The Pittsburgh Penguins are still Stanley Cup champions, having taken home the honours in Game 6 against the Predators Sunday night.
The win moves the franchise out of a tie for 9th all-time with 4 Stanley Cup wins, into a tie with Edmonton for 8th all-time with 5. It also makes the Penguins the winningest franchise in NHL Stanley Cup final history (for teams with more than 2 appearances in a Cup Final) with a 5-1 record. Their only loss in a Stanley Cup final came in 2008 when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings. They would avenge that loss the next year however, when both teams once again met in the finals, only this time Sidney Crosby would win his first Stanley Cup.
Winning the Cup doesn't only move the Penguins further up the ladder of great franchises, the team is now making a case for themselves as a dynasty. They've won 3 cups over the course of 9 post-seasons. Combine that with being the first team to successfully defend the cup by winning it in back-to-back years and the Penguins, unless you adhere to only the strictest definitions, have arguably done enough to be called a dynasty.
There were plenty of great, and also not-so-great moments during the 2017 playoffs. This article takes a look at 10 from each category.
20 Loved: Sidney Crosby Inching Closer to Gretzky Territory
Wayne Gretzky won 4 Stanley Cups, 3 Canada Cups (precursor to the World Cup of Hockey), and 2 Conn Smythe awards. Sidney Crosby has now won the Stanley Cup 3x, 2 Olympic gold medals, 1 World Cup of Hockey, and 2 Conn Smythe awards. In terms of those achievements, Crosby is just 1 Stanley Cup behind Gretzky.
Many of Wayne Gretzky's numerous individual statistics are most likely never going to be touched by another player in history. Something big would have to change in the NHL for that to happen, such as rule changes that increase league scoring.
In terms of Crosby and Gretzky's accomplishments as they relate to team success on the international or NHL stage however, Crosby is only 1 Stanley Cup away from equaling Gretzky's success.
19 Hated: Where Were the Blackhawks???
Perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks felt they could phone it in this year, seeing as the Cubs' World Series victory will keep the local fanbase appeased for years to come.
Still, it seems weird for this year's playoffs to have only barely involved one of the most successful teams in recent history. The Blackhawks' 109 point regular season was good enough for 1st in the Western Conference, but it didn't help them any when the games mattered most. They couldn't solve Pekke Rinne, and were ousted by the Preds in 4 straight games.
The Blackhawks now have a new rival vying for the title of most successful franchise of the current period. The Hawks, who have won 3 Stanley Cups since 2010, now must be wary of the Penguins, who have won an equal amount of cups since 2009.
18 Loved: Stanley Cup Title Defended Successfully For 1st Time Since 1998
The 1st NHL franchise to successfully defend the Stanley Cup in the 21st century is the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens are the 1st team to win back-to-back Stanley Cup trophies since the Detroit Red Wings did the same thing from 1997-98. The last team to do it before the Wings, were the 1990-91 Penguins, captained by Mario Lemieux.
It shouldn't be too surprising that we haven't seen back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since the dawning of the salary cap era, as parity in the league has increased drastically. Gone are the days of massive dynasties in hockey that can't be overtaken. The Penguins however, like the Blackhawks, have found a way to perform consistently well in a period where the gap between teams is smaller than it ever has been before.
For a team to win 8 straight playoff series over 2 seasons takes something special nowadays.
17 Hated: Wildcard Format
The current wildcard format in the NHL, while exciting, does not lead to fair NHL playoff bracketing. No team in the NHL has a bigger right to complain about this than the Montreal Canadiens.
In the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic Division isn't quite up to the level of the Metropolitan division. As a result, the winner of the Atlantic division, Montreal, ended up playing a wildcard team, the Rangers, who finished with a better record than the #2 and #3 seeds in the Atlantic. Ergo, what was Montreal's reward for finishing with the best record in their division? They had to play a team who'd only finished with 1 less point than they did, while Ottawa and Boston, the two teams with the lowest point totals of any non-wildcard teams in the playoffs, faced each other in the 1st round.
16 Loved: A Glimpse of Toronto's Future
There are members of the Toronto Maple Leafs who don't look old enough to drive, yet were playing in the NHL playoffs this year. The Leafs, who finished with the NHL's worst record last year, sported a roster this year that included 11 rookies. That they made the playoffs at all is equal parts bizarre and incredible. That they took the President's Trophy winners to a Game 6 should be enough to fill those young heads filled with confidence for next year as well.
Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are but 3 of Toronto's young players who will be exciting to watch in the next few years, but there are others on that roster who show great potential.
With so many good young players, Toronto could be headed for some deep playoff runs in their future.
15 Hated: Further Evidence Washington Just Can't Win the Cup
Knowing that the Washington Capitals are never going to win the Stanley Cup sort of takes all the fun out of watching them play. There is just something about the Caps that prevents them from winning in the playoffs.
Since Ovechkin arrived in Washington, the team has only won 6 of 15 playoff series. They've won the President's Trophy on 3 occasions however. There might not be another team in NHL history with such a large gap between their regular season success and their playoff failures.
