Some of the NHL’s powerhouses fell just short of winning it all.
The centennial anniversary of the first-ever NHL game is quickly approaching; it’s next Tuesday, in fact. There have been winners and losers throughout the league’s history, and this article is all about the latter.
Eighteen existing franchises have won the famed chalice at least once, and eight have competed for it without winning it. Only 38 teams have had the best regular-season record and won that prized trophy, while 10 have achieved the best regular-season record and lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.
When counting total accumulative points, two teams stand far above all others: the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens with 132 points, and the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings with 131. The Canadiens finished that season with a 60-8-12 record, including 14 shutouts by Ken Dryden and Michel Larocque, and four players, led by the incredible Guy Lafleur, had better than a point-per-game regular season. Montreal lost only two games in the entire playoffs and won the Cup.
The ‘96 Red Wings went 62-13-7 in what is now a standard 82-game season. Captained by Steve Yzerman, their ranks were filled out by the likes of Sergei Federov, Dino Ciccarelli, Paul Coffey, and goaltender Chris Osgood. They were never shut out. Interestingly, both the ‘77 Habs and ‘96 Wings were coached by Scotty Bowman.
However, Detroit’s regular-season success was a precursor to playoff tragedy. After beating the original Winnipeg Jets in six games, it took them until double-overtime of Game 7 to beat the St. Louis Blues in the second round, and then were vanquished by the Colorado Avalanche in six games in the Western Conference Finals, creating a longstanding rivalry between the teams.
More recently, the Vancouver Canucks had an excellent, 117-point season in 2011. They prevented a comeback by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs and convincingly beat the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in the next two rounds. In the Stanley Cup Finals, they won two close games against the Boston Bruins before being outscored 12-1 in the next two contests. They beat the Bruins by a 1-0 margin in Game 5, but were again outmatched in a 5-2 and 4-0 pair of defeats, losing the Cup on home ice.
Afterwards, their fans burst into riots, despite Vancouver players and staff collectively taking home some serious hardware: they won the Art Ross Trophy, William M. Jennings Trophy, Frank J. Selke Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, and GM of the Year Award that season. Vancouver fell to 0-3 in the Finals, and the second time they’d lost in Game 7 after 1994.
(Vancouver Canucks fans rioted after their team was shut out in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.)
Other great teams that fell just short include the 1974-75 Buffalo Sabres and the 1983-84 New York Islanders. The ‘75 Sabres had the powerful French Connection line of right wing Rene Robert, left wing Rick Martin and center Gilbert Perreault, who combined for 291 regular-season points and 46 playoff points. In only their fifth season of existence, they fought to Game 6 of the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals, but the Philadelphia Flyers defeated them to win their second straight championship.
The ‘84 Islanders, meanwhile, were looking to hoist the Cup for the fifth straight season. They won 50 games in the regular season. In those victories, they scored seven or more goals 13 times while needing three or fewer goals to win only four times. Two players (Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier) accumulated more than 110 points each.
The Islanders would make their way back to the Finals yet again, in a rematch against the team they’d beaten the previous season: the Edmonton Oilers. This time, however, Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers would come out on top, and would go on to establish a dynasty of their own.
(From a 2003 documentary, Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky discuss the 1983 and 1984 Stanley Cup Finals which signaled the end of the Islanders’ dynasty and the beginning of the Oilers’.)
That’s the way the NHL works: winners bow down to new champions, for a century now, and hopefully for many more.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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