a depth winger with the Penguins before getting a chance to play full-time for the expansion Kansas City Scouts in 1974. Burns cast off the numbers 10 and 25 he’d worn in Pittsburgh and challenged fate by donning 13. It did not go well. Burns went for a combined –80 over the next two seasons and was out of hockey by 1976.
• Nearly 30 years later, it still ranks as the unluckiest play in NHL history. Skating out from behind his own net, Edmonton defender Steve Smith’s cross-ice pass attempt banked off the skate of goaltender Grant Fuhr and into the Oilers goal. That rookie miscue broke a third-period tie in Game 7 of the Smythe Division final series with the rival Calgary Flames and stood as the game- and series-winner, ending Edmonton’s two-year run as Stanley Cup champs and preventing what could have been a record-tying streak of five in a row.
Making it worse: It happened on Smith’s birthday, ensuring that he’ll be reminded of it every year when he cuts into the cake.
The numbers game
• The Rangers (12-2-2), Stars (13-4-0), Capitals (11-4-0), and Wild (10-3-2) are off to franchise-record starts.
• The Rangers are now 160-1-9 when leading after two periods. Their mindboggling streak dates back to Feb. 6, 2010.
• Ottawa’s Hamburglar continues to sizzle. Andrew Hammond is now only the third goalie in NHL history to win 22 of his first 29 career starts in the NHL. The others: Hall of Famer Frankie “Mr. Zero” Brimsek in 1938-39 and Ross Brooks in 1972-74. Both of them accomplished the feat while playing for Boston.
• The Insider Trading boys discuss juicy rumors involving Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen. One seems more likely than the other.
• Speaking of trades, one writer argues that now is the time for the Flyers to trade Claude Giroux. I suspect Philly management does not share this sentiment.
• Reinforcements are arriving for Boston’s beleaguered blueline.
• Fighting might be trending downward but it remains a viable aspect of the game this season.
• Based on the early returns, the NHL—s new face-off rule isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. Warning: heavy numbers analysis within.
• Is this player the NHL’s most underrated?