NHL Playoffs: Power Ranking the Last 25 Stanley Cup Champions
2012 will mark the 119th year that the Stanley Cup will be awarded. This year's Cup finals will begin on May 30th, with the last possible date for the Cup to be awarded being June 13th.
When the Cup is handed to the captain of the winning team, they will be among the select few that can call themselves Stanley Cup champions. They will join the first Cup winners, the 1893 Montreal Hockey Club of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, in the NHL history books.
Over the course of the last 25 years, 15 teams have won the Stanley Cup, with five of those teams winning more than once. The Detroit Red Wings lead that pack, having captured the Cup four times during that span.
If you're interested to see where we rank those four Cup-winning Red Wings teams or any of the teams that have lifted the Cup overhead in the last 25 years, feel free to delve into the following slideshow.
25. 2006 Carolina Hurricanes
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The 2005 NHL season had been lost to a lockout. When the 2006 season began, it was hailed as the beginning of the "new" NHL, with a list of new rules.
According to then-Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour, it was his team's ability to quickly adapt to those new rules that gave them an advantage. The new rules and the repercussions for breaking them were drilled into the team early on by their coaching staff, which was led by head coach Peter Laviolette.
The understanding of the new rules and the emergence of Eric Staal and Cam Ward were keys to the Hurricanes run to their first, and to date, only Stanley Cup championship.
24. 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning
If you don't think home ice advantage is important during the playoffs, allow me to introduce you to the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning finished first overall in 2004 and earned the right to home ice throughout the playoffs. The team didn't need it during rounds one and two, as they got past the NY Islanders in five games and the Montreal Canadiens in four.
However, during the Eastern Conference Finals, home ice came in handy when they needed all seven games to get past the Philadelphia Flyers.
After defeating the Flyers, the Lightning fell behind three games to two to the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup final. The Lightning defeated the Flames in Calgary in Game 6 to send the series back to Tampa, where they wrapped things up in front of their home crowd.
So, the next time someone says home ice doesn't matter, remind them of the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning.
23. 1993 Montreal Canadiens
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The 1993 Montreal Canadiens were one of three teams in the Adams Division to earn more than 100 points during the regular season. The team, led by Patrick Roy, Guy Carbonneau and Kirk Muller, would dominate the playoffs that season, putting together a 12-3 record on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The team the Canadiens would meet in the Stanley Cup final would be the Los Angeles Kings, coached by one Barry Melrose and captained by Wayne Gretzky.
Alas, the power of the mullet, while strong enough to direct the Kings to the Cup final, was not enough to get them past the Canadiens, who took the series four games to one.
1993 marked the last time the Canadiens won the Cup.
22. 1995 New Jersey Devils
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The 1995 NHL season was shortened to 48 games after an ownership lockout. When the season came to a close, the NJ Devils were in second place in the East, trailing the Philadelphia Flyers by eight points.
The Devils drew the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs and dispatched them in five games. In the next round, the Devils faced the Pittsburgh Penguins and again ended the series in five games. The last roadblock to the Cup finals were the Flyers, who extended the Devils to six games but fell by the wayside.
The Devils, once famously referred to by Wayne Gretzky as a "Mickey Mouse" organization, were on the brink of winning their first Stanley Cup. The only problem was that they were facing the President's Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings, a team that had not been to the Cup finals since 1966.
Four games after the finals began, the Devils were holding the Cup overhead, having outscored that Wings 16-7. The legend of a goaltender that, to this day, wears number 30 began in earnest.
21. 1997 Detroit Red Wings
The 1997 Detroit Red Wings used the shortcomings of their 1995 run to the Stanley Cup finals as a teachable moment.
The team took what they learned during that futile run and used it to fuel a 16-5 run through the playoffs, culminating with a four game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers.
20. 1996 Colorado Avalanche
On the way to his third Stanley Cup and first with the Colorado Avalanche, Patrick Roy unleashed what has to be one of the best comebacks in the history of any sport, responding to a Jeremy Roenick quip with, "I can't really hear what Jeremy says because I got my two Stanley Cup rings plugged in my ears."
Anyway, that comment was made during the conference semifinals, where Roy's Avalanche club would defeat Roenick's Blackhawks four games to two.
