Winners and Losers of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistJune 12, 2017

Winners and Losers of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    For the first time in nearly 20 years, men wearing the same uniforms from the year before held onto the Stanley Cup.

    That the Pittsburgh Penguins are the biggest overall winners of the 2017 NHL playoffs goes without saying. They became the first repeat champions since the Detroit Red Wings of 1997 and 1998.

    Here, we'll take a closer look at some of the people who most helped the Penguins stay winners, along with some other winners from different teams and places.

    We also take a look at a few people and teams who won't remember these playoffs too well at all. For those in the "losers" category, at least they can say they got that far. There were players from 14 other NHL teams who couldn't even say that.

Winner: Nashville Fans

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    There were skeptics (hand raised) over just how well Nashville would take to the Stanley Cup Final and how the Stanley Cup Final would take to Nashville. Let forever that foolish notion stand vanquished.

    Nashville made the NHL fun again, if at least for a short while. The fans on Broadway and the other adjacent streets to Bridgestone Arena were mosh pits of mustard hockey joy.

    Predators fans became a story in the playoffs, especially for the Final. The catfish on the ice, the clever chants against the opposition, the glamour supplied by the countless country music stars—it all added up to a great show that won't soon be forgotten.

Loser: Kevin Pollock

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    Look, the better team won in the end. One bad call did not make the difference in Pittsburgh's six-game Final victory for a second straight Stanley Cup.

    But referee Kevin Pollock's blown call—from a prematurely blown whistle—will forever haunt him and Game 6.

    Nashville's Colton Sissons should have been awarded a good goal early in the second period, when he tapped in the bobbled rebound of a shot by teammate Filip Forsberg on Matt Murray. Forsberg and Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley effectively set a screen on Pollock after the shot. Pollock assumed the puck had been sufficiently corralled long enough by Murray to blow the whistle and stop play. 

    But the puck was never wrapped up. It slipped out from Murray's control almost as quickly as his body touched it. Nashville should have had a 1-0 lead entering the third period. Yeah, the rule is the rule: a blown whistle stops play and isn't up for review.

    But Pollock got the call wrong. Way wrong. Nashville got some power plays after that, though, including a brief five-on-three. The Preds couldn't take advantage and didn't deserve to win, but they deserved that goal at least.

Winner: Jake Guentzel

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    Jake Guentzel, the kid from Omaha, Nebraska, who started the season in the minors, finished as the playoffs' leading goal scorer (13), one short of Dino Ciccarelli's all-time rookie playoff record with the Minnesota North Stars in 1981. 

    On a team with so many excellent forwards already, Guentzel added another unexpected handful to the opposition. The irony is that Guentzel always drew the exasperation of his college coach for not shooting enough. In these playoffs, Guentzel became a trigger-happy marksman who scored more than anyone else.

    At only 22, Guentzel has plenty of time left to show this wasn't a fluke.

Loser: Washington Capitals

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    They did it again. The Washington Capitals got everyone's hopes up that this would finally be the year.

    Lessons learned from last season's Presidents' Trophy early exit supposedly had been learned. Alleged final pieces of the puzzle were added at the trade deadline, such as defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

    Things were finally in place to bring a Stanley Cup to Washington. But, again, it all ended in misery. After coming from a 3-1 series deficit against Pittsburgh to even it up, with a Game 7 of the Eastern semifinal on home ice, the Caps failed to show up in an embarrassing shutout loss to Marc-Andre Fleury.

    Now, the championship window seems a lot smaller. Alex Ovechkin isn't getting any younger, Shattenkirk almost certainly will leave and Barry Trotz is becoming the coach who can't win the big one.

    Maybe next year.

Winner: Sidney Crosby

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    If he wasn't already, Sidney Crosby is now in the pantheon in the GOAT discussions among hockey historians. 

    Sunday night marked his second straight Conn Smythe Trophy and second straight Stanley Cup. He has three Cups overall now, and he's still a relatively young man at 29.

    Right after winning a Cup last year in San Jose, Crosby gave off a vibe to everyone of "Let's not get satisfied." While the Penguins had a couple of stumbles in the regular season and playoffs, they never once looked too tired or not hungry enough to win it all again.

    For nearly 20 years, since Detroit was the last team to win back-to-back championships, the Cup hangover proved too powerful for teams to overcome. Crosby proved to everyone his Cup was always just half full.

Loser: Minnesota Wild

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    Much like the Washington Capitals, the Minnesota Wild were another team that squashed fans' belief that this was the year.

    The Wild's troubles started late in the regular season, when they blew a big Western Conference and Central Division lead to eventual winner Chicago.

    Still, the first round looked to be a tap-in against a short-handed St. Louis Blues team. It didn't turn out that way, as Jake Allen looked like the second coming of Georges Vezina in stoning the Wild in a five-game series win.

    Minnesota seemingly made all the right moves at the trade deadline, acquiring rentals such as center Martin Hanzal. But all it got general manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Bruce Boudreau was another early summer.

Winner: Peter Laviolette

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    We can all agree now: Peter Laviolette is a really good coach.

    While his Nashville Predators came up short in the Final, these playoffs permanently established Laviolette's bonafides as a coach, as he became just the third coach in history to take three different teams to the conference final. 

    That Laviolette found a way to get his team to the championship round, despite the loss of first-line center Ryan Johansen late in the Western final against Anaheim, is testament to his resourcefulness.

    He needs a bit more offense to win the second Cup that has eluded him since 2006 with Carolina. But you get the feeling he'll find his way back to the Final.

Loser: Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks seemed to have it all going their way entering the playoffs, having stormed from the middle of the pack two-thirds through the regular season to win the Western Conference going away. Four games into the first round against Nashville, it was all over.

    General manager Stan Bowman, in an angry post-exit press conference, called the first-round sweep "unacceptable" and vowed changes. It was probably a bit of an overreaction, as upsets happen in the NHL playoffs and Bowman doesn't have a lot of cap flexibility to make many big changes.

    That said, it was a shock to see a team with as much top-name talent as the Blackhawks get swept out of the first round. It should be an interesting next season in Chicago.

Winner: Evgeni Malkin

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    He finished as the playoffs' leading scorer, with 28 points (10 goals) in 25 games. Arguably, he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy more than winner, teammate Sidney Crosby. But that's just how it's always gone for the Russian center. He's always been in Crosby's shadow.

    But Malkin has always been a humble superstar. This, too, was his third Stanley Cup, and he's a legitimate Hall of Famer if his career ended tomorrow. But, like Crosby, he's still a fairly young man at 30 years old. This wasn't his last hurrah.

    Malkin has a lethal combination of size and skill. It's nearly impossible to knock him off the puck, and he almost always shows up in the big games.

Loser: Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The first-round playoff matchup hockey people most wanted to see, Columbus vs. Pittsburgh, turned out to be a dud.

    The Blue Jackets, who came one win shy of tying the 1992-93 Penguins' all-time NHL regular-season win streak of 17 games, wound up no match to Pittsburgh, losing in five games. Columbus allowed 21 goals in the series, as the overall team defensive structure so prized by demanding coach John Tortorella came unglued.

    While it was still a landmark season of sorts for the Blue Jackets, it ended in a fizzle. But that's hockey.