From upset to title: Lightning join club of teams to get championship redemption


The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Just a year later than many experts expected.

In defeating the Dallas Stars Monday, the Lightning redeemed one of the biggest upsets in recent sports history. Last season, Tampa Bay had the league’s best record. Winger Nikita Kucherov won the Ross, Lindsay and Hart awards. Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. And yet, even after winning a record 62 games, the Lightning were on the wrong end of a first-round upset to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But, the Lightning join an elite group of teams to be upset one year and champions the next.

Here are a few teams that pulled it off:

The loss: One narrative that was a constant for the NCAA basketball tournament was that a No. 16 seed had never beaten a No. 1 seed — until 2018. Virginia was No. 1 in the polls and a top March Madness seed facing UMBC, who had to pull an upset in the Atlantic East tournament to even make the Big Dance. The game was tight early before the Retrievers put together several big runs and won by 20.

The redemption: UVa entered the 2019 tournament at 35-3 and again a No. 1 seed. As is their style, the Cavaliers played tight, defensive games in the NCAA tournament and went to overtime in two of them. That included the national championship game where they beat Texas Tech to win Virginia’s first basketball title.

The difference: Clutch free throws. Kyle Guy sank three with 0.6 seconds left in the Final Four game against Auburn. In the title game, Virginia was 12-for-12 in overtime to ice the game.

The loss: Super Bowl LII was a record-breaking offensive show. New England had 613 yards of offense and lost, 41-33, to the Philadelphia Eagles. Eagles QB Nick Foles was the game’s MVP.

The redemption: A year later, the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams, in a game that was the polar opposite of Super Bowl LII. The Rams had been an offensive powerhouse the entire season. They scored 30 or more points in 12 games, but managed just three points in the Super Bowl.

The difference: A defensive masterpiece from Bill Belichick. The Rams managed just 260 total yards and converted three first downs. Todd Gurley II, just a year after leading the league in rushing touchdowns and being the Offensive Player of the Year, had just 35 yards rushing.

The loss: In the second College Football Playoff National Championship meeting between Clemson and Alabama, Clemson got even after losing in the 2016 title game. The Tide blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead as Deshaun Watson and the Tigers had a rally for the ages. Watson won the game with a touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with 0:19 left.

The redemption: Alabama got into the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed despite not representing its division in the SEC title game. After beating Clemson in the semifinal, the Tide met Georgia in the championship. Alabama trailed 13-0 at halftime but came back to win 26-23 in overtime.

The difference: Tua Tagovailoa. Starting QB Jalen Hurts could not get Alabama’s offense going so Tagovailoa started the second half. He threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including a walk-off, game-winning, 41-yard TD pass in overtime.

The loss: The Warriors were practically unbeatable. Their 73 wins are the NBA regular-season record. The playoffs seemed like more of the same until the Western Conference finals where the Warriors came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder. Golden State won three of the first four games over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Then Draymond Green got suspended. LeBron James had 82 points combined in Games 5 and 6. Then there was the monster block and Kyrie Irving’s go-ahead 3-pointer and the Cavs had won it all.

The redemption: The Warriors’ core was intact the next season, but, of course, they added Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City. Golden State’s third straight trip to the NBA Finals seemed like a foregone conclusion. They swept into the Finals to face James and the Cavaliers again. In winning the series, 4-1, the Warriors’ average margin of victory was 14 points.

The difference: Durant. In winning his first title, he scored 176 points in the five-game series. He led the Warriors in scoring in every game. He was also named the Finals MVP.

The loss: In a rather ho-hum year for Duke, it finished third in the ACC and was 26-9 overall. The Blue Devils still entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed. While it wasn’t the most loaded Duke team of the last decade, the Blue Devils don’t generally exit to a No. 14 seed in their first tournament game. Mercer, however, outplayed Duke in the second half to win 78-71.

The redemption: Duke doesn’t stay down long. It signed four five-star recruits and won its first 14 regular-season games. As a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, it beat No. 2 seed Gonzaga to reach the Final Four and beat Wisconsin to give coach Mike Krzyzewski his fifth national title.

