The Stanley Cup. A trophy of epic stature, and the ultimate prize and dream for players since they were kids. The Stanley Cup is the best trophy in sports for many reasons. It is the same trophy year in and year out, there is not a new one made every year like the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the Commissioner's Trophy. The players names are engraved on it so they are always part of hockey legend. And it's the only one of a major sports league that you can drink beer out of. Enough said.
Every year the NBA and the NHL enter the playoffs at the same time with all the general attention towards the NBA, because as Keith Olbermann puts it, people watch what they're told is the best. People looking for real action however ultimately turn to hockey. The intensity is always there as these days most teams are pretty even, players play through injuries like broken wrists, and they play every other day until the finals unlike the NBA players that get two days of rest in between games. This year the playoffs were close all over the board and the finals were as close as you can get. 2015 was a playoff to remember.
Johnny Gaudreau scores against the Canucks Andrew Hammond of the Senators
There were many storylines going into the first round. Would the Ottawa Senators continue their impressive streak? Would the Calgary Flames youth trump the Vancouver Canucks experience? Each team in every series had something going for them so it was bound to be a roller coaster ride. Six out of eight series went 6 or 7 games, and only one was a sweep. After the first two games in the Anaheim Winnipeg series there was an incredible 164 hits dished out. There were multiple multi-overtime games and there were high scoring games all around. In the end there were some surprises, like Minnesota defeating St.Louis, and the teams all became 4 wins closer to the Holy Grail.
Henrik Lundqvist of the RangersMax Pacioretty and P.K Subban of the Canadiens
The semi-finals out of the West were most likely to have the Anaheim and Chicago advance since they had the size and experience on Calgary and Minnesota ,respectively, and that is what happened. Even though it could have been predicted, the losing teams certainly did not go off into the night without a fight. The more interesting storyline came out of the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay's high powered offence against the best goalie of the season Carey Price, and superstar Alex Ovechkin still on the hunt for the cup against Lundqvist and the Rangers who were equally as hungry. Lundqvist was able to maintain his incredible game 7 winning streak concluding a brilliant series by both teams, and the Lightning came through to show Montreal that you need to have more than just a goalie to be successful.
Ryan Kesler and Ducan Keith battle Tyler Johnson moves in on Lundqvist
The conference finals definitely did not disappoint. These teams were the best of the playoffs and were now only eight wins away from taking it all, and boy did they make it close. For only the third time in NHL history did both finals go to seven games. Each series faced complete opposite opponents. Anaheim, with their size and skill, plays to wear the other team down, but Chicago on the other hand is filled with cagey veterans who know when to strike and when they do it's lethal. Tampa Bay was the highest scoring team in the regular season, and they were playing a notoriously defensive team in the Rangers. Considering these contrasting styles it is no wonder both series went the distance. Almost trading game for game, many goals relying on that one lucky bounce, these conference finals were one heck of an under card for the grand finale.
Jonathan Toews Steven Stamkos
The final was finally set and it was shaping up to be a spectacle. From the Madhouse on Madison to the Thunderdome on the Beach there was excitement all around. Statistically speaking this was the closest final that there has ever been. Each game except for the last one fittingly was decided by one goal, and the series was tied for almost 50% of the time. Scoring chances were just about equal as were many other categories. Another storyline was the Blackhawks winning would effectively give them dynasty status, almost unheard of in the salary cap era. Eventually injuries caught up to Tampa and the Blackhawks were just too much to handle and they walked away with their third championship in six years. This series was incredibly entertaining as both teams had speed and skill, so the back and forth was intense as it gets. Personally, in this final I was rooting for the Lightning, but Chicago pulling this off deserves an insane amount of respect. Jonathan Toews and company have shown what it takes to win year in and year out, and deserve a huge congratulations. Do not count Tampa Bay out though, as their young core is bound to bounce back and they will be back in this spot soon enough, just hopefully on the other side. See you in October NHL.