Skip to main content

How have franchises fared in their first final appearance?

Is history on the side of the Predators as they enter the first final in franchise history? Look back at other first-time finalists and how they've fared in their Stanley Cup debut

Monday night’s Game 1 will be a memorable one in the history of the Nashville Predators. After 18 seasons and 10 playoff appearances, the Predators will officially hit the ice for the first Stanley Cup final in franchise history, also becoming the first team from the most recent round of expansion — which dates back nearly two decades now — to earn a berth into the final.

This won’t just be the first crack at the final for the organization, though. For most of the Predators’ roster, this will be their first glimpse of anything beyond the third round. In fact, Nashville captain Mike Fisher, who was part of the Ottawa Senators’ run to the final back in 2006-07, is the only Predator who has played in the East-versus-West best-of-seven for the Stanley Cup, and his experience spans a mere five games.

And that will be one of the stories of this final; the inexperienced Predators against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who haven’t only been here before but were here one year ago. But don’t go assuming the experience advantage means the Cup is Pittsburgh’s to lose. In some cases, the first time in the final for a franchise can be a charm, and some beginner’s luck could be at work when Nashville skate out for Game 1. However, history has shown the first-time franchises have some difficulty in the final.

For a historical look back, here’s how every franchise that has made the final fared in their first trip:

Anaheim Ducks — 2003 vs. New Jersey Devils

The then-Mighty Ducks were a team on the rise, but the entire run to the Stanley Cup final in 2003 was thanks to Jean-Sebastian Giguere. The netminder stood on his head throughout the playoffs, posting a brilliant .945 save percentage and 1.62 goals-against average. He almost stole the Stanley Cup final for the Mighty Ducks, but the Devils were too much in the end. After an incredibly hard fought seven-game series, New Jersey took home the title. 

Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in their next trip to the final in 2007.

Result: Lost in seven games

Boston Bruins — 1927 vs. Ottawa Senators

The Bruins’ first trip came at a time when the league was only in its infancy, as you would expect from an ‘Original Six’ club, but it came against a franchise that folded for years before coming back in a new iteration. Those Senators were a powerful bunch, too. Having already won the sport’s top prize three times since 1920, Ottawa overmatched the first-timer Boston squad and took home the Stanley Cup in four games. It was a best-of-three series, but had to be stretched to five games when the first game finished in a 0-0 draw. 

Boston was victorious the second time around, defeating the New York Rangers in 1929.

Result: Lost in four games

Buffalo Sabres — 1975 vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Only several years after expansion the Sabres had fought their to the final only to run into another club that had only come into the league a short while earlier. Trouble for the Sabres, however, was that these Flyers were no first-timers in the final. The Broad Street Bullies had won the Stanley Cup the year prior and were looking to defend their title, and though Buffalo fought valiantly to make the series a close one, Philadelphia was simply too talented.

Buffalo would again make the final in 1999, a series which infamously ended in six games.

Result: Lost in six games

Calgary Flames — 1986 vs. Montreal Canadiens

On their way to the Stanley Cup final, the Flames had derailed one of the great dynasties in NHL history, forcing the Edmonton Oilers to head home in a seven-game, second-round series before earning the franchise’s first final berth thanks to a seven-game victory over the St. Louis Blues in the conference final. The fun was halted promptly against the Canadiens, however. Calgary won Game 1, but proceeded to get thumped in the next four games, losing by a combined score of 13-8. Some upstart kid named Patrick Roy stole the show for Montreal.

The Flames got back to the final in 1989 and got revenge on the Canadiens, winning the Cup in six games.

Result: Lost in five games

Carolina Hurricanes — 2002 vs. Detroit Red Wings

Thanks to a division title, the Hurricanes had earned themselves a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference despite finishing with the seventh-most points. But even if they were perceived to be one of the weaker teams in the post-season, the Hurricanes proved they had earned their spot as one of the conference’s best. Carolina opened up by beating the Devils in six games, marched through the Canadiens in six and then downed the Toronto Maple Leafs in six. Things wouldn’t go as well in the final, however. It took the Presidents’ Trophy winning Red Wings five games to win the Cup.

Carolina was back by 2006 and, like other second-timers, made good on their previous failure, winning the Stanley Cup in seven games.

Result: Lost in five games

Chicago Blackhawks — 1931 vs. Montreal Canadiens

The Blackhawks, then known as the Black Hawks, headed into their first final up against the defending champion Canadiens. It was a tall task to take down the high-flying club, but Chicago nearly pulled it off. The five-game series had to go to a Stanley Cup deciding fifth outing, but the Black Hawks came up a little short in Game 5. Montreal scored twice and George Hainsworth shut the door as Chicago lost its first final appearance in five games.

Chicago got the win back in 1934, however, winning their first Stanley Cup in their second final appearance.

