RECORD PLAYOFF TURNOVER
Intense competitive balance, a hallmark of recent NHL seasons, again was a notable feature in 2014-15 as seven teams made the playoffs after not qualifying in 2013-14 (Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets).
The seven-team turnover marked the largest year-to-year change in NHL history, surpassing the mark of six achieved three times (most recently in 2009-10). Overall, there has been a playoff turnover of at least five clubs in eight of the past 10 seasons.
There will be a new Stanley Cup champion for the 16th consecutive season. No team has repeated since the Detroit Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
CROWDED AT THE TOP
Just 16 points separated the 16 teams that qualified for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That’s the narrowest gap in the 16-team postseason era. The last time there was a smaller gap (in any playoff format) was in 1964-65, when just four teams qualified for the postseason.
Points Separating Entire Playoff Field, Since 1994-95
BIGGEST TEAM GAINS
Ten of the NHL’s 30 teams made double-digit improvements on their point totals from last season. The top gainers:
1. Florida Panthers: +25
2. New York Islanders: +22
3. Calgary Flames: +20
4. Vancouver Canucks: +18
5. New York Rangers: +17
SENATORS MAKE RECORD-SETTING RUN TO THE PLAYOFFS . . .
The Ottawa Senators, who were 20-22-9 and 14 points outside of a playoff berth on Feb. 10, went 23-4-4 in their final 31 games to make the playoffs for the 15th time in the past 18 seasons. They became the first team in the NHL’s modern era (since 1943-44) to overcome a 14-point deficit in the standings (at any point in the season) to reach the playoffs.
Undrafted goaltender Andrew Hammond, who made his first NHL start on Feb. 18, led the team’s playoff push with a 20-1-2 record during the stretch drive (1.79 GAA, .941 SV%, 3 SO). He allowed two or fewer goals in each of his first 12 career starts, matching an NHL record set by Boston Bruins goaltender Frank Brimsek in 1938-39. Hammond also went 14-0-1 to begin his career, becoming the second goaltender in League history to earn at least one point in each of his first 15 starts (Patrick Lalime: 14-0-2, 1996-97 w/ PIT). Hammond completed the regular season without a road regulation loss (10-0-2, 1.06 GAA, .966 SV%, 3 SO), becoming the first goaltender in the NHL’s modern era to do so in his first 12 such starts.
Aiding in the Senators’ dramatic run were a pair of rookies: forwards Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman.
Stone, a sixth-round selection (178th overall) by Ottawa in the 2010 NHL Draft, recorded 26?38—64 to finish atop the rookie scoring race. That featured 14-21—35 dating to Feb. 10 (31 GP), including a rookie club record nine-game point streak to end the season (8-5—13). Stone capped his performance with two goals in the season finale to help the team complete its improbable run. Overall, Stone’s 64 points ranked second for any rookie in Senators history (behind Alexei Yashin: 30-49—79 in 1993-94). The 22-year-old forward also shared first in the NHL with 98 takeaways (w/ Ryan O’Reilly).
Hoffman, a fifth-round choice (130th overall) by Ottawa in the 2009 NHL Draft, led all rookies with 27 goals, the second-most by a rookie in Senators history (behind Yashin). Overall, he finished fourth among rookies with 27-21—48.
. . . DUBNYK ALSO BACKSTOPS WILD INTO POSTSEASON
Eight points outside of a playoff spot when he made his team debut on Jan. 15, goaltender Devan Dubnyk backstopped the Minnesota Wild to a 28-9-3 record (59 points) in their final 40 games to lead the team to its third consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Dubnyk, who set a franchise record with 38 consecutive starts following his acquisition from the Arizona Coyotes, went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and five shutouts after joining the Wild. That included a 12-game road winning streak at the end the season, tying the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings for the longest such run in League history.
Overall, Dubnyk finished the season second in the NHL with a 2.07 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. He also ranked in the top 10 and set career highs in shutouts (t-4th, 6) and wins (t-6th; 36).
SUSTAINED EXCELLENCE BY RED WINGS
The Detroit Red Wings qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 24th consecutive season, extending the longest active streak in North American professional sports. The longest such streaks in the other major professional sports leagues: NBA, 18 seasons, San Antonio Spurs; NFL, six seasons, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots; MLB, four seasons, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers.
The Red Wings also equaled the fourth-longest such streak in NHL history (Montreal Canadiens: 1970-71 through 1993-94). The Boston Bruins appeared in 29 consecutive playoffs, from 1968-96; the Chicago Blackhawks 28, from 1970-97; and the St. Louis Blues 25, from 1980-04.
