Down Goes Brown: Five best conference finals since 1980

Sean McIndoe
Los Angeles Kings v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Five

NHL fans are starting to get a little bit spoiled when it comes to the conference finals. This year’s two matchups have featured plenty of star power, several close games, and more than a little drama. And for the third consecutive year, both series are going at least six games.

That might not sound all that impressive, but it’s actually a relatively rare situation in the modern era. Until 2014, it hadn’t happened at all in the salary cap era. And it wasn’t much more common before that. For example, it happened only once during the dynasty-packed 80s, as teams like the Islanders and Oilers (or both) could often be found cruising through a weaker opponent on their way to the final.

So today, let’s look back at some of the best conference finals, dating back to the introduction of the 16-team format in 1980. Remember, we’re looking for the best combination of two series, meaning some all-time classic series (like Leafs/Kings in 1993 and Devils/Rangers in 1994) won’t show up here because the other conference served up a dud.

Here are my picks for the five best years for the NHL’s final four:

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Down Goes Brown: Five legends who waited longer than Alex Ovechkin to win a Stanley Cup

Sean McIndoe
Alex Ovechkin and Steve Yzerman. (Getty Images)

Alex Ovechkin has been under the spotlight for the past week, following the premature end to the Washington Capitals’ dominant season at the hands of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s been criticized for a lack of production at key moments and an inability to lead the Capitals to a deep playoff run, and took further heat for his decision to head to Russia right away for the World Championship.

Not everyone agrees, with plenty of voices defending Ovechkin’s track record. But the fact remains: 11 years into his NHL career, Ovechkin has racked up record-breaking numbers and plenty of individual awards, but no Stanley Cup.

So it may be worth remembering that still leaves him in pretty good company. Plenty of legendary NHLers never won it all, with names like Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perrault and Darryl Sittler failing to earn a ring. But there have also been plenty of superstars who did get their Cup, but had to wait for it. And in some cases, they waited a lot longer than Ovechkin has.

So today, let’s offer up some hope to Ovechkin (not to mention guys like Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, Joe Thornton and the Sedins) by remembering five legendary players who took until at least their 12th season to finally get their hands on a Stanley Cup.

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Top 10 legends and present-day stars who haven’t been playoff overtime heroes

Jared Clinton
Alex Ovechkin (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby entered Game 2 having never scored an overtime-winning goal in the post-season, and it took him all of 40 seconds of overtime Monday night to rectify that. Before fans could even get settled for the start of the frame, Crosby had wired one past Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to make the Penguins captain the overtime hero.

Crosby’s overtime goal came in his 113th career post-season game, and the 21 times prior the Penguins had gone to overtime with Crosby in the lineup during the playoffs, he had failed to score the winner. And while it may seem bizarre that arguably the best player in the world had never scored a playoff overtime winner, he wasn’t alone. In fact, there was one famous face watching from the press box who knows exactly how Crosby was feeling leading up to Monday’s game and you’ll find him on this list.

Here are 10 stars of the game, both past and present, who either failed or have yet to become a post-season overtime hero: Read more

Prospect of the Year: meet the best for all 30 NHL teams

Ryan Kennedy
Brock Boeser (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It’s about that time, folks. The Memorial Cup field has been set, the AHL is into the conference finals and the NCAA champs were crowned long ago. So which players repped their franchises the best? The following list is made up of the prospects I believe had the best seasons for their parent franchises.

These are not necessarily the most NHL-ready players or the top prospects in the organizational pecking order, but these guys had the most success overall (but yeah, a lot of the top guys are here anyway). Factors include individual stats and growth, plus team success – so don’t be surprised to find some North Dakota Fighting Hawks and Brandon Wheat Kings on the list. One more note: any player who is Calder-eligible for the current NHL season does not count – that means no Frankie Vatrano for Boston or Connor Hellebuyck for Winnipeg, as examples.

Let’s get to it:

Read more Roundtable: If we were giving it out now, who wins the Conn Smythe?

The Hockey News
Joe Pavelski scores at SAP Center on May 1, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Stanley Cup playoffs are only half over but that doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead to the final night of the season.

Before Gary Bettman hands the Cup to the captain of the winning team, he hands out the Conn Smythe Trophy to the playoff MVP.

As the conference finals begin, these are our favorites to win the Conn Smythe.

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Down Goes Brown: The five worst Game 7s of the last 25 years

Sean McIndoe
Patrick Roy in a forgettable Game 7 in 2002. (Getty Images)

You know what they say: There’s nothing is better than a Game 7.

Well… usually. After six games of back-and-forth action, a deciding seventh game is almost always worth watching. The stakes are high, the teams are evenly matched, and the drama can be off the charts. It’s where reputations can be forged and championship dreams can be crushed, and many of the greatest moments in hockey history have come in Game 7.

But every now and then, a Game 7 serves up a dud. That was the case Wednesday night, when the Blues went into Dallas and smoked the Stars 6-1. Hopefully we’ll get something a little more entertaining in Thursday’s Sharks-Predators showdown. But it’s always wise to prepare for the worst. So today, let’s take a look at five games that will join the Stars and Blues as the worst Game 7 of the last 25 years.

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Five intriguing free agent coaches not named Bruce Boudreau

Jared Clinton
Marc Crawford (Faerjestad BK/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

Bruce Boudreau spent a grand total of two days as a free agent coach following his firing from the Washington Capitals in November 2011, and that the former Ducks bench boss is already well on his way to finding his next gig five days after losing his job in Anaheim isn’t the least bit surprising.

The one thing that’s a certainty this off-season, no matter how free agency shakes out, is that Boudreau will end up behind an NHL bench in 2016-17. The only question is where he’ll land, with the Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators or Calgary Flames being the three clear options at this point. Boudreau is among the best coaches the league has seen over the past decade, and, poor post-season record or not, he can help right a team’s ship in a hurry. The task in any of his potential landing spots will be more difficult than what he had to work with in Anaheim or Washington, to be sure, but there’s reason to be confident in Boudreau’s ability.

However, once Boudreau is hired, there will be at least three remaining coaching vacancies, including in Anaheim where the Ducks will be looking for Boudreau’s successor. And with Boudreau off the market, the coaching market has several interesting options. Read more

Seven players who can turn a successful playoff performance into a contract for 2016-17

Mike Brophy
Steve Ott (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hockey is the ultimate team sport, or so we are lead to believe.

And yet we also know that the further a team goes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the more it can benefit the individuals that make up the teams. Let’s be honest, there are a number of players on the eight teams still standing who are playing for contracts next season.

A player like center Matt Cullen of the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, is in his 19th season in the NHL, on a one-year contract for $800,000 — quite a comedown for a guy who used to earn $4 million a year with the Nashville Predators. Still the 39-year-old native of Virginia, MN, is playing for the love of the game. Playing pretty well, too. In six games, Cullen has two goals – both game-winners – and three points while averaging 15:22 of dependable two-way play.

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