The Avalanche would go on to defeat the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers on their way to their first Stanley Cup victory.
What fans usually remember most of this team is Claude Lemieux's brutal hit from behind on Kris Draper during the Conference finals—a hit that, in the minds of many, solidified Lemieux's standing as the dirtiest player in hockey.
The victory was also bittersweet to the Quebec Nordiques fans, who the franchise had left behind when they fled to Colorado: The Avalanche won the Cup in their first year in Denver.
19. 2011 Boston Bruins
The 2011 Boston Bruins were one of the higher-scoring teams in the NHL while at the same time they were also one of the stingiest defensive teams.
The Bruins goaltender, Tim Thomas, led the league during the regular season in both save percentage (.938) and goals against average (2.00).
The dilemma the Bruins faced was that their opponents in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, the Vancouver Canucks, finished the regular season by scoring more goals while allowing fewer goals than the Bruins during the regular season.
With the series tied three games to three, the teams headed to Vancouver for Game 7. Things looked bleak for the Bruins, as they had gone 0-3 in Vancouver, scoring only two goals there during the playoffs, and those both came in one game.
When the dust cleared, the Bruins erupted for four goals, shutting out the Canucks and raising the Cup.
The shutout gave Thomas the Conn Smythe Trophy, as he posted a 1.98 GAA to go along with a .940 SP. At the annual NHL awards ceremony, Thomas would add the Vezina to his collection of trophies from the 2011 season.
18. 1999 Dallas Stars
The 1999 Dallas Stars could have collapsed under the restrictions that their defensive-minded coach Ken Hitchcock forced upon them, but they didn't. While it is true they had their moments of doubt, and moments where they wanted to revolt against Hitchcock's iron-fist rule, they stood together as a team and were rewarded a Stanley Cup for their efforts.
Say what you will about the game-winning goal (or no goal), there is no denying that the Stars were a team-first organization. Hell, even the outspoken and adversarial Brett Hull got on board during the team's 1999 run.
17. 2010 Chicago Blackhawks
The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks had one of the strongest young cores in the NHL, featuring players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg.
The team, facing salary cap issues in the offseason, was going to be broken up over the summer, a fact that was probably not lost on the players themselves. They were facing a win-now situation, and that was exactly what they did.
The 'Hawks ended their run to the 2011 Cup with a record of 16-6, never losing more than two games in any series, including their six-game Cup final win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
16. 2003 New Jersey Devils
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The New Jersey Devils have not won a Stanley Cup since 2003. It was the second-to-last year that the core group of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur would play together. I'm not implying that the two things are related, but let's be realistic. They are related.
The Devils of 2003 defined the word "team," assembled by masterful general manager Lou Lamoriello and coached by Pat Burns, they mowed teams down, playing a defense-first system that made winning the only goal. No flash, just win.
The style did not win them many fans outside of their base, but it did win them the 2003 Stanley Cup.
15. 1987 Edmonton Oilers
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The image of Wayne Gretzky behind the net was one that the Edmonton Oilers' opposition did not like to see, but with that space of ice known as Gretzky's "office," it was something they saw often.
During the 1987 playoffs, Gretzky racked up 34 points, and he wasn't the only player that the opposition had to concern themselves with as the team also featured Mark Messier, Craig MacTavish, Glenn Anderson, Esa Tikkanen, Jari Kurri, Kevin Lowe and Paul Coffey. Oh, and in net, the duo of Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog.
The Oilers ran through the first three rounds of the playoffs losing only three games in total. In the finals the Philadelphia Flyers took them to seven games, but they couldn't overcome the force that was the Oilers, dropping Game 7 by the score of 3-1.
14. 2007 Anaheim Ducks
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In team sports there is always that one player that is referred to as "the missing piece." That player is the one that can put a team over the top in their quest for a championship. For the 2007 Anaheim Ducks, that piece was disgruntled Edmonton Oilers defenseman Chris Pronger.
The team landed Pronger via trade and added him to a roster that already featured the strong leadership and skill of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne.The addition of Pronger gave the team a snarl that they lacked in previous incarnations.
When the playoffs rolled around, the Ducks went 16-5, closing out the Ottawa Senators in five games on their way to Stanley Cup victory.