The difference: The freshman class. While not having the overall star power of other, recent Duke recruiting classes, the group restocked Duke at almost every position. In Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, according to ESPN Recruiting, “The Blue Devils are getting two players who already have chemistry on the court, which is a big advantage.” The class also had Grayson Allen and Justice Winslow.

The loss: LeBron James has been on both sides of this equation. The Heat’s super team of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together in 2010, and many expected Miami to be a dominant force and easy NBA Finals winner. Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, however, won the title in six games. The Mavs’ role players and an uneven performance by James played a big part in the upset.

The redemption: The Heat still weren’t the unbeatable force many expected and had to overcome deficits in three of the four rounds in the playoffs. But against a young Oklahoma City Thunder core of Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the Heat had experience and it showed. The Heat won the series in five games.

The difference: James. The previous season, James often deferred to Wade as the Heat’s primary scorer. But in these Finals, James averaged a double-double with 28.6 points per game. He had a triple-double in the series-clincher.

2008 Team U.S.A. basketball

The loss: Since the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics, U.S.A. basketball was the dominant Olympic force, turning the tournament into an afterthought and an international display of NBA stardom. That collapsed in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The team lost more games in Athens than it had in all its previous Olympic appearances combined and finished third.

The redemption: With Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, James and Wade, the Americans were back to winning. They didn’t lose a game in the tournament and had a +161 point differential in the group stage. In the medal round, they won by an average of 20.6 points.

The difference: The young guys. Bryant was the veteran leader of the team and James, Wade, Anthony and Chris Paul were among eight players under 26 years old. Many of those same players were part of the 2012 and 2016 games and haven’t lost a game since 2004.

The loss: The A’s were heavy favorites against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1988 World Series. They had the “Bash Brothers” — Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco — and a good pitching staff with Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley. The Dodgers had elite pitching and the historic heroics. The series is remembered for Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run that won Game 1 for the Dodgers, but Orel Hershiser’s pitching was the story. He won both of his starts and pitched a complete game in the series-deciding Game 5.

The redemption: Oakland returned the following year with the same core group. The 1989 series is known for the Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck before Game 3. The A’s dominated the series, sweeping the San Francisco Giants.

The difference: Home runs. Stewart, who started and won two games, was the MVP. However, the A’s were known for power hitting and it showed up in 1989 with nine home runs over four games.

The loss: Indiana was four years removed from its last national championship. The 1985-86 Hoosiers finished second in the Big Ten at 21-6. That got them a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Indiana, however, was bounced in the first round by No. 14 seed Cleveland State.

The redemption: The following season, IU won the Big Ten and was again a No. 3 seed in the tournament. With Steve Alford and Keith Smart, the Hoosiers won easily in the first three rounds before needing late-game heroics to beat LSU in the Elite Eight and Syracuse to win the national championship.

The difference: Smart. Alford was an All-American, but Smart made big shots in the tournament. He transferred to Indiana the previous season, but was scoring more than two points per game more in his senior season. In the title game, Smart hit the game-winning shot with five seconds to play.

The loss: The 1969 Orioles won 109 games, won their division by 19 games and easily won the American League pennant. They had Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson in the lineup and Jim Palmer on the pitching staff. They faced the “Miracle Mets” in the World Series.The Mets, a laughingstock to that point, won 38 of their last 49 games to win their division and reach the playoffs, then completed the miracle run by beating Baltimore in five games.

The redemption: The Orioles remained intact the following season and there was not a destined team standing in their way. Baltimore won the division by 15 games, had the most wins in the Major Leagues and cruised to the World Series. This time all the pieces clicked and Baltimore beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games.

The difference: Hitting. The Orioles’ loaded lineup batted just .146 in 1969. Brooks Robinson hit .429 in the 1970 series and the Robinsons, combined with Boog Powell, hit six total home runs.

Research from ESPN Stats and Information contributed to this story.

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