The Stanley Cup Final is set to kick off Monday night in Tampa, which brings some bittersweet feelings. On one hand, we’re getting close to seeing one of these teams – the Lightning or Canadiens – lift the Cup and reach the top of the mountain. On the other hand, the moment that happens signals the end of the playoffs and the season. No more hockey for months.
So, while we’ve got some time ahead of Game 1, let’s take some time to reflect on this postseason and the 16 teams that have played a part in getting us to this Final. The playoffs are a grind that take months and, while there are plenty of unforgettable moments along the way, it can also be easy to forget a lot of stuff -- including entire teams. Not all playoff runs are created equal, so let’s rank each of the 16 playoff runs from least-to-most forgettable.
16. Montreal Canadiens - The Habs have become the biggest Cinderella story the Stanley Cup Playoffs have seen since the Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. Nobody expected Montreal to make it to the Final ... most people didn’t even expect them to survive the first round against Toronto. But, as 500-1 underdogs, the Canadiens erased a 3-1 series deficit to hand another heartbreak to the Maple Leafs, which alone would have been enough to register them pretty high up on the memorable scale. But then they then cruised through Winnipeg and stunned a seemingly superior Vegas team to book a ticket to the Final, forcing many a hater to eat their hat in the process. (Literally, in some cases.)
15. Tampa Bay Lightning - Win or lose in the Final, this Lightning run is going to be memorable for a variety of reasons. First, they’re hunting a second-straight Stanley Cup title and it feels like they could be approaching the “modern-day dynasty” label. Secondly, there’s the whole cap circumvention aspect, which has only been fueled by how well Nikita Kucherov has played for most of the run. But there’s no question that this is an insanely talented team and they’re either going to repeat as champions or flame out against a massive underdog, and either way it’s going to be quite memorable.
14. Toronto Maple Leafs - You may be asking yourself, “wait a second ... they didn’t make it past the first round … how can their run be this memorable?” That’s entirely the point, my friend. While this playoff run can be viewed as just another in a sea of disappointment for Toronto, it was also one that should stand out from the pack a bit. With the divisional realignments guaranteeing a final four spot to a Canadian team, the Maple Leafs seemingly had the road paved for them. They were clearly the best team in the North division throughout the season. They had the Canadiens on the ropes and begging for mercy ... and then they Leafs’d it. Again. Montreal making the Stanley Cup Final has to make it sting just a little bit extra, too.
13. New York Islanders - The Isles’ run will most likely be defined by the fact that they fell just short at the hands of the Lightning once again, but it also will hold memories because it was the team’s last hurrah at Nassau Coliseum. Plus, that Ryan Pulock save was as good of a finish to a playoff game as we’ve seen in a long time.
12. Vegas Golden Knights - Much like the Islanders, Vegas’ run will be defined by another failed attempt at getting over the hump -- especially since they fell short against Montreal despite entering as huge favorites. The goaltending drama (including Fleury’s brutal gaffe in Game 3) will be a sticking point, but it should be remembered how entertaining the Golden Knights first two rounds were, especially that high-octane series against the Avalanche.
11. Colorado Avalanche - They breezed through a largely forgettable first round – another Nazem Kadri suspension may have been the most noteworthy highlight – but their second-round series against Vegas was exhilarating. We’d been waiting for that matchup for a few years, and it still somehow exceeded expectations without going seven games.
10. Edmonton Oilers - Another year wasted with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Zero playoff wins, against a less-than-impressive opponent, no less. Miserable is still memorable.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins - This Penguins run is memorable for one reason and one reason only: The horrific play of Tristan Jarry. It was almost pure sabotage. If nothing else, remember just how important goaltending can be in the playoffs.
8. Florida Panthers - The first-ever Battle of Florida featured some really good hockey with a little hate mixed in and that’s always fun to watch. It was a thoroughly entertaining matchup, but Florida wound up on the wrong end of it and their run only lasted six games.
7. Minnesota Wild - The Wild’s run may be defined by the fact that they gave Vegas a tougher time than Colorado but, unfortunately, it came in the first round so it’s easier to cast them aside. That being said, they provided the first Game 7 of the playoffs, and it feels like this run might serve as the first step toward a brighter future for Minnesota.
6. Boston Bruins - Five of their 11 games went to overtime, so I guess that’s memorable. Even so, Boston’s run didn’t have a lot of overly exciting moments attached to it, and that’s coming from a diehard Bruins fan. It was a largely unspectacular run that flamed out in a hurry due to injuries.
5. Carolina Hurricanes - The Hurricanes came into the playoffs with a lot of promise but, once again, they failed to get over the hump. Their first-round against the Predators was slightly more exciting than it should have been, but they were cast aside by the Lightning quickly. Overall, a disappointing finish for them but not disappointing enough to stick in the memory banks for too long.
4. Winnipeg Jets - What’s most impressive about the Jets’ run this season is that they made it to the second round, and I can barely remember their participation outside of that late-game comeback against the Oilers in Round 1 and the Mark Scheifele incident in Round 2. You can make the case that they weren’t the better team in any of the eight games they played, yet they managed to sweep a series before then getting suffocated in Round 2. Such a weird, forgettable journey.
3. Nashville Predators - Nashville always provides a fun playoff atmosphere and the Preds put up a decent fight to make their series against Carolina interesting, but overall there really wasn’t anything special to hold onto here.
2. Washington Capitals - They played three goalies in four games and Zdeno Chara lost the battle against his former team. Other than that, a depleted Washington team barely made any noise, and their biggest stars were no-shows.
1. St. Louis Blues - Come on, just admit it ... you forgot they were even here. To be fair, they were only involved for about six total minutes and about zero percent of their run was interesting.