The Red Wings have not missed the playoffs since 1989-90. Seven players on their active roster were not even born at that time (Landon Ferraro, 8/8/91; Tomas Jurco, 12/28/92; Alexey Marchenko, 1/2/92; Petr Mrazek, 2/14/92; Teemu Pulkkinen, 1/2/92; Riley Sheahan, 12/7/91; andTomas Tatar, 12/1/90).
RANGERS COMPLETE BEST SEASON IN FRANCHISE HISTORY
Playing in their 89th NHL season, the New York Rangers went 53-22-7 (113 points) to establish franchise records for wins and points, surpassing the previous marks set in 1993-94 (52-24-8 in 84 GP, 112 points) when they last won the Stanley Cup. The Rangers also led the NHL and set club records for road wins (28) and points (58) – only the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings have won more games as visitors in one season (31-7-3).
The Rangers won their third Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history (also 1991-92 and 1993-94) and finished atop the League standings for the fourth time (also 1941-42). Only one other team has won the Presidents’ Trophy, which was first awarded in 1985-86, at least three times – the Red Wings (6x).
PRICE REWRITES RECORD BOOKS
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price led the NHL in wins (44), goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933), becoming the first goaltender to pace the League in all three categories since Ed Belfour accomplished that feat with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1990-91 (43 W, 2.47 GAA, .910 SV%).
In doing so, Price surpassed a 59-year-old franchise record for wins in one season. Jacques Plante set the former mark of 42 in 1955-56 and again equaled the number in 1961-62. Ken Dryden also reached the milestone in 1975-76.
Price’s save percentage was the third-highest in a single season since the NHL began tracking the stat in 1976-77 (minimum: 40 GP):
Highest Single-Season Save Percentage, Since 1976-77
1. Tim Thomas (2010-11 w/ BOS): .938 SV% (57 GP)
2. Dominik Hasek (1998-99 w/ BUF): .937 SV% (64 GP)
3. Carey Price (2014-15 w/ MTL): .933 SV% (66 GP)
4. Dwayne Roloson (2003-04 w/ MIN): .933 SV% (48 GP)
5. Tim Thomas (2008-09 w/ BOS): .933 SV% (54 GP)
Price also tied for second in the NHL and set a career high with nine shutouts, the most by a Canadiens goaltender since 1976-77 (Dryden: 10).
MORE GOALTENDERS SET FRANCHISE MARKS
Several other goaltenders set or tied single-season franchise records:
* Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby compiled 41 wins, tying the club mark set by Olie Kolzig in 1999-00. He also registered nine shutouts, equaling a team record set by Jim Carey in 1995-96, and appeared in a League-high 73 games, matching the club mark set by Kolzig in 1999-00.
* Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop posted 40 wins to surpass the franchise mark he set last season (37). Bishop, a native of Denver, Colo., became the fourth U.S.-born goaltender to reach the milestone, joining Tom Barrasso (43 in 1992-93 w/ PIT), Mike Richter (42 in 1993-94 w/ NYR) and Ryan Miller (40 in 2006-07 and 41 in 2009-10, both w/ BUF).
* New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak earned 38 wins, eclipsing the team record of 32 achieved by Billy Smith (1981-82), Chris Osgood (2001-02) and Rick DiPietro (2006-07). That included an 11-game winning streak from Nov. 5 – Dec. 4, toppling the franchise mark of 10 set by Smith in 1981-82.
* Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury led the NHL and set a franchise record with 10 shutouts, easily surpassing the mark set byTom Barrasso in 1997-98 (7). Fleury’s last shutout was his most important, as he stopped all 28 shots he faced on the final day of the season to lead the Penguins to their ninth consecutive playoff berth.
PANTHERS’ DUO CLIMBS ALL-TIME CHARTS . . .
Florida Panthers teammates Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo continued to climb the NHL record books:
* The 43-year-old Jagr posted 17-30—47 (76 GP), including 6-12—18 in 20 games after joining the Panthers. Among his accomplishments, he became the fourth player in NHL history to record 1,800 points (1,802), moved into fifth place on the all-time goals list (722) and climbed into sixth place on the all-time assists list (1,080). Jagr also added to his NHL record with his 129th career game-winning goal in the regular-season finale.
* Luongo became the 11th goaltender in NHL history to win 400 games and then tied Chris Osgood for 10th all-time with his 401st victory exactly one week later. The 36-year-old goaltender went 28-19-12 in his first full season back in Florida, leading the Panthers to a 25-point turnaround – the largest year-over-year gain in the NHL.
