The quest to win the Stanley Cup is viewed as being perhaps the most difficult achievement in professional sports. Teams must capture four consecutive best-of-seven series in order to earn the right to live Lord Stanley’s mug. Often, players play through horrific injuries and proudly wear the scars from their journey as they parade the Cup around the ice in triumph.
For all but one team, each year’s run for the Cup will end in disappointment and heartbreak. And it is always the pick of the crop among the NHL betting favorites who earn the right to proclaim themselves as champions.
There’s an old saying in hockey that it isn’t necessarily the best team that wins the Stanley Cup, but rather the team that’s playing the best at that particular time. Certainly, these heavy favorites who came up short in their bids to win the title would be in agreement with that assessment.
These are the best teams that didn’t win the Stanley Cup.
2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning
Perhaps no team in NHL history achieved more during the regular season and fizzled out faster in the playoffs than this Tampa Bay squad. The Lightning won 62 games, tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most victories in an NHL season. Nikita Kucherov won the Hart and Art Ross Trophies and the Ted Lindsay Award. Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy.
Kucherov and Vasilevskiy were NHL First All-Star Team selections and defenseman Victor Hedman was a Second Team choice. Anthony Cirelli was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.
And then it was over in a stunning flash. The Lightning became the first Presidents’ Trophy winner to get swept in the opening round of the playoffs, losing in the minimum four games to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
1995-96 Detroit Red Wings
They had a Hall of Fame coach in Scotty Bowman and a lineup that featured future Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dino Ciccarelli and Slava Fetisov.
The Wings won a record 62 games, eclipsing the mark of 60 set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens, who were also coached by Bowman.
In the playoffs, though, the Wings struggled. Detroit needed six games to get by the Winnipeg Jets and fell behind 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues before winning in seven games. Facing the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference final, Detroit dropped the first two games at home and were eliminated in six games.
1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers set a professional sports record that still stands today. They went unbeaten for 35 consecutive games, going 25-0-10. Goalie Pete Peeters didn’t suffer a loss until Feb. 19, 1980.
Philly led the NHL with 116 points and would face the New York Islanders, who’d collected 91 points, in the Stanley Cup final. The Isles emerged winners in a six-game series.
1970-71 Boston Bruins
The reigning Stanley Cup champions, all the Bruins did during the 1970-71 season was establish or tie 37 NHL records. Center Phil Esposito posted new single-season marks for goals (76) and points (152), while Bobby Orr set new standards for assists (102) and for points by a defenseman (139).
Facing Montreal in the first round of the playoffs, Boston won the series opener 3-1 and carried a 5-2 lead in the third period of Game 2. Then something shocking happened. The Canadiens staged a miraculous rally to win 7-5. Montreal would go on to upset the Bruins in seven games.
1944-45 Montreal Canadiens
Rocket Richard scored an NHL record 50 goals in 50 games. Punch Line mates Elmer Lach, Richard and Toe Blake finished 1-2-3 in NHL scoring. Going 38-8-4, Montreal led the NHL with the most goals scored (228) and the fewest goals allowed (121). Bill Durnan won the Vezina. Durnan, Lach, Richard, Blake and defenseman Butch Bouchard were all part of the NHL First All-Star Team.
The Stanley Cup semifinals opened in Montreal with the visiting Maple Leafs taking 3-1 and 1-0 verdicts. Toronto eliminated the Habs in six games.
1929-30 Boston Bruins
Like the 1970-71 Bruins, the 1929-30 Boston squad were defending Cup champs who rewrote the NHL record book, including most wins in a single regular season (38), most regular season wins on home ice (20), and one mark that still stands, the best single season winning percentage in NHL history (.875). Cooney Weiland recorded an NHL-record 73 points. Goalie Tiny Thompson won the Vezina.
The Bruins never lost consecutive games all season until they were swept by the Canadiens in the best-of-three Stanley Cup final.