The 10 Best NHL Teams to Never Win the Stanley Cup
Oh, what might have been.
How often that lament has been sung by teams that put together brilliant seasons only to be derailed by a better or hotter team in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
We are all familiar with the great teams that have won Stanley Cup championships over the years. Teams like the great Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the late 1970s, the New York Islanders of the early '80's, the Edmonton Oilers and the powerful Detroit Red Wings, who won championships and in the 1990s and into the next decade.
But what of the teams that didn't win? Teams like the 1972 New York Rangers that were stellar but couldn't overcome Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins. Don Cherry's 1979 Bruins may have been among the best teams ever, but they had to go up against the greatest of the Canadiens' teams and lost by the slimmest of margins.
Here's a look at the 10 best teams that failed to win the Stanley Cup since the start of the expansion era in 1967-68.
1972 New York Rangers
Eddie Giacomin and backup Gilles Villemure had a stellar year in goal. The GAG (Goal A Game) line of Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield gave New York a potent offense, and Brad Park was the best defenseman on a stellar defensive crew.
The Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the opening round of the playoffs and then served notice that they were a formidable team by sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Rangers of that era seemed to be on even terms with the Boston Bruins, but they never had an answer for Bobby Orr. At that time Orr was at the peak of his powers despite his knee injuries.
The Bruins defeated the Rangers in six games to win their second Stanley Cup in three years, and Orr scored the winning goal on an artistic spinning move that allowed him to elude shot-blocking Bruce MacGregor and whip a vicious wrist shot past Villemure.
1974 Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins were something of a juggernaut during the first half of the 1970s. They won Stanley Cup championships in 1970 and 1972, but they failed to win in 1971, '73, '74 and '75 despite having the most explosive of offensive teams.
The 1974 team appeared to be light years ahead of the competition. The Bruins were a raucous bunch that could outscore opponents readily and pound them with their fists when they were so inclined. The legendary Aldo "Bep" Guidolin was the Bruins head coach, and his team was so talented that he would just lead his team to the ice and say "go get 'em, boys."
That philosophy worked well. The Bruins went 52-17-9 for 113 points. They rolled past the Toronto Maple Leafs in four games and then defeated the Blackhawks in six games to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers had the muscle to stand toe-to-toe with the Bruins, but few thought they had the talent to skate with Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the rest of the hell-raising Bruins.
However, Bobby Clarke was not about to be intimidated, and he scored a famous overtime goal in Game 2 at the Boston Garden to steal home ice from the Bruins. From there, Bernie Parent was masterful in the goal, and he shut the Bruins down the rest of the way to give Philadelphia its first Stanley Cup.
1975 Buffalo Sabres
The 1975 Buffalo Sabres had a team that was capable of winning the Stanley Cup championship. Head coach Floyd Smith had one of the best skating teams in the league and one that was capable of filling the net on a regular basis.
The key to the Sabres' attack was the French Connection line of Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert. The trio had precision and artistry. Whey they controlled the puck, it was difficult for even the best defensive teams to contain them, let alone control them.
The trio combined for 132 goals and that allowed the Sabres to roll into the playoffs after going 49-16-15 in the regular season for 113 points.
They beat the Blackhawks in five games to open the playoffs, vanquished the Montreal Canadiens in six games and then met the defending Stanley Cup champion Flyers in the Finals. The Sabres pushed hard and extended the series to six games, but Philadelphia blunted the French Connection and took its second straight Stanley Cup.
1979 Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins have had more than their share of painful defeats, but few teams can match the 1979 Bruins when it comes to heartache.
In the 1979 semifinals, the Bruins had a sensational team that was coached by Don Cherry. They no longer had Bobby Orr, but Brad Park took his spot on defense and Jean Ratelle, Rick Middleton, Wayne Cashman and Peter McNab keyed the offense.
The Bruins had a 100-point regular season and then peaked during the playoffs. They swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round before meeting the powerful Montreal Canadiens in the semifinals. Montreal had won the previous three Stanley Cups and had beaten Boston in the previous two finals.
The Canadiens still had Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Ken Dryden and were one of the greatest teams of all-time. The Bruins battled the Canadiens on even terms for six games and appeared to be on their way to a monumental upset when they took a 4-3 lead in the seventh game on a late third-period goal by Middleton.
However, Guy Lafleur scored a power-play goal in the final minutes after the Bruins had been whistled for a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. Cherry has always blamed himself for that mistake. The Canadiens went on to win in overtime and then beat the Rangers in five games for their fourth straight Stanley Cup.
No defeat has ever caused Bruins' fans more pain.
1985 Philadelphia Flyers
The 1984-85 Philadelphia Flyers had all the elements to become Stanley Cup champions.
