We continue our analysis of the NHL's best from the 2010s by looking back at the 25 best teams. We tend to give extra credit to Stanley Cup champions, but great regular-season performances that fall a little short deserve respect as well, because it is not easy to be the best team (or one of the best teams) over an entire 82-game season. See which teams make the list.
Before the Blues finally broke through with their championship run in 2019, they were an outstanding regular-season team that just always happened to be caught in the wrong division or get the wrong playoff matchup. That was the case in 2013-14 when they won 52 regular-season games and had to face the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty in Round 1 of the playoffs. They won the first two games in overtime before dropping four in a row, including two in overtime, to lose an agonizingly close series.
This is the one Lightning team of this era that actually did break through to the Stanley Cup Final. They were just on their rise to the top of the Eastern Conference and were driven by the triplets line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. They won two of the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final against Chicago but couldn't generate any offense after that. This is still the closest the Lightning have been to a championship in the Steven Stamkos/Jon Cooper era.
Their 2017 run to the Stanley Cup Final was viewed as a bit of a surprise simply because they did not have a great regular-season record. But anyone who had followed the development of this team knew it was for real, and the Predators proved it the next year by finishing with the league's best record thanks to an underrated group of forwards led by Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen as well as the league's best overall defense. Their run came to an end in a Game 7 loss at home to the Winnipeg Jets.
This was the year the Jets finally got just enough goal tending to take advantage of their talent all over the ice. They had a ridiculously deep group of forwards, an underrated defense, and not only won 52 regular season games, but they also won the franchise's first-ever playoff game. They beat the Presidents' Trophy-winning Predators in seven games only to have their run fall just short against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
By far the most intriguing team of the decade, this was an expansion franchise that had zero expectations around it at the beginning. Yet the Golden Knights were far better than anyone could have anticipated thanks to the league's other general managers not knowing how to handle the expansion draft. They made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of existence, and there was nothing about it that was a fluke. They were an outstanding team that earned their spot, and the Knights have been contenders each year since.
After years of postseason disappointment, the Joe Thornton-Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks finally reached their first Stanley Cup Final. It was an incredible run but would only result in more disappointment, as they ran into a Penguins team that had steamrolled the Eastern Conference and was simply not going to be beaten.
This team was driven by one of the league's best lines in David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, a trio that completely took over games. Sprinkle in an outstanding defense and two No. 1 goalies, and you had a powerhouse team that took the Stanley Cup Final series to a seventh game. Unfortunately for the Bruins, their quest at a second championship this decade fell just short against the Blues. But it was still the beginning of a revival for the Bruins core that once again has them as contenders.
Here's another great Lightning team that just so happened to come up small in the biggest situation. For the second time in three years, the Lightning had a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference final only to have their offense disappear at the worst possible time. It was a bitter end to a 54-win season that should have been one worth celebrating. The Lightning have been one of the most dominant regular-season teams of the decade and have had some deep postseason runs, but they just have not been able to climb the final peak of the mountain.
This was when the Bruins were really at their peak. They had won the Stanley Cup in 2011, reached the Final in 2013 and then came back the following year to rule the regular season with 117 points. They had the same great defense and goal tending situation as the previous two but ran into a hot Carey Price in Round 2 of the playoffs, as he limited them to just one goal in Games 6 and 7.
One year after going on a run to the Stanley Cup Final (where they lost to the Kings), the Rangers came back and showed their run was for real by finishing with the league's best record, winning 53 games. It was Henrik Lundqvist at his best, Rick Nash scoring 40 goals and a balanced lineup that was a matchup problem for every team. They were a Game 7 loss to an up-and-coming Tampa Bay team away from making a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Capitals have had a lot of great teams over the past decade, and it's kind of funny that the one that finally broke through and won the Stanley Cup may have been the worst of the three. They finally made it over the hump against the Penguins in Round 2 when Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a game-winning goal in overtime of Game 6, and then Braden Holtby rose to the occasion in the Eastern Conference final by fighting off elimination with back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7. They then ended the Cinderella story that was the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, giving the Capitals their first-ever championship.
Probably one of the weirdest teams of the decade, the Blues opened the 2018-19 season with the intention of competing, but their goal tending situation crushed those hopes and put them into a deep hole in early January where they actually had the worst record in the Western Conference. But the midseason call-up of Jordan Binnington fixed the one hole the team had, and with the goal tending situation solidified, they finally had the look of a championship team.