13. 1988 Edmonton Oilers
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The Edmonton Oilers of the mid-to-late 1980s are probably the last dynasty we will ever see in the NHL, at least as long as the league operates under a salary cap. Can you imagine what it would cost the 1988 Oilers to ice a team that was, in effect, an all-star squad?
The 1988 Oilers cruised through the Stanley Cup playoffs compiling a record of 16-2. Helping the team to that record was Wayne Gretzky, who scored 43 points (12 goals, 31 assists) on his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy.
12. 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins
In the Original Six days of the NHL, it was not uncommon for the same two teams to meet in the Stanley Cup finals in consecutive years. In the modern NHL, with the number of teams in the league and the salary cap in place, parity has increased, and a Cup finals rematch has become increasingly rare.
In 2009 we saw a rematch when the Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins met the Nicklas Lidstrom-led Detroit Red Wings in the finals.
The 2009 Penguins may have taken more away from their loss to the Wings in 2008 than the Wings did in victory. Some would say the Penguins had to learn to lose before they could win.
Whatever it was, after seven games the Penguins were hoisting the Stanley Cup over their heads as the Wings were denied a repeat victory.
11. 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins
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The Pittsburgh Penguins of 1991 had Mario Lemieux in the lineup for only 26 regular season games as he missed time due to back surgery. In the games Lemieux did play in, he racked up 45 points.
In that season the Penguins iced a team that included Mark Recchi, John Cullen, Paul Coffey, Kevin Stevens, Jaromir Jagr, Joe Mullen and Ron Francis among others—basically, a who's who of NHL all-stars.
Lemieux did not disappoint when the playoffs rolled around, putting up 44 points in 23 games and capturing the Conn Smythe as his team defeated the Minnesota North Stars four games to two in the finals, closing the series out with an 8-0 shellacking.
10. 1989 Calgary Flames
The 1989 Stanley Cup Finals were contested between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens, the top two teams during the 1989 regular season.
The Flames would prevail, defeating the Canadiens four games to two. The most memorable images from the '89 Cup final were those of long time veteran Lanny McDonald scoring a goal in his final NHL game and raising the Cup over his head at the conclusion of that game.
During the Flames' run to the Cup, they finished with a record of 16-6.
9. 2012 LA Kings
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With how they ran through the playoffs it’s hard to believe that the Los Angeles Kings were the eight seed coming out of the Western Conference, only making the playoffs after taking eight of a possible ten points in their final five regular season games.
Some would have said that the way they finished the season and the manner in which they made the playoffs would have been a fitting end to their season, but the Kings were not even close to being done.
They tore through the Western Conference top seeds, beating the top three seeds by a combined 12-2 record and then topped the NJ Devils in the Cup Finals in a six game series, wrapping things up after they had taken a 3-0 lead in the series.
It’s easy to get caught up in hyperbole after a run like the Kings went on, but this team may go down as the best number eight seed in NHL history.
8. 1990 Edmonton Oilers
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By 1990 Wayne Gretzky had departed Edmonton for the sunny environs of Southern California, joining the Los Angeles Kings.
No matter. The Oilers still had a veteran core of Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Esa Tikkanen, Jari Kurri and Kevin Lowe. It didn't hurt that young stars Adam Graves and Kelly Buchberger were on the team as well.
The 1990 Oilers club would earn the team its fifth Cup in seven years, a run of dominance that no team has come close to since.
7. 2000 New Jersey Devils
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For most of the 2000 season, the New Jersey Devils were coached by the combative Robbie Ftorek. He subscribed to a more "old school" approach, leading through fear and intimidation more than anything else.
Ftorek's style chaffed many of the Devils' veteran players. When the team went into a tailspin in February and March, he was shown the door with eight games remaining in the season. He was replaced by the much more player-friendly Larry Robinson.
Once in the playoffs, the team swept the Florida Panthers and defeated the Maple Leafs in six games, putting them in the Eastern Conference finals against their long-time enemies, the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers took the Devils to seven games, but in the end the Devils prevailed, leading them to the Stanley Cup finals where they defeated the Dallas Stars four games to two.
6. 1998 Detroit Red Wings
It's safe to say that there was not a dry eye in the house as Detroit Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov was brought out onto the ice in his wheelchair to accept the Stanley Cup from captain Steve Yzerman after the Red Wings had captured back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998.