Unfortunately for the Flyers and their passionate fans, they were forced to play the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals and they could not measure up.
However, the Flyers were brilliant that season. They were 53-20-7 for 1,15 points under head coach Mike Keenan and they regularly abused their opponents.
They swept the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. In the final game of that three-game sweep, high-scoring Tim Kerr scored four goals in a span of 8:16 to bury New York. They followed that series with a five-game victory over the Islanders before punishing the Quebec Nordiques in the semifinals in six games.
The Flyers had to contend with Wayne Gretzky at the height of his powers in the finals and were dispatched in five games. Still, it was a memorable team and a spectacular showing by an underappreciated team.
1989 Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens are known for their 24 Stanley Cup championships and their ability to burst the bubble of upstart challengers.
They have almost always been the heartbreakers. But in the the 1989 playoffs, they became the heartbroken.
The Canadiens had a brilliant regular season, recording a 53-18-9 record for 115 points under head coach Pat Burns. The former policeman had a speedy and explosive team that appeared destined to put one more Stanley Cup banner up in the Montreal Forum.
The Canadiens rolled over the Hartford Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes) and the Boston Bruins in the first two rounds. They were tested by the Philadelphia Flyers in the semifinals, but the Canadiens eliminated Philadelphia in six games.
That earned them a spot in the finals against the Calgary Flames. While the Flames had stars like Lanny McDonald, Joe Mullen and hard-shooting Al MacInnis, the Canadiens were expected to win. The Flames would have none of it and stopped Montreal in six games to win their only Stanley Cup.
2001 New Jersey Devils
The 2000-01 New Jersey Devils were the league's defending Stanley Cup champions, and they were intent on repeating their success.
Head coach Larry Robinson had a tough team that had rolled through the regular season with a 48-19-12-3 record for 111 points that had earned them first place in the Eastern Conference.
With Patrik Elias leading the way on offense with 96 points and the stellar Scott Stevens on defense, the Devils were formidable. They also had Martin Brodeur in the net, and he was at the peak of his powers at that time.
The Devils were on a mission in the postseason, and they defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins to earn a spot in the finals. The Devils met an equally motivated team in the Colorado Avalanche, who were trying to get former Boston Bruins star Ray Bourque his first Stanley Cup.
The Devils took a 3-2 lead in the series, but the Avalanche refused to submit. They won Game 6 in New Jersey and took the seventh game by a 3-1 score to give Bourque and the Avalanche the championship.
2009 San Jose Sharks
The 2008-09 San Jose Sharks appeared to be on the verge of a championship run.
They had dominated during the regular season, winning the President's Trophy with a record of 53-18-11 for 117 points, and they had that championship swagger because of their balanced scoring and the outstanding goaltending of Evgeni Nabokov (2.44 goals against average and 7 shutouts).
Joe Thornton had a team-high 86 points, and left wing Patrick Marleau had scored an impressive 10 game-winning goals.
However, the promise of the regular season turned out to be a disaster in the postseason. The Sharks were eliminated in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks, and Thornton had yet another postseason failure on his resume.
2009 Detroit Red Wings
The 2008-09 San Jose Sharks were not the only outstanding team in the NHL that season that failed to claim the Stanley Cup that season.
The Detroit Red Wings had a memorable year as they tried to defend the title they won the year before against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Red Wings went 51-21-10 and recorded 112 points under head coach Mike Babcock.
They appeared to have an excellent chance to repeat their Stanley Cup success. They swept the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round before outlasting the Anaheim Ducks in seven games. They defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in five games in the Western Conference Finals to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Penguins.
This time Sidney Crosby and the Penguins got revenge, eliminating Detroit in seven games. The series ended with Nicklas Lidstrom firing a shot at Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the final seconds that would have tied the game if the Pittsburgh goalie had not made a spectacular save.
2011 Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks were consensus favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2011.
The Canucks were a battle-tested team as they entered the playoffs. They had dominated the regular season and won the President's Trophy with a 54-19-9 record for 117 points. Head coach Alain Vigneault had a well-balanced and efficient team.
The Canucks felt they were on their way when they ousted the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round by scoring an overtime goal in the seventh game. That spurred them to subsequent wins over the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks.
After the Canucks won the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins, the Canucks had their first Stanley Cup championship within their grasp. However, the Bruins would have none of it. They registered three one-sided triumphs in Boston and the series came down to a seventh game in Vancouver.
This time, home ice was not enough for the Canucks. The Bruins rolled 4-0 behind Patrice Bergeron and Tim Thomas, and the Canucks were left to wonder what had gone wrong.
They may have been the better team in the regular season, but they once again fell short in the playoffs.