The Stanley Cup playoffs may seem in the distant past for anyone besides Blackhawk fans, who are still riding an emotional high. The off-season has already brought us the NHL Awards, rule changes and best of all, approval of expansion. If there are new teams, they will attempt to emulate the Blackhawks, who snagged the trophy thanks to clutch playoff performances as opposed to dominating the regular season. Those with stellar regular seasons, all four number one seeds, came up short. Let’s take a look at why and what their future holds.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are beginning to embody their team mascot every summer with the team’s recent playoff history. St. Louis has finished first or second the past four years, but have amounted only one series win with three first-round exits. The Blues brought in Paul Stastny from Colorado to boost playoff scoring and saw the top free agent center score just once in the first round loss to Minnesota. Captain David Backes and T.J. Oshie also contributed just one goal, raising questions about this core group. The lack of goal scoring was coupled with the Blues getting outplayed by the opposing goaltender, another theme over the past years. The inexperienced Jake Allen got the nod for the series and may have gained valuable playoff minutes, but his .904 save percentage couldn’t match the Wild’s Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 66 of 68 shots in the final two games of the series.
Fatal Flaw: A combination of lack of scoring and players not stepping up contributed to the Blues adding to their recent playoff misery.
With Carey Price tending goal, Montreal fans were encouraged as the playoffs began. The Habs goalie was deemed the league MVP and league’s best goaltender by winning the Vezina and Hart trophies at the 2015 NHL Awards. However, the Canadians ranked 20th in goals per game and failed to get Price the support he needed in a second-round series against the Lightning, the league’s top scoring club. The loss marked the 21st season in a row the Habs will be going home without the Stanley Cup.
Fatal Flaw: Three forwards with no more than one goal through 11 playoff games means you have little chance of advancing. Even with a decorated goalie like Price, the Habs faced the reality of losing tight games when you can’t put the puck in the net.
Unlike the other number one seeds, the Ducks steamrolled through the first two rounds. They even took the eventual champion Blackhawks to seven games but failed to capitalize in two elimination games. Many attribute this failure to the inexperience of Ducks defenders Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen, who are all under age 25. Meanwhile, the Hawks were led by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who claimed their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. Regardless of the loss, coach Bruce Boudreau managed to hang on to his job, as he’s led the team further in the playoffs each year. The Ducks are expected to be a championship contender in the coming years.
Fatal Flaw: Many looked at the Hawks-Ducks series as the actual Cup Final. The series was the epitome of elite NHL hockey in 2015: fast-paced and hard-fought, with a dazzling set of skills on both sides. What the Ducks lacked was solid playoff experience. They featured an experienced bottom-six that were brilliant at times but also suffered when lined up against the Hawks.
Rangers fans may have been the most optimistic of all after New York closed out the regular season with a league leading 113-points. After knocking out the Penguins in round one and the Capitals in dramatic fashion in round two, the Rangers seemed poised for a finals run. However, they came across a scorching Lightning team and their feared “triplet” line. The teams faced off in a track meet that proved to be ill-fated for the Rangers — not surprising, given injuries to three Rangers defenseman and the absence of winger Matz Zuccarello. Changes seem likely for the Rangers as 39-year-old Martin St. Louis has already announced his retirement and former all-star Rick Nash once again came up short in the biggest moment.
Fatal Flaw: Rick Nash. When you’re one of the greatest scorers of this generation and yet have only totaled 32 points though 60 career playoff games, finger pointing will inevitably come your way. The all-star has won the Rocket Richard Award for most goals in the regular season, but his success has failed to carry it over to the postseason.