NHL: Will the St. Louis Blues or Toronto Maple Leafs Win the Stanley Cup First?
Hockey people are still in awe of the incredible run the Los Angeles Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup. Not only did they beat the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 seeds, but they also did it as the only No. 8 seed to ever win a Championship trophy. But the past is in the past. Now, it is time to look into the future.
With both of these teams having waited more than 44 years to touch Lord Stanley's Cup, which team will be the first to break this tie?
The Blues came into the NHL with the Expansion Six in 1967, the same expansion that welcomed the Los Angeles Kings. The Blues made it to the Stanley Cup Finals their first three seasons, and finished with a combined record of 0-12. That's right, the Blues were swept by the Montreal Canadiens twice, and by Bobby Orr's Boston Bruins once. Since the series against the Bruins, the Blues have not reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were the last team to win the Stanley Cup in the Original Six Era, beating out the Montreal Canadiens. Since that series, they too have not sniffed the Finals. But possibly even worse than the Blues, they have not even reached the playoffs since the 2003-2004 season.
The Maple Leafs seemed like they were primed to end the postseason drought, but then the team trailed off and finished the season with only a flicker of light left in the tank. The Maple Leafs had a strong front of the season with Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and captain Dion Phaneuf lighting the lamp. Their goals per game and power play were in the top third of the NHL this past season. Their Achilles' heel was their defense.
Who will win the Stanley Cup first?
The Maple Leafs had a promising goaltending tandem in Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer when the season started. But, it quickly came to light that it was only on paper that they looked good. By the end of the season, the Maple Leafs finished 29th in goals against per game, and were 28th on the penalty kill. Their five-on-five play wasn't much better, finishing 26th.
The Maple Leafs showed in December that they could be a playoff team when they were firing on all the right cylinders. However, the wheels came off coming down the stretch.
The exact opposite could be said for the Blues.
The Blues started out the season 6-7 and were headed to miss the playoffs once again. Out went David Payne, and in came Ken Hitchcock. Hitch turned the team around, and they became Central Division Champions and the second-best team in the Western Conference.
The Blues did not rely heavily on their offense, as it finished 21st in the NHL, and their power play wasn't much better, finishing 19th. Their five-on-five play is where the Blues excelled, finishing second in the league only behind the Detroit Red Wings. Home grown players like captain David Backes, David Perron, T.J. Oshie, and Alex Pietrangelo were regulars on the score sheet for the Blues. But their true specialty was in their goaltending.
The Blues traded for Jaroslav Halak in the 2010 offseason, and his first season with the Blues was not his proudest. This past season rivaled what he did in the 2010 postseason for the Montreal Canadiens, thanks to the heat put on by rising star Brian Elliot. Together, he and Halak went on to win the William Jennings trophy, awarded to the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. Halak and Elliot combined for a 1.89 GAA and backstopping the seventh best penalty kill.
So which team will end their respective drought first? My pick is for the St. Louis Blues. They have the natural, home-grown talent that the city can connect with; they have the goaltenders needed for a deep playoff run, and are one top six forward away from being lethal offensively. Look for the St. Louis Blues to win the Stanley Cup in the next three years.
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