Making matters worse is that the Caps were once again eliminated by their rival Pittsburgh Penguins. For 2 straight years the Pens have eliminated them. Crosby's Pens are now 3-0 in the playoffs against Ovechkin's Caps.
For the Capitals, it won't just be a long off-season, it will be a long next regular season as well.
14 Loved: Marc-Andre Fleury Redemption Tour 2017
3x Stanley Cup champion, and future Las Vegas Golden Knight, Marc-Andre Fleury played an important role in helping the Penguins win their 2nd straight Stanley Cup this year.
Although Matt Murray had long been chosen as the goalie of the franchise's future (and present), Fleury is said to have been a mentor to the younger Murray, and handled his demotion with class. When Murray was injured in warm-ups for Game 1 of the team's opening round series with Columbus however, Fleury jumped in and played great through the 1st 2 rounds of the playoffs.
The club kept going with Fleury even after Murray returned. When the Sens peppered the Pens for a 5-1 win in game 3 of the Conference Finals, it was time for Murray to step in and take the team the rest of the way.
13 Hated: Senators Halt Fleury Redemption Tour in Game 3
This isn't to say that the Pens shouldn't have replaced Fleury with Murray after this game, because it was absolutely the right call for them to make. It is only to say it was too bad that the Marc-Andre Fleury redemption tour of 2017 got derailed after only 1 bad outing.
With the expansion draft looming, the Pens and Marc Andre-Fleury have both been aware for awhile that their starting goalie for their 2009 Stanley Cup winning season is on his way to Las Vegas. Murray has called Fleury a mentor.
When Fleury was passed the cup as the Pens celebrated their 5th such victory in franchise history on Sunday, he skated across the crease and handed it to Murray. It was a symbolic gesture of passing the torch to the next generation.
12 Loved: League Parity
While the NBA and NHL playoffs are scheduled for around the same time each year, there are few other similarities between them. There is one glaring difference between the 2 post-seasons as well, namely parity.
If at the beginning of the year you asked any NBA fan what 2 teams will be in the Finals that post-season, almost everyone would say the Cavs and the Warriors. Low and behold, it is the Cavs and the Warriors in the NBA Finals. If you asked the same question to an NHL fan, they might have guessed the Pens would be there, but the Predators? How about the Ottawa Senators going to the conference finals?
League parity allows any streaking team with a good goaltender a chance to go deep into the playoffs, and sometimes even win the whole thing.
11 Hated: Nazem Kadri's Hit On Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals, and their fans have a might big beef with Nazem Kadri right about now.
In Game 5 of the opening round against Toronto, Alex Ovechkin had to be helped off the ice and into the locker room. Leafs forward, Nazem Kadri, collided low with Ovechkin at high speeds in the first period.
Check out video of the hit here:
The Kadri hit on Ovechkin. pic.twitter.com/DSprfCZAQU— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 21, 2017
There was silence in Washington afterwards and nobody expected Ovechkin to return to the series, let alone the game. He was out there next period however, although not at 100%
After being eliminated by the Penguins the next round, Ovechkin stated he was hampered by knee and hamstring issues following the hit by Kadri. He had scored 3 goals already in the playoffs heading into that game, and would score only 2 more afterwards.
10 Loved: Welcome Back Edmonton Oilers!
The city that once was home to arguably the greatest NHL dynasty of all time, Edmonton is once again home to a playoff calibre hockey team.
It's been awhile for the Oilers fanbase, who enjoyed a miraculous run to the cup final in 2006, only to fail to reach the postseason again in their next 10 attempts.
Every year, it would seem the Oilers would add yet another new, young star, who was poised to return the team to the post-season, yet every year they fell short. Not this year however, this year Connor McDavid and the boys finished with the #2 seed in the Pacific division. Then they took out the defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks in round 1.
It's hard not to feel as though this team has crossed a threshold, and that failure to make the post-season is not going to be a worry in Edmonton again for the foreseeable future.
9 Hated: Curse of the President's Trophy
In the last 15 post-seasons, the President's Trophy winner has only won the Stanley Cup twice. For the team who performs the best in the regular season to win the Stanley Cup so infrequently, could be considered a comment on the league parity which exists in the league, or it could be evidence that the regular season has become a poor predictor of playoff success.
Since 2002, only the 2008 Detroit Red Wings, and the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks have won both the Stanley Cup and President's Trophy the same season. No President's trophy winning team has made it passed the 2nd round of the playoffs in the last 4 post-seasons.
The Capitals have won the trophy the last 2 years, and have been ousted in the playoffs in the 2nd round each time. They also won the trophy in 2010. That year they were eliminated in the 1st round.
8 Loved: Connor McDavid's Adoption Photo
Connor McDavid went to the NHL playoffs for the first time this year. He even played in his first ever Game 7 this year. None of that made him feel more tense, nervous or out-of-place than this photo of a lovely couple squeezed on either side of him however.
