NHL's most bitter defeats by team: Canadiens, Lightning, and Ducks.
Every fan must endure bitter defeat from time to time, but when it comes to choosing the most painful loss ever suffered by a team there are many factors to consider: the expectations, the opponent, the stakes. Blowout losses hurt, but it’s the close ones—the ones that got away, or the ones that were decided by fickle fate—that are often the most memorable.
This series revisits each NHL franchise’s most bitter loss. Here is Part 7:
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• Montreal Canadiens: December 2, 1995—Red Wings 11, Canadiens 1
The 1995–96 season was tumultuous for the Canadiens from the start. After losing their first four games of the season, coach Jacques Demers was replaced by former player Mario Tremblay, much to the chagrin of franchise goalie Patrick Roy, with whom Tremblay had nearly fought just days before. The history between the two men was not a genial one. They had been uneasy roommates during the Tremblay’s playing days, and he was a constant critic of Roy. During one practice, they had to be separated after Tremblay fired a puck at the two-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender’s throat. The tension was mounting, and it didn’t take long to erupt.
Less than two months later, Roy started Montreal’s Dec. 2 home game against Detroit and found himself in trouble early on.
Red Wings forward Igor Larionov slipped a rebound past the netminder on the power play to make it 1–0. Slava Kozlov doubled Detroit’s lead. After Mark Recchi got the Canadiens on the board, the flood of goals by the Red Wings continued when Kozlov, Nicklas Lidstrom and Greg Johnson scored, followed by Kozlov’s third goal of the evening. Detroit’s Mathieu Dandenault made it 7–1 with 14:50 to go in the second period, prompting the broadcasters to wonder if Tremblay was at all wondering about pulling his All-Star goalie. When Roy made a routine save, the notoriously unforgiving crowd at the Montreal Forum gave a mocking cheer. Roy, in retort, mock celebrated by raising both of his arms. Johnson scored again. Then Sergei Fedorov’s one-timer from the hash marks ended Roy’s night. All told, he’d given up nine goals on 26 shots in 31:57 of play.
After being replaced by backup Pat Jablonski (who allowed two more in the 11–1 loss, the most lopsided defeat in franchise history), Roy skated to the bench, took off his gloves and mask, shuffled past Tremblay to team president Ronald Corey and calmly told him within earshot of the coach, “It’s my last game in Montreal.” Tremblay, Roy later claimed, had hung him out to dry in order to humiliate him.
The game did indeed proved to be Roy’s final appearance in the bleu, blanc et rouge. He was shipped to the Avalanche four days later along with Mike Keane (who was –5 that night) for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. The deal marked the end of an era for the Canadiens, and it was roundly criticized—especially for the middling talent received in return for a record-setting future Hall of Famer—as well as deeply regretted, by the team and its fans.
Roy, who had won four Jennings trophies, three Vezinas, a trio of first-team All-Star nods and two Conn Smythes as playoff MVP with Montreal, went on to backstop Colorado to the Stanley Cup that season while the Canadiens fell to the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. The championship was the third of Roy’s career, and he added another in 2001. Montreal has not returned to the Cup Final since his departure. — Michael Blinn
The swelling still hasn’t gone down from the Lightning’s faceplant late in their 2–1 loss to the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, but even that one can’t match the We-got-jobbed! pain that still lingers from this decade-old defeat.
Tampa Bay, making its first playoff appearance since 1996, was in tough against favored New Jersey in the second round. The Bolts got themselves in a series hole early, dropping the first two games on the road, then split at home to put themselves in a must-win situation as the series returned to Continental Airlines Arena for Game 5.
Nikita Alexeev got Tampa Bay on the board at 11:18 of the first period, but Scott Niedermayer tied it up on the power play just two minutes later. The score remained the same for nearly 100 seesaw minutes until Grant Marshall clinched the game, and the series, for the Devils midway through the third overtime frame.
That’s a tough way to lose under the best of circumstances, but the Lightning had every right to feel like the cards had been stacked against them. While New Jersey enjoyed four power play chances in the game, including a pair in overtime, Tampa Bay didn’t get a single opportunity with the extra man in nearly six full periods of play. Worse than that, Lightning forward Fredrick Modin had an apparent go-ahead goal disallowed in regulation when the video judge ruled that he kicked the puck into the net. Reviews of the play, though, showed that the Devils’ Marshall had kicked Modin’s skate, forcing his foot into a “kicking motion.”
“A game like that, it’s great when you win and devastating when you lose,” said Tampa Bay goalie John Grahame, who made 46 saves in his playoff debut. — Allan Muir
• Anaheim Ducks: May 16, 2014; Western Conference Semifinals, Game 7—Kings 6, Ducks 2
The Ducks had waited 20 years to stick it to Los Angeles, their Southern California rivals, in the playoffs. When their chance finally came in 2014, everything seemed to be going their way. Anaheim hadn’t simply finished 16 points ahead of the Kings. The Ducks had finished first in the Western Conference and were viewed as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Of course, L.A. was no pushover. Less than 24 months removed from the franchise’s first championship, the Kings were deep, experienced and highly motivated to add another trophy to their case.
No surprise that the series turned out to be a nasty, hard fought affair. The first four games were stolen by the road team. Each team then won at hime to extend the series to Game 7 at Anaheim’s Honda Center.
Home ice should have provided an advantage, but nerves got to the young Ducks early on. Clutch postseason performer Justin Williams (of course) and Jeff Carter took advantage of soft defensive coverage to stake Los Angeles to a 2–0 lead less than 10 minutes into the first period and the Kings seemed to be in control until Drew Doughty derailed a breakaway chance by Ducks sniper Corey Perry by slashing Perry’s stick at the 14:08 mark.
It was the turning point of the game. If Perry had scored on his penalty shot, L.A.’s lead would have been cut to 2–1 and the Anaheim crowd would have been back in the game. But Perry’s slow motion dispy-do approach to the net was disrupted by goalie Jonathan Quick, whose bold poke check sent the puck skittering into the corner before Perry could even set up his shot.
Just over a minute later, Mike Richards banged a rebound past John Gibson to make it 3–0 and just like that the Ducks were cooked. The Kings went on to win a 6–2 laugher as their fans in the building chanted, “This is our house!”
Not only were Anaheim’s Cup dreams smashed, but the loss marked the end of the line for beloved veteran Teemu Selanne. Certainly not the way he wanted to conclude his Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau’s decision to start rookie netminder Gibson over veteran Jonas Hiller drew criticism, but he didn’t see his goaltending as the issue.
“It was men against boys, quite frankly,” Boudreau said. “They were bigger, stronger, faster and seemed more determined. We were on our heels. Everything we said we didn’t want to do, we did. We get behind the eight ball and all of a sudden we get mad, whether it’s against the officials. By the time we started playing well again in the second, Quick was there to make the save when they needed it.”
The loss also marked the second consecutive season in which Anaheim had been eliminated in a Game 7 at home.
“Really tough emotions right now,” said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. — Allan Muir