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THE KINGS CAPTURE THE CUP

Longshots have beaten the odds

Kings aren't the first team to make an improbable run to a championship.

June 13, 2012|Andrew L. John
  • Kings defenseman Matt Greene hoists the Stanley Cup following the Kings' Game 6 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Staples Center on Monday.
Kings defenseman Matt Greene hoists the Stanley Cup following the Kings'… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

It's an understatement to say the Kings' run to their first Stanley Cup title in 44 seasons was highly improbable.

Seeded eighth, the Kings became the lowest-seeded team in NHL history to win the Cup, thanks largely to their remarkable 10-1 road record, tying a league record for the most road wins in a postseason. And while winning 16 of 20 playoff games, the Kings outscored their opponents by an impressive 57-30.

And that was after they entered the playoffs as 20-to-1 shots to win the title.

But for decades unlikely teams, such as the Kings, have defied the odds and snatched championships away from star-studded teams with more wins and higher payrolls. Just go back to February when the New York Giants, with their 9-7 regular-season record, beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

Here are 10 longshot teams that shocked the oddsmakers and became champions:

10 1994-95 New Jersey Devils (22-18-8, 2nd in the Atlantic Division)

They scored the fewest power-play goals in the NHL and struggled to a 9-11-4 record through the first half of the lockout-shortened season, but the Devils morphed into a championship team. Led by a stellar defense, the Devils, seeded fifth in the East, cruised through the postseason, winning 16 of 20 playoff games and sweeping favored Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, June 15, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Longshot sports champions: In the June 13 Sports section, an article about pro teams that were longshots to win championships said that the 2002 Anaheim Angels were the first wild-card team to win the World Series. The 1997 Florida Marlins were the first wild-card team to win the World Series.

9 1974-75 Golden State Warriors (48-34, 1st in the Pacific Division)

Golden State was the best team in the West, but the defending champion Boston Celtics and the Washington Bullets each won 12 more games than the Warriors during the regular season. After Washington knocked out the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, the Bullets were expected to run over the Warriors in the Finals. Instead, Golden State, led by Rick Barry, swept Washington.

8 2004 Boston Red Sox (98-64, 2nd in the American League East)

Boston had a good regular season, but the Yankees and Cardinals posted better records and were co-favorites to win the World Series. In the ALCS Boston trailed the Yankees in the ninth inning of Game 4 and was on the brink of being swept before winning the game in extra innings. It was the start of one of the most unlikely postseason runs in MLB history: The Red Sox also won Game 5 in extra innings, Curt Schilling, with his bloody sock, won Game 6 and Boston took Game 7 at Yankee Stadium. Boston then swept St. Louis to end its 86-year drought without a World Series title.

7 2011 New York Giants (9-7, 1st in NFC East)

The Giants won their final two regular-season games to secure the division title after periods of inconsistency all season. Earlier, during a stretch of five losses in six games, it was widely speculated that Tom Coughlin was finished as coach. But after knocking off Atlanta at home, New York upset San Francisco and top-seeded Green Bay on the road before taking down New England and Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.

6 1996-97 Detroit Red Wings (38-26-18, 2nd in the Central Division)

The Red Wings won only 38 regular season games and finished fifth in total points in the NHL. Postseason expectations were modest. In the playoffs, however, Detroit beat St. Louis and Anaheim before eliminating heavily favored Colorado in the conference finals and then swept Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup Final. The championship was the Red Wings' first since 1955.

5 2003-04 Detroit Pistons (54-28, 2nd in the Central Division)

The Pistons had an All-Star center in Ben Wallace, though the clear title favorites in 2004 were the Lakers, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Newly acquired stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton were hoping to finally get a championship ring with L.A. But Malone went down with a knee injury and the Pistons took the Lakers down in five games in the NBA Finals.

4 2006 St. Louis Cardinals (83-78 record, 1st in the National League Central)

The Cardinals won their division, but only two teams had entered the playoffs with a worse regular-season record. After disposing of San Diego in the divisional series, then winning the NLCS in seven games against the favored New York Mets, many assumed the Cardinals would fall to the Detroit Tigers, who hit 203 homers in the regular season. But Tony La Russa's Cardinals beat the Tigers in five games for their first World Series title since 1982.

3 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5, 2nd in the AFC South)

The Steelers faced an uphill battle as the sixth-seeded team in the AFC; no NFL team seeded that low had ever won a playoff game, let alone a Super Bowl. But Pittsburgh entered the postseason on a hot streak, having won four in a row, then won four playoff games away from home, becoming the first Super Bowl champion to do so since the AFL-NFL merger.

2 2002 Anaheim Angels (99-63, 2nd in the American League West)

The Angels hadn't been to the postseason since 1986, and the start of Mike Scioscia's third year as manager left many doubtful that would change any time soon. Anaheim won just six of its first 20 games before rattling off 21 wins in their next 24 games. In the playoffs, the Angels defeated the Yankees and the Twins to reach the World Series for the first time. Then they won Games 6 and 7 to defeat the Giants and Barry Bonds and become the first wild-card team to win the World Series.

1 2007 New York Giants (10-6 regular season, 2nd in the NFC East)

After the Giants were seeded fifth in the NFC, their miraculous run to the Super Bowl seemed unlikely. But after playoff wins at Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay, the Giants pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history by upending the 18-0 New England Patriots -- ruining Bill Belichick's hopes for a perfect season.

--

andrew.john@latimes.com

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