The 10 Most Heartbreaking Playoff Losses in Sports History

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings are squaring off in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final for the chance to hoist the legendary trophy as the best hockey team in the land. The Kings last won the Cup just two years ago, while the Rangers have not been crowned champion since 1994, the last time the Blueshirts appeared in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are engaged in a rematch of the 2013 NBA Finals in which the Heat defeated the Spurs in seven games. San Antonio is out for revenge and a fifth ring for Tim Duncan after Miami snatched victory from the jaws of defeat last season. LeBron James is trying to cement his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time.

All of this amounts to one thing: two of these teams/cities/fan bases will experience tremendous joys and celebrations, while the other two will suffer crushing defeat, heartbreak and agony.

So let's dive into that second category and revisit some of the most heartbreaking playoff losses in sports history. These are the games that made fans curse the heavens, question their sanity and call out from work the next day because they just couldn't handle it.

Up first...

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox, 2004 ALCS Game 7

Truthfully, you could pick any of the final four games in this series, but Game 7 was the official, final nail in the Yankees' coffin. These two blood rivals had been in numerous postseason encounters up to this point, but the Yankees more often than not had the upper hand. New York had the 26 World Series Championships, while Boston had not won a title in 86 years thanks to the "Curse of the Bambino."

The Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the series after a 19-8 drubbing of the Sox in Game 3 and seemed poised to make the World Series for the seventh time in nine years. But the legendarily reliable Mariano Rivera blew the two-inning save in Game 4 and Boston had life. The Sox edged a 5-4 win in Game 5 and then survived a hostile Game 6 (police in riot gear stood on the field at one point) to force a decisive Game 7.

And it wasn't even close. The Red Sox raced out to an 8-1 lead after four innings at Yankee Stadium and Boston, the first team out of 26 to force a Game 7 after falling down 3-0, crushed the Yankees and their fans, 10-3, in the Bronx to reach the World Series. They would sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to complete their historic run.

Boston is, to this day, the only team in MLB history to come back from a 3-0 deficit.

Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs, 2013 NBA Finals Game 6

It was over. I knew it. You knew it. My 87-year-old grandmother who doesn't even watch basketball knew it.

The San Antonio Spurs were about to become the 2013 NBA Champions. They held a 95-92 lead as the Heat entered their final possession. LeBron James of course took the last shot, but missed his 26-foot three-point jumper attempt. But Chris Bosh grabbed a critical offensive rebound and kicked it out to Ray Allen, who buried a three from the corner to send the game into overtime.

The collective heart of San Antonio, and everyone who hates the Heat, sank as the Spurs' impending coronation evaporated and Miami had new life. The Heat would win in overtime and won game 7 at home to earn their second consecutive championship.

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Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons, 1987 NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game 5

All Isiah Thomas had to do was inbound the ball. It's a play that point guards run thousands of times in their careers and should have been no problem for one of the greatest players in the game.

The Pistons and Celtics were tied at two games apiece in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Detroit was about to take a 3-2 lead in the series with its third straight win. The Pistons had a 107-106 lead, so all Thomas had to do was inbound to center Bill Laimbeer, the Celtics would foul and the game would (barring a different miraculous event) end with a Detroit victory.

But Larry Bird stole the inbound pass and dished it to Dennis Johnson, who hit the game-winning lay-up and stunned Detroit. The Pistons actually won Game 6, but Boston would win the series in Game 7 at home.

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New York Giants vs. Buffalo Bills, Super Bowl XXV

The New York Giants seem to have a knack for heart-wrenching, thrilling Super Bowls (we'll get to another one shortly). On Jan. 27, 1991, the Bills played part in one of the most memorable, and heartbreaking, Super Bowls in history.

Buffalo had obliterated the Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3, in the most lopsided victory in AFC Championship Game history. The Giants, meanwhile, had upset the San Francisco 49ers, 15-13, in the NFC Championship Game. The Niners had an NFL-best 14-2 record that season and had won the last two Super Bowls.

The Bills were heavy favorites in the Super Bowl, but the Giants held a 20-19 lead with 2:16 left in the game. Buffalo had the ball at their own 10-yard line, and quarterback Jim Kelly drove the Bills to New York's 29-yard line.

Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood lined up for a 47-yard field goal with eight seconds left that would have all but locked up the franchise's first Super Bowl win. But Norwood's kick famously sailed wide right, less than a yard outside the upright, and the Giants held on for a 20-19 victory.

This was the start of a historic streak for the Bills, as they became the only team in NFL History to lose four straight Super Bowls (XV to XVIII). But Buffalo is also the only team to win four straight conference championships, so there's a silver lining.

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New York Giants vs. New England Patriots, Super Bowl XLII

The New York Giants were an afterthought in Super Bowl XLII. The team finished the regular season at 10-6 and had vanquished the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers (all on the road) to reach the Super Bowl.

The New England Patriots, on the other hand, were one of the most dominant teams in NFL history and had an unblemished 18-0 record. The overwhelming majority of fans assumed New England would thrash the Giants and take their place as possibly the greatest team in the history of the sport.