. . . YOUNG STARS ALSO EMERGE
Several rookies – beyond those on the Ottawa Senators – also made statements in their first full NHL seasons:
* Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau shared first in rookie scoring with 24-40—64, tied for the fifth-most points by a rookie in franchise history (w/ Tom Lysiak: 19-45—64 in 1973-74). He recorded his first career hat trick on Dec. 22; at 21 years, 131 days, Gaudreau became the youngest Flames player to post a three-goal game since Dec. 28, 1987 (Joe Nieuwendyk).
* Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, set club records for goals (12), assists (27) and points (39) by a rookie defenseman. His 39 points were two shy of the NHL record for an 18-year-old defenseman (at the start of the season), set byBobby Orr in 1966-67 (13-28—41).
* Nashville Predators center Filip Forsberg finished third in rookie scoring with 24-40—64, setting franchise records in all three categories. That included a seven-game point streak (Oct. 31 – Nov. 13: 7-6—13), the longest by a rookie in Predators history, as well as a six-game goal streak (Nov. 2-13: 7 G), tied for the longest by any player this season.
* Eighteen-year-old Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak played in just 46 games, but made his mark with 10-17—27. He scored his first NHL goal on Jan. 10, becoming the youngest Bruins player to do so since Patrice Bergeron in 2003-04, and also became the first teenager in Bruins history to record a regular-season overtime goal when he did so on March 29.
* St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen led all rookies in wins, compiling a 22-7-4 record with a 2.28 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and four shutouts in 37 appearances. He became the third goaltender in Blues history to pace all rookies in wins, joining Mike Liut (32 in 1979-80) and Wayne Stephenson (18 in 1972-73).
OVECHKIN CONTINUES SCORING SUPREMACY
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin scored 53 goals to capture his third consecutive and fifth overall Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, adding to the ones he earned in 2007-08, 2008-09, 2012-13 and 2013-14. Ovechkin became the sixth player in NHL history to record six 50-goal seasons, joining Mike Bossy (9), Wayne Gretzky (9), Marcel Dionne (6), Guy Lafleur (6) and Mario Lemieux (6). He also led the League and set a career high/franchise record with 25 power-play goals, while his 11 game-winning goals paced the NHL and matched a personal best.
Ovechkin scored 41 of his 53 goals in the final 55 games of season (0.75 GPG). He posted his 473rd and 474th career goals on April 2 to surpass Peter Bondra (472) as the leading goal-scorer in Capitals history. Ovechkin also set a career high and franchise record with his League-leading 15th multi-goal performance of the season in that contest. Since entering the NHL at the beginning of 2005-06, he paces the League in goals (475), points (895), power-play goals (176) and game-winning goals (80). Ovechkin’s average of 0.63 goals per game ranks third in NHL history (minimum: 350 GP), behind only Bossy (0.76) and Lemieux (0.75).
BENN MAKES LATE RUN FOR ART ROSS TROPHY
Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (35-52—87) claimed the first Art Ross Trophy in franchise history behind a strong late-season push. Benn, who entered the final day of the regular season one point shy of the League leaders, recorded 3-1—4, including his second career hat trick and an assist with 8.5 seconds remaining in regulation, to finish one point ahead of New York Islanders center John Tavares (38-48—86), who registered 1-1—2 on the last day of 2014-15. Benn posted 12-11—23 in the final 12 games of the season, highlighted by five three-point performances and 5-5—10 in the last week of the campaign (3 GP) to finish with career highs in all three scoring categories. No player has repeated as the Art Ross Trophy winner since 2000-01 (Jaromir Jagr: 4x).
Nearly 60% of games were decided by one goal or two goals following an empty-net tally (719 / 1,230 GP) . . . Game scores were within one goal 74.1% of total playing time . . . There were 496 lead changes, the most since 2009-10, and 331 games with at least one lead change, the most since 2008-09 . . . Five first-year head coaches guided their teams to the playoffs (Peter Laviolette, NSH; Dave Cameron, OTT; Mike Johnston, PIT;Willie Desjardins, VAN; and Barry Trotz, WSH). Of those head coaches, only Cameron took over as a midseason replacement (on Dec. 8) . . . Five Canadian-based teams qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04 (CGY, MTL, OTT, TOR and VAN) . . . The Anaheim Ducks set a single-season NHL record with 18 victories when trailing – at any point – of the third period. They also matched a League record with 12 wins when trailing after two periods . . . The Washington Capitals paced the NHL in power-play efficiency (25.3%). The Detroit Red Wings led the League with 70 power-play goals . . . The Minnesota Wild ranked first in penalty-kill efficiency (86.3%). The New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets tied with a League-leading 10 shorthanded goals.