Is a long Stanley Cup drought the new criteria to make it to the Finals?
For the past two seasons, teams who have participated in the championship finals had looked forward to the opportunity for many long years.
In 2009-10, both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers had not raised the Cup for more than three decades. The Hawks had last won in 1961 when they took the trophy in a 4-2 series win against the Detroit Red Wings.
Then on June 9, 2010, Patrick Kane sneaked the puck past Michael Leighton 4:10 into the extra frame, to lift the Blackhawks to a 4-3 overtime win in game six for Chicago’s first championship in almost 50 years. The Flyers came so close to holding the trophy, in what would have been their first in 34 seasons.
This year, the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins are facing one another for the ultimate prize that hasn’t been won by either club in 40 years.
The Canucks, who celebrated their 40th anniversary at the opening of the season, have never won a Stanley Cup. They came close in 1994 when they met Mark Messier and the New York Rangers in a seventh game battle at Madison Square Garden; the captain raised the Cup, ending the curse to win their first championship since 1940.
The Bruins were crowned a total of five times, but their last success was also against the Rangers, in a 4-2 series win which allowed them to hoist the Cup in 1972. Since then, they came close another five times but lost in the championship finals (1974, 1977, 1978, 1988, 1990).
Now if a long Stanley Cup drought gives teams the edge to make it to the finals, we could witness unexpected match-ups for next year’s post-season. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won the Cup in 43 seasons. They are at the top of the “drought list” with the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings of the Western Conference. Both clubs have never won the championship since their inception in 1967-68.
The Buffalo Sabres have never been champions either, totaling 40 winless seasons since they started playing in 1970-71. The Washington Capitals follow close behind – all 36 seasons without a Cup. The list goes on with the Flyers, who keep adding to their 35-season wait, the Phoenix Coyotes/ Winnipeg Jets who sum up 31 unsuccessful seasons and the New York Islanders with 28 long seasons without the Cup, which they last saw in 1983.
Although some of these clubs seem to inch closer to the prize, most will have to count on more than just this silly coincidence. The Kings have appeared in the last two post-seasons losing both times in the quarterfinals. Now that they have had a taste of the playoffs, they surely dream to erase 43 years of winless history.
The Sabres have brilliant goaltender Ryan Miller and experienced coach Lindy Ruff who can push the club into the playoffs where they’ve been four times since the lockout. They were eliminated in the first round in seven games this year against Philadelphia, whose journey ended in the next round after being swept by the Bruins. The Flyers have participated in the post-season five time in the last six years, coming close in 2007-08, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals and closest last season with the heart-breaking defeat against the Cup champions.
As for the Capitals, their playoffs curse is on-going, advancing for the past four straight seasons, but always falling short. This past May, the Tampa Bay Lightning swept the Caps, even though coach Bruce Boudreau had drastically altered the team’s style of play for this year’s playoff run. Alex Ovechkin and his teammates didn’t seem to stick to the defense-first game plan, which left the star player struggling to prove his “best in the league” status.
As much as this is a fun observation to ponder, I doubt we will see the Edmonton Oilers (20 seasons without Cup) facing the Florida Panthers (17 seasons, never won) in the 2012 Stanley Cup championships. Furthermore, successful teams such as Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh, are almost certain to participate in the playoffs again, and probably for many seasons to come.
At least, the Cup drought is definitely lucky for one of the two finalists this year, with a long wait guaranteed to come to an end this season.