So, here we are—the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Chicago Blackhawks will take on, and more than likely take down, the Philadelphia Flyers for the most coveted trophy in sports.
Some critics had predicted that the young and talented Hawks would be in the Stanley Cup Finals from day one, while others did not.
The same can be said about the Flyers, who were an Eastern Conference favorite in many critics’ minds before the season started—let the record show that Philadelphia was my preseason pick as the Eastern Conference Champion.
Obviously, not everyone predicted these two teams to reach the finals. From the season’s opening puck drop we’ve all heard endless combinations of Stanley Cup finalists and favorites.
Here the 10 teams not in the finals that many of us felt could have been at some point in the season.
There were very few people who thought the Capitals would not make it to their first Stanley Cup Final in the Alexander Ovechkin era when the playoffs started.
The Caps finished the regular season as the league’s top team with 54 wins and 121 points.
There were even fewer people who thought that the Montreal Canadiens had a shot at beating the Caps in the first round, but three weeks later, Washington’s fans and players are still in shock.
After a monster season from Ovie and Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps were expected to roll through the Eastern Conference.
But poor defense and a surprising lack of scoring in the last three games of the first round saw their season end in failure.
The Kings were one of this season’s pleasant surprises.
Many writers, myself included, felt that the Kings needed another season or two to develop their talent before they would be taken seriously in a very competitive Western Conference—46 wins and 101 points later, and Los Angeles found itself a sixth-seed with the potential to upset in the playoffs.
Drew Doughty’s season was a parallel to the Kings’ season as a whole. The 20-year-old proved he didn’t need another season to develop and was nominated as a Norris Trophy finalist.
While Los Angeles’ efforts fell short in the first round against a strong Vancouver Canucks team, the team showed a ton of poise not to be expected from such a young group.
The Devils almost always find a way into Stanley Cup talk—this season was no different.
The odds of Martin Brodeur having one bad postseason aren’t great, but it is possible. Two in a row? Not likely. But three consecutive poor postseasons, to many critics, was out of the question.
Brodeur’s .881 save percentage led to the Devils being eliminated in the first round for the third straight season.
The Devils were certainly Stanley Cup favorites, especially after trading for Ilya Kovalchuk in the beginning of February. However, New Jersey went just 13-9-5 after acquiring the 27-year-old Russian.
Kovalchuk’s lack of playoff experience was no match for several veteran leads on the Flyers in the opening round.
The Coyotes were by no means Stanley Cup favorites at the beginning of the season. In fact, many felt they would finish in the bottom three in the West.
But after a 12-2-2 stretch from November to December, an 8-1 run from January to February, and a nine-game win streak in March which featured six one-goal wins, a hot goalie can get his team far in the playoffs, and that was the general consensus with Ilya Bryzgalov in Phoenix.
Bryzgalov was brilliant for the Coyotes during the regular season and earned his first Vezina Trophy nomination as a result.
There wasn’t much Bryzgalov could do in the first round against a scorching hot Detroit Red Wings team that assaulted him for at least 39 shots in three of the game, including 50 in Detroit’s Game Seven win.
A hot goalie can get his team far in the playoffs was also the general idea surrounding the Sabres, as Ryan Miller had proven that theory to its fullest extent during his silver medal run with Team USA at the Winter Olympics.
Buffalo’s offense and defense were average all season, but Miller’s .929 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average has made him the Vezina Trophy favorite.
While Miller’s numbers were equally good in the postseason, the Sabres’ offense was almost invisible after Thomas Vanek’s injury in Game Two of the first round.
After a few more injuries, the Sabres were not able to jell and roll all four lines as well as they had during the regular season.
The Canucks finished the regular season with 103 points, their third highest total in franchise history.
The team had Henrik Sedin, who set career highs in goals (29) and assists (83) and was nominated for his first Hart Trophy.
They also had Ryan Kesler who finished with 75 points, but more importantly, was nominated for the Selke Trophy for the second straight year.
After somewhat convincing first-round win against the Kings, the Canucks had a chance to avenge last year’s six-game, conference semifinal loss to the Blackhawks. Instead, they lost in six games again on the exact same day they were eliminated last year.
Roberto Luongo was torched for 19 goals in Vancouver’s four losses to the Hawks in the second round.
Perhaps before the season started the Bruins—last season’s top seed in the East—were favorites to reach the Cup Finals.
They were more than likely favorites when they held a 3-0 lead over the Flyers in the Conference Semifinals as well.
Though he only played in 45 games during the regular season, rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask led the NHL in save percentage (.931) and GAA (1.97).
His brilliant play continued into playoffs and he helped eliminate the third-seeded Sabres in six games.
But Rask’s vulnerabilities were eventually found and exploited by the Flyers in the second round.
Rask let in four or more goals in three of Boston’s final four games due to poor defensive play and what appeared to be fatigue on his part.
Another promising season has ended in failure in San Jose.
The Sharks became a heavy favorite in the West when they added Dany Heatley in the offseason to an already impressive lineup. Everything seemed to be clicking during the regular season where San Jose collected the top seed in the West for the second straight year.
The first half of the playoffs went quite well for the Sharks who took out the Red Wings in the second round and reached the Western Conference Finals for the second time in franchise history.
But San Jose’s offense and goaltending went down the drain against a much more talented Chicago Blackhawks squad and were swept into disappointment.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins were given what was considered by many to be a “gift” in the second around when they were matched up against the eighth-seeded Canadiens—it turned out to be a horrible gift.
After scoring 14 points and posting a plus-seven rating against the Ottawa Senators in the first round, Sidney Crosby appeared that he could single-handedly defeat the Canadiens.
But Crosby had just five points and was a minus-one during Montreal's stunning come-from-behind, seven-game series victory—and the Montreal natives had their way with Crosby, or at least a cardboard cutout (see picture).
But don’t just blame “the Kid.” Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury looked terrible in the first round and looked even worse in the second round. He allowed three or more goals in five of the seven games against Montreal.
Despite not finishing first in the Central Division for the first time in a decade, the Red Wings entered the playoffs as the hottest team in the league.
Detroit closed the season out on a 13-1-2 stretch and rookie goalie Jimmy Howard hadn’t lost a game in regulation since March 9.
But after a shaky seven-game win over Phoenix in the opening round, it was clear that the postseason was going to be a different story for the Wings.
The Red Wings trailed the Sharks 3-0 in their second round series after blowing leads in Games Two and Three.
In Game Three, Detroit squandered a two-goal lead in the third period only to watch Patrick Marleau score the winner seven minutes into overtime.