This photo was taken as McDavid was at an airport on his way to face Anaheim for Game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals. The internet went crazy with this photo, congratulating the young star on his recent adoption.
The 20-year old won the Art Ross trophy for the Oilers this year, played in his first All-Star game and helped the Oilers make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. That's probably why the couple in the photo look so proud of him!
7 Hated: Habs Can't Get Revenge For 2014
The story was supposed to be the Habs getting revenge on the New York Rangers for what happened in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals, only things didn't quite work out that way.
In game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2014, Rangers forward Chris Kreider barrelled into Price early in the 2nd period, going skates first into the star goalie's knee. Price would be gone for the rest of the playoffs. The Rangers took the controversial series in 6 games. They would lose in the Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings.
With a healthy Carey Price and home ice advantage, everything was set for the Habs to get revenge for 2014 in this year's opening round. Only it wasn't to be, and the Rangers were once again able to eliminate Montreal in a 6 game series.
6 Loved: Overtime Hockey!
The 2017 NHL playoffs set an all-time record, when 18 1st round games went to overtime.
Games 2 and 5 of the Rangers/Habs series went to OT, each won by the Habs.
The Sens/Bruins series went to OT in games 2 and 3.
5 of the 6 games between the Leafs and Capitals went to OT, and one of them went to double OT.
Just game 3 of the Pens vs. Blue Jackets went to extra time.
The 4-game series between the Preds and Hawks only went to OT in game 3 as well.
The Blues needed OT to win games 1 and 5 of their 5 game set with the Wild.
Anaheim needed OT in game 3 of their sweep of Calgary, and the Oilers and Sharks went to OT in games 1 and 5.
5 Hated: 1-Sided Penguins vs. Capitals Rivalry
You can call it the Penguins vs. Capitals rivalry, or the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin rivalry, but either way it's hard to get too excited for it anymore.
For the 2nd year in a row the Penguins eliminated the Capitals from the playoffs, and its the 3rd time Crosby's Pens have done so to Ovechkin's Capitals, having won each series the two sides have played against one another. This was supposed to be the rivalry of a generation, but sadly it appears to be too one-sided for that to be the case.
Crosby has 3 cups and Ovechkin has none. Ovechkin's Capitals have only ever won 6 of the 15 playoff series they have ever been in. It's not much of a rivalry when the scoreboard is this lopsided.
4 Loved: New/Old Rivalries Seem Closer to Returning
This year fans were reminded that long dormant rivalries could be reignited in the playoffs soon.
The Battle of Alberta has not played a role in the NHL playoffs since 1991. It had been a fixture in the league 4 times in the 1980s. This year, had the Flames just gotten by Anaheim (or done slightly better in the regular season), we would have seen their 7th ever series against each other.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have not played the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs for 37 years. They met in the quarter-finals of the 1979 NHL playoffs, and never again since. Had the Leafs just had 1 more point, and the Habs a few less, they would have met in the 1st round this year. Similarly, either team could have met the Sens, another longtime rival of each team, had a few pucks bounced differently in the regular season.
3 Hated: Games Decided By The Bounce of the Puck
The dark-side of league parity, is chance and blind luck. With the gap between the league's best and worst teams as small as it has ever been, more games are being decided by fortunate (or unfortunate) bounces, deflections, and just plain luck.
5 of the 6 games between the President's Trophy winning Capitals and the lowest seeded team in the Eastern Conference went to overtime, and all of them were decided by 1 goal. Had the puck bounced in the Caps favour a few extra times, they might have swept the Leafs. Had the puck bounced a few more times in the Leafs favour, they may have done the same to the Caps.
Today's NHL has become all about firing the puck at the net as many times as possible, and hoping it takes several deflections on its way.
2 Loved: Nashville is Smashville
Come on, admit it, there was a part of you that was cheering for those country-music loving, PK Subban-having, yellow-clad bunch of Tennessee puck-heads who represented their team and city well in the 2017 NHL playoffs.
Heading into this year, the Nashville Predators franchise had only ever won 3 playoff series. They had just won their 1st series back in 2011. They had never won 2 series back-to-back before. This may explain why their fans, and city, lost their minds as the team won back-to-back-to-back series' this year.
The fanbase also decided they needed to show the world they were a pretty good hockey town, so they created their own take on a playoff tradition. This year may have been the first playoffs where catfish were tossed on the ice, but it certainly won't be the last.
1 Hated: No Detroit Red Wings For the 1st Time Since 1990
2017 was the first time the NHL playoffs were without the Detroit Red Wings since 1990. It is amazing to think about just how long their fanbase has gone without getting at least 1 playoff series in before the off-season.
The club's string of success can be attributed to successfully bridging the gap between the Steve Yzerman days to the Henrik Zetterberg ones without needing to rebuild. In the time between 1990-2017, the Wings had the best record in the league 6x, and won 4 Stanley Cups.
The success of the Red Wings over such a long stretch of time, is a testament to the role a well run front office can have on a team. By creating a culture of success the Red Wings just kept winning. It won't be long before they start on a new streak.