Sweeps on the biggest stage haven’t been seen in the ice fields of the NHL for 16 years, but the Los Angeles Kings, now leading 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals, might become the 21st champions to lift the cup without having even the slightest bit of opposition, this time coming from the New York Rangers.
The interesting thing about this upcoming sweep, if the Rangers are truly broken like they seemed to be at the end of the third period, with the Kings up 3-0 and the Madison Square Garden quickly emptying out, is how long and hard the road for the Kings turned out to be: They won three game 7’s to reach the finals, including coming back from 0-3 down against the San Jose Sharks and 2-3 down in the next round against the Anaheim Ducks. They faced elimination seven times, and came out unscathed.
The last sweep was also the last time a team repeated as champions – the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. That Red Wings team swept two years in a row – first against the Philadelphia Flyers and a year later vs the Washington Capitals. That was the end of four years of boring Stanley Cup Finals. The New Jersey Devils in 1995 and the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 also won their finals in four games only.
The last six Cup finals haven’t had less than six games in them. Since that Red Wings repeat in 1998, we’ve had only two champions who needed just five games to take the cup home: The Red Wings in 2002 and the Ducks in 2007. Completing that impressive series of sweeps in the 1990s were the Pittsburgh Penguins, beating the Chicago Blackhawks in four games as they won their second Stanley Cup championship.
The two dominant teams of the 1980’s – The New York Islanders and the Edmonton Oilers, winning a combined eight Stanley Cup finals in that decade, had three sweeps total. The Islanders won in 1982 (against the Vancouver Canuks) and in 1983 (against the Oilers themselves) in four games only. The Oilers beat the Boston Bruins 4-0 in the 1988 Stanley Cup Finals.
Maybe it’s the fact that there hasn’t been a dynasty – like the Islanders and Oilers, like the Red Wings, like the Canadiens or even Maple Leafs of the really old days. Parity means no repeating champions, and also no easy series, at least until now.