For the second year in a row a Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals team fell just short in Round 2 against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins. This one was probably the toughest for Washington because it was not only a repeat of the first year but also because they lost in Game 7 in a series where they carried the play for most of it, only to run into a white-hot goalie. It was everything Capitals fans had become accustomed to seeing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They won 56 games, collected 120 points and were one of three Capitals teams in the salary cap era to win the Presidents' Trophy with the league's best record. It seemed like this was finally going to be their year, until they ran into their archnemesis in Round 2: the Pittsburgh Penguins. They lost in six games to a Penguins team that was destined to win the Stanley Cup.
Vancouver's second straight Presidents' Trophy team, and somehow this one ended with even more disappointment than the previous one. While the 2011 Canucks at least made Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, this one ended up getting crushed in Round 1 by the No. 8 seed Los Angeles Kings. Now that's not as bad as it sounds. That Kings team was just beginning its mini-dynasty run where it ruled the Western Conference and was better than its regular-season record. This was just a bad matchup and some bad luck for what was an otherwise outstanding Canucks team.
The second of the Penguins' back-to-back championship teams, Pittsburgh had to overcome the loss of its No. 1 defenseman, Kris Letang, and figured out a way to make it work. While the 2016 team won by complete territorial domination and a lightning-fast team no one could keep up with, this one leaned heavily on the goal tending of Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray and the forwards outscoring everyone else along the way.
This team might have even been better than the Bruins team that actually won the Stanley Cup this decade. The trio of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask was as dominant defensively as any forward-defense-goalie trio in the league and completely shut down the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final, allowing just two goals in four games to one of the best offensive teams of the era. Had they not run into the Blackhawks buzz saw in the Final, they would have probably won it all. They were 45 seconds away from forcing a Game 7 in that series.
Between 2012 and 2014 the Kings were the team in the Western Conference, winning two Stanley Cups with a trip to the Western Conference Finals sandwiched in the middle. This was the second of their Stanley Cup teams, and it was just as dominant defensively as the first and a little better offensively. They did not cruise through the playoffs as easily as the 2012 team did, needing to win three Game 7s along the way. They also overcame a 3-0 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks in Round 1.
The first of back-to-back Presidents' Trophy-winning teams in Vancouver, the Canucks were a high-flying team with great goal tending that for probably the first time in franchise history was considered to be the league's best. This team made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final before running into the brick wall that was Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Roberto Luongo may have never won the Cup in Vancouver, but they gave the team's fans some truly great hockey to watch.
A better offensive team than they probably got credit for being, a dominant defensive team, and one of the best goaltending duos the league has seen in decades with Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask backstopping them. They ended Boston's decades long Stanley Cup drought by going into Vancouver and crushing the Canucks. They won each of their four games that series by at least three goals.
This team probably doesn't get a lot of respect among the decades champions because it snuck into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed. But make no mistake: This team was great. The Kings were hurt throughout the regular season by a lack of goal scoring, a problem they corrected with the midseason trade for Jeff Carter. After that they had one of the best records in the league and they dominated the playoffs, winning 16 out of 20 games on their way to the Stanley Cup. This was one of the best defensive teams of the era.
The Pens had a miserable start to the regular season and found themselves out of the playoffs in early December. They had the wrong coach, the wrong roster, the wrong players and it seemed like the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era was coming to a close. Then they hired Mike Sullivan to coach, overturned the roster midseason and won the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups. Following the coaching hire, a handful of trades to bring in Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, and Justin Schultz and some key minor league call-ups (Matt Murray, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary) this team was unstoppable, overwhelming the opposition with speed and puck possession.
The third of Chicago's Stanley Cup teams in the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane era, this was probably the "weakest" of the three championship clubs but still a great all-around team. Duncan Keith was the postseason hero on this one, playing some of the best hockey of his career to add a Conn Smythe Trophy to his already impressive resume.
This team will produce a wide range of emotions. The Lightning were great across the board, loaded with All-Stars, individual award winners and one of the league's best coaches, and they put together one of the best regular seasons ever by winning 62 games, tying a league record. Then they fell on their faces in the playoffs and were swept in Round 1 by the No. 8 seed Columbus Blue Jackets. They will forever be remembered for that, but what they did over 82 games was one of the most impressive single-season performances ever.
This was the Chicago dynasty at the height of its powers. The Blackhawks earned a point in 24 consecutive games to open the season and lost only seven games in regulation during the lockout-shortened season (48 games). They won the Presidents' Trophy and then rolled through the playoffs on their way to the second Stanley Cup of the Jonathan Toews era. They clinched the Cup in dramatic fashion, scoring two late goals in Game 6 in Boston.