In truth, no one expected the Stanley Cup Finals to feature a No. 6 seed playing host to a No. 8 seed, and even the most devoted fans did not see this coming. In a year that saw the Rangers rise to the top in the Eastern Conference, and Vancouver dominate in the Western Conference, even hockey experts did not predict the matchup that the NHL gave us.
Surviving the runaway violence of the opening rounds, both the Kings and the Devils set about their business, knocking off higher seeds on their way to their decisive meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals.
One thing is for certain: It's as close to a 100 percent guarantee that one can get to say that the New Jersey Devils will not be in the finals again next year.
It's not their talent level, their coaching, nor the fact that they have an aging goaltender.
The simple fact of the matter is that history tells us that since 1980, only two losing teams—yes, that’s right, just two teams—that have lost in the Stanley Cup Finals have ever come back the next year to play for the Cup the following season. Those teams were the 1984 Edmonton Oilers (who had lost in the previous year to the New York Islanders) and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 (who were defeated by Detroit in 2008).
In other words, the only two teams that have first tasted defeat and then returned the next season to play for sports' most coveted hardware were captained by either Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby. And while he's talented, New Jersey's captain, Zach Parise, is not even close to either of those two players.
Several times, winning teams have returned to the finals in an attempt to defend their crown (Edmonton in 1985 and again in 1988, Pittsburgh in 1992, Detroit in 1998, Dallas in 2000 and New Jersey in 2001), but most never reach the finals in the next season.
Even this year's Presidents' Trophy winners, the Vancouver Canucks (the losing team in 2011), appeared to be single-minded and focused as they entered the postseason in 2012. However, they ran into a buzzsaw called the Los Angeles Kings and were eliminated in the first round.
Statistically, Martin Brodeur is arguably the greatest goaltender who has ever played in the NHL. While he is a three-time Stanley Cup winner and has made five appearances in the finals, hockey fans may well have seen his final performance, ever, vying for Lord Stanley's Cup.
"This season and this playoff run answered a lot of questions about where my game's at," Brodeur said following the Game 6 loss to Los Angeles, "and I'm really happy to hopefully continue."
Brodeur has indicated that he still enjoys playing the game, and fans should probably expect him back in 2012-13. But if anyone wants to know the odds of him retiring as a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender next season, history says it's only about a six percent chance.
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