But Eli Manning and the Giants had other plans. The Giants trailed 14-10 with 2:39 left in the game and got the ball on their own 17-yard line. Manning led New York to its own 44-yard line, and New England cornerback Asante Samuel missed an interception on 2nd-and-5 that would more than likely have ended the game.

On the next play, one of the most famous in Super Bowl history, Manning scrambled out of trouble and fired down field to David Tyree, who made a one-handed leaping catch over Rodney Harrison and pinned the ball to his helmet for a 32-yard catch. A few plays later, Manning found Plaxico Burress for a touchdown with 35 seconds left.

The Patriots got the ball back with three timeouts on their own 26-yard line and 29 seconds left, but the Giants did not allow a yard and held on for the improbable victory. Patriots' fans dreams of another Super Bowl and a perfect season crumbled to dust.

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Boston Red Sox vs. New York Mets, 1986 World Series Game 6

The Boston Red Sox had yet another chance at an elusive World Series championship when they faced the New York Mets in 1986. The Red Sox had a 3-2 series lead and held a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6. The Mets, with two outs, scratched across two runs to tie it and Mookie Wilson then dribbled a ground ball toward Bill Buckner at first base.

The game should have been over, but the ball quickly bounced and Buckner misplayed it. The ball rolled through his legs and into the outfield, which allowed Ray Knight to score and give the Mets a 6-5 win. Boston's dream of a World Series win after 68 long years went up in the most disastrous fashion, but the team still had a chance in Game 7.

Of course, Boston lost that game, 8-5, and had to wait 18 more years for a World Series title.

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Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots, Super Bowl XXXIX

The Philadelphia Eagles under head coach Andy Reid and with quarterback Donovan McNabb reached their fourth consecutive NFC Championship game in the 2004-05 season and finally broke through with a win to reach the Super Bowl. The New England Patriots were seeking their third Super Bowl in four seasons and had amassed a 14-2 record during the regular season.

The Patriots took a 24-14 lead with 8:43 left in the game. The Eagles would eventually put together a 13-play, 79-yard drive to trim the lead to 24-21 when Donovan McNabb found Greg Lewis for a 30-yard touchdown pass. But only 1:48 remained in the game, and the Eagles could not recover the onside kick. They burned all three timeouts and got the ball back but it was too little, too late and Rodney Harrison's interception with 10 seconds left ended any chance of a comeback win.

The loss stung Philadelphia and its fans all the more after four straight seasons of flirting with the Super Bowl. The Eagles finally got over the NFC Championship Game hump in 2004-05 and had a realistic chance at their first Super Bowl win, but Philadelphia is still waiting for it to this day.

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N.C. State vs. Houston, 1983 NCAA Championship Game

Jim Valvano led the 1982-83 N.C. State Wolfpack to a 17-10 record (8-6 in the ACC). The team had to win the conference tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and did so. What followed was an improbable run to the NCAA Championship game against Houston, nicknamed Phi Slama Jama.

The Cougars had future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. They were 31-2 and the No.1 team in the Associated Press poll. They had a 26-game winning streak before the NCAA title game.

And then it all disintegrated, as sixth-seeded N.C. State shocked Houston, 54-52, at the buzzer when Lorenzo Charles dunked Dereck Whittenburg's missed shot to give the Wolfpack the national title. The win is even sweeter given Valvano's death from cancer in 1993 but, at the time, the win left Houston's fans with their jaws on the floor.

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Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings, 1942 Stanley Cup Final Game 7

The 1942 Detroit Red Wings will forever be known as the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in a playoff series, as the Toronto Maple Leafs completed their comeback with a 3-1 win in Game 7 in Toronto. The Leafs were actually the better team in the regular season with 57 points, while the Red Wings had just 42.

The 3-0 comeback feat is so rare that it has only happened five times in sports history (we've already covered one on this list):

- Toronto Maple Leafs over Detroit Red Wings, 1942 Stanley Cup

- New York Islanders over Pittsburgh Penguins, 1975 Stanley Cup

- Boston Red Sox over New York Yankees, 2004 ALCS

- Philadelphia Flyers over Boston Bruins, 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals

- Los Angeles Kings over San Jose Sharks, 2014 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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New York Yankees vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, 2011 World Series Game 7

The events of 9/11 heightened the emotion of the 2001 World Series, but the fact that the New York Yankees were involved made it all the more special. This would be the last time Scott Brosius, Chuck Knoblauch, Paul O'Neill, Derek Jeter and Tino Martinez would be together, and the entire city of New York was behind the boys in pinstripes as they played for their fifth World Series title in six years.

The Yankees held a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 in Arizona, and the nigh-unbeatable Mariano Rivera was on the mound for New York after he had struck out the side in the eighth. But a series of defensive miscues and critical hits by the Diamondbacks plated two runs and lifted Arizona to a 3-2 victory and its first World Series Championship in just the team's fourth year of existence. The Diamondbacks became the fastest expansion team to win a World Series and brought the first major professional sports championship to Arizona.

New Yorkers, meanwhile, were left devastated after the Diamondbacks ripped up what was almost a storybook ending.

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