It's hard to imagine what the team went through after Konstantinov and team massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov were involved in a horrific limousine accident just days after winning the 1997 Cup. The accident left Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov badly injured.
The Red Wings, defining what a team is, rallied around the injured pair and won the 1998 Stanley Cup, sweeping the Washington Capitals in the finals.
The victory would mark the last time a team has won back-to-back Cups.
5. 1994 New York Rangers
If you were a hockey fan in the early 1990s you were familiar with the "1940" chant that the NY Rangers often heard when they played in opposing arenas. The chant served to remind the team of the last time they had won the Stanley Cup.
Mark Messier, brought in to captain a Rangers team to Cup victory, was feeling immense pressure when the team fell behind three games to two to the New Jersey Devils in the Conference Finals.
Perhaps wanting to ramp up the pressure even more, Messier went out and guaranteed the team would beat the Devils in Game 6.
Messier scored a hat trick during that game and when the two teams went into double overtime in Game 7, it felt like it was the Rangers' destiny to win, and they did.
Things didn't get any easier for the Rangers in the finals as they again needed seven games to win the series, finally defeating the Vancouver Canucks by a score of 3-2 to give the Rangers faithful a Cup and to end the taunting chants of "1940."
4. 2008 Detroit Red Wings
In 2008 the Detroit Red Wings no longer had Steve Yzerman to captain the ship. That honor had been given to Nicklas Lidstrom upon Yzerman's retirement at the end of the 2006 NHL campaign. It was also Mike Babcock's first time behind the Red Wings bench for the Stanley Cup Finals.
Also present on the 2008 team was the dynamic duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who led the Wings in playoff scoring during their run to the 2008 Cup.
The 2008 Red Wings Cup win also showed that one of the pre-salary cap era big spenders could do just as well in the salary cap era.
3. 2001 Colorado Avalanche
In team sports, it's a rare occasion when the focus becomes winning the championship for a single player. One of those occasions was the 2001 NHL season.
Time was catching up with Raymond Bourque. After all, the 2001 season was his 22nd year in the NHL. During that time Bourque collected many individual accolades, but he was never afforded the opportunity to lift the Stanley Cup over his head.
In 2001 that would change as a team stacked with talent—Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay, Chris Drury, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote—defeated the New Jersey Devils in seven games.
When Avalanche captain Joe Sakic was afforded the opportunity to raise the Cup over his head, he handed the Cup directly to Bourque, allowing the veteran player to be the first to lift the 2001 Stanley Cup.
2. 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins
Having won the Stanley Cup in 1991, all eyes were on the Pittsburgh Penguins when the 1992 NHL season began.
With that being said, the organization could be forgiven if their minds were not fully on their game, as head coach Bob Johnson had been diagnosed with cancer. Johnson would succumb to his illness in November 1991, and Scotty Bowman would take over behind the bench.
When the regular season came to a close, the team—coached by Bowman and led by players Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier, Bob Errey, Rick Tocchet, Jaromir Jagr, Larry Murphy and Ulf Samuelsson—found themselves in third place in their division and fourth in what was then the Wales Conference.
The Penguins went seven games in their first series, closing out the Washington Capitals in the final game by a score of 3-1.
From that point on, they lost only two games on their road to the Cup and both of those came in their next series when they were taken to six games by the NY Rangers.
The Penguins would earn the Cup with sweeps in the Conference and Stanley Cup finals, defeating the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks in those respective series.
1. 2002 Detroit Red Wings
Ah, the joys of the pre-salary cap era of the NHL.
In 2002 Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch forked out almost $70 million to put together an All-Star team. Well, not even an All-Star team—this was a Hall of Fame team.
Don't believe me? Run down the list of players on the club: Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Nicklas Lidstrom, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek and a youngster by the name of Pavel Datsyuk.
If that's not enough, how about Ken Holland as general manager and Scotty Bowman as head coach?
See, like I said, a Hall of Fame club.
The line up of the 2002 Wings was so imposing that Shanahan noted in the book We are the Champions:
We'd come out on the ice for the warmup and after the first couple laps, we'd notice the other team stretching near the red line or blueline and they were all staring at us. Someone said, 'Every time we play, it's 1-0 after the first three laps of warmup.