Result: Lost in five games

Colorado Avalanche — 1996 vs. Florida Panthers

One final in league history has ever pitted two first-time teams against each other. That was the 1996 battle between the Avalanche and Panthers. The series couldn’t have been more lopsided, though. The Avalanche were absolutely stacked, with Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy as the three-headed monster leading the charge. Colorado was dominant early on, including an 8-1 win in Game 2, and won it all when Uwe Krupp blasted home a triple overtime winner in Game 4.

Result: Won in four games

Dallas Stars — 1981 vs. New York Islanders (as Minnesota North Stars)

The last team anyone wanted to face in the early 1980s was the New York Islanders. Coach Al Arbour’s group was about as strong a team as there has ever been in league history and the Islanders were almost unstoppable in the final. The Stars, then in Minnesota, fought valiantly but all four losses in the series game by at least two goals. In Game 5, it wasn’t even all that close. New York won 5-1 and the North Stars skated away having suffered defeat.

Minnesota made it back 10 years later only to go up against and lose to the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins.

Result: Lost in five games

Edmonton Oilers — 1983 vs. New York Islanders

What went for the North Stars goes for the Oilers, too. Glen Sather had a squad that would soon rise to greatness, but before the Edmonton dynasty would begin, they had to feed New York’s legendary streak of four-straight Cups. There was nothing great about the series for the Oilers. Even with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey, Edmonton lost every game by at least two goals.

The pain didn’t last long in Edmonton, though. The Oilers kicked off their four-Stanley-Cups-in-five-years dynasty the next season.

Result: Lost in four games

Florida Panthers — 1996 vs. Colorado Avalanche

The other side of the first-timers battle. The Panthers were the most shocking team in the post-season, led to the final on the strength of goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck in just their third season as an NHL franchise. Florida had beaten the Bruins, Flyers and Penguins en route to the final, but were simply overpowered by the Avalanche. It’s regarded as one of the most one-sided finals in league history.

Result: Lost in four games

Los Angeles Kings — 1993 vs. Montreal Canadiens

Things could have been much different for Los Angeles and the Kings had it been for some more timely scoring. After winning Game 1 of the final, Los Angeles took the next three games to overtime but lost every single outing. Three-straight games, three-straight overtime losses. That has to be hard to stomach. Not even Wayne Gretzky could beat Patrick Roy in those overtime defeats. And when Game 5 rolled around, Montreal had that one solid outing that ended the series, crushing the Kings in five games.

The 2012 final was the first time Los Angeles had returned to the final since the 1993 defeat. The Kings joined the second-timer club, downing the Devils in five games.

Result: Lost in five games

Montreal Canadiens — 1916 vs. Portland Rosebuds

The oldest berth for a modern-day franchise came when the Canadiens, the NHA champions, took on the Rosebuds, who had won the PCHA title. The series was tight and took five games to decide a winner, but Montreal would take home its very first Stanley Cup in its very first final. No other modern day team won its first championship earlier in league history, but it’s fitting that’s the case given Montreal’s rich Stanley Cup history.

Result: Won in five games

New Jersey Devils — 1995 vs. Detroit Red Wings

A battle between two franchises on the rise ended up showing that one was much more ready for the test that was coming when reaching the final. The Devils and Red Wings squared off in a best-of-seven for the Cup in 1995, but it took only four games for New Jersey to dispatch of Detroit. The first game, a 2-1 victory for the Devils, was the closest the series got. The subsequent three games had a combined score of 14-6 as Martin Brodeur and Claude Lemieux led New Jersey to glory.

Result: Won in five games

New York Islanders — 1980 vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Every dynasty has its breakthrough moment. For the Islanders, it came on Bob Nystrom's overtime goal in Game 6 against the Flyers. In a series that saw each team dominate at least two games, it was the close wins that made all the difference. New York took Games 1 and 6 in overtime to drive the Islanders to victory in their first Stanley Cup final. The Islanders went on to win three more Cups in a row, losing their fifth-straight final appearance to the Oilers.

Result: Won in six games

New York Rangers — 1928 vs. Montreal MaroonsThe Rangers first Stanley Cup win came in only the second season of pure NHL competition, but against a team that wouldn’t stand the test of time. Up against the Maroons, who had won the Stanley Cup two years earlier, the Rangers were set for a tight series. Every New York victory, including Game 2s overtime victory, came by one goal in the 3-2 series victory.

Result: Won in five games

Ottawa Senators — 2007 vs. Anaheim Ducks

The Senators had dominated the post-season en route to their first final appearance. In the first round, it took five games to beat the Penguins, then five games to beat the Devils in the second round and five games defeat the Buffalo Sabres to win the Eastern Conference title. Unfortunately, Ottawa got a taste of their own medicine in the final. Up against a Ducks team looking to avenge a final loss only a few years earlier, the Senators watched the Stanley Cup slip away in five games.

Result: Lost in five games

Philadelphia Flyers — 1974 vs. Boston Bruins

The birth of the Broad Street Bullies came at the expense of a six-game beatdown of the Big Bad Bruins. Boston jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the series, but Philadelphia won Game 2 in overtime before winning the next two games by a combined 8-3 score. Boston would strike again in Game 5, but Bernie Parent would shut down everything in Game 6, shutting out the Bruins to hand the Flyers their first Stanley Cup.

Result: Won in six games

Pittsburgh Penguins — 1991 vs. Minnesota North Stars

On paper, it’s almost hard to believe this series could have been close, but it took six games for the Penguins to dispatch of the North Stars. In fact, early on, Minnesota had Pittsburgh on the ropes. The North Stars won two of the first three games, but then the Penguins came to life and dominated. Over the final three games of the series, all of which were Pittsburgh wins, the Penguins thumped the North Stars by a combined score of 19-8, including a jaw-dropping 8-0 win in Game 6.

Result: Won in six games

San Jose Sharks — 2016 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Nashville is a first-timer this year, but it was San Jose who had the honor of their first trip to the final last season. The Predators have to hope things go better for them against the Penguins than they did for the Sharks, though. San Jose went down 2-0 in the series quickly as Pittsburgh won both games on home ice, and the Sharks never recovered. A 4-2 victory in Game 5 breathed some life into San Jose, but Pittsburgh crushed the Sharks’ hopes in Game 6.

Result: Lost in six games

St. Louis Blues — 1968 vs. Montreal Canadiens

How could you not feel for the Blues in the years following expansion? For three straight years, from 1968 to 1970, St. Louis made the final. Each time, the Blues, coached by Scotty Bowman, lost the series. Each time the defeat was a sweep. The 1968 loss was the closest of the three losses, however. St. Louis was outscored 11-7 across four games and lost two of the four games in overtime. The two subsequent sweeps came by goal margins of 12-3 and 20-7.

Result: Lost in four games

Tampa Bay Lightning — 2004 vs. Calgary Flames

Stanley Cup champions from non-traditional markets bookended the lockout. Post-lockout, it was Carolina. Pre-lockout, it was Tampa Bay. In a series that was as close as finals get, the Lightning needed all seven games to take home the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The hero of Game 7 was Ruslan Fedotenko, who scored two goals in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 victory to bring the Stanley Cup to Florida for the first time. The goals were Fedotenko’s 11th and 12th of the post-season, which is remarkable given he scored only 10 more playoff goals across his other 84 career playoff games.

Result: Won in seven games

Toronto Maple Leafs — 1918 vs. Vancouver Millionaires (as Toronto Arenas)

The Maple Leafs franchise, then known as the Arenas, were technically the first NHL team to win the Stanley Cup. Though the Canadiens had managed to win the Cup two years earlier, they did so as part of the National Hockey Association in 1916. The NHL was formed in November 1917 and Toronto rose to the top of the hockey world by March 1918. NHL teams would go on to win the Cup, defeating the West Coast’s best, in six of the next seven finals. 

Result: Won in five games

Vancouver Canucks — 1982 vs. New York Islanders

Once again, the Islanders were there to meet a team that was taking part in its first Stanley Cup final. And, once again, it was New York that came out on top, and they really only gave Vancouver one chance to strike. Game 1 of the series was a back-and-forth affair, with the Canucks and Islander heading to overtime locked in a 5-5 draw. New York’s Mike Bossy ended the game with two seconds left in overtime, and it was all downhill from there for Vancouver. They lost the next three games by a combined score of 12-5.

The Canucks have made the final twice more since, but lost both series in seven games.

Result: Lost in four games

Washington Capitals — 1998 vs. Detroit Red Wings

Washington’s lone Stanley Cup final appearance, dating all the way back to 1998, is the only one in franchise history. Unfortunately for Capitals fans, it came against a Red Wings team that wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of to two-straight Stanley Cups. Each of the first three games were one-goal contests and Detroit came out on the winning end of each outing, only to thump the Capitals 4-1 in the fourth and ultimately deciding game of the final. What had been an outstanding run by Washington, and especially incredible run by goaltender Olaf Kolzig, ended without celebration.

Result: Lost in four games

First-Time Finalists Record: 9-16

Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.



What Happened to Jacob Markstrom?

The Calgary Flames are a game away from an early exit, and the man they counted on for so much of the season – Jacob Markstrom – has struggled mightily in the Battle of Alberta.

Nazem Kadri

Nobody Deserves the Brutal Abuse Nazem Kadri is Facing

Nothing Nazem Kadri has ever done as an NHLer warrant treating him like some subhuman monster. These racist attacks on him – and everyone – need to stop.


Cat-astrophe: Florida Must Learn From Lightning Loss

The Panthers came into the series as the higher seed, but Tampa Bay taught their in-state cousins a lesson about playoff hockey.