The Stanley Cup finals boil down to the two best, but others stood out, too, in the NHL's 2010/2011 season.
Many stories in this season besides Stanley Cup finalists
With the biggest game of the season on tap tonight, let us pause to look back at the biggest stories of the 2010/11 NHL season
• The head shot heard around the world - an "incidental" collision on January 1 - was the beginning of the end for Pittsburgh wunderkind Sidney Crosby.
After taking a shoulder to the head from David Steckel, the then-Washington forward, Crosby played one more game, got hit hard again (by Tampa defenceman Victor Hedman) and has not been seen since.
To make matters worse for the Penguins, Evgeni Malkin was lost to a knee injury a month later. Despite being down two superstars, the Penguins finished strong, fourth in the East, but blew a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay in the first round of the play-offs.
• The Tampa Bay Lightning made a living out of shocking people this season. The Lightning hired Steve Yzerman as their general manager last summer and he brought in Guy Boucher as the coach. Boucher installed an innovative system that suited speedy Tampa Bay just fine.
Led by the stellar efforts of veteran Martin St-Louis and youngster Steven Stamkos - and the play-off goaltending of late-season addition Dwayne Roloson - Tampa Bay made it to Game 7 of the East final before falling to the Boston Bruins.
• The Washington Capitals also lost to Tampa Bay in the post-season. And even though the Caps were swept in Round 2, they were a different type of team than the one that had flopped in previous play-offs. Alex Ovechkin's statistics took a dip, but Washington looked like a grittier team that, one day soon, might be ready to contend for the cup.
• The Chicago Blackhawks entered as defending champions and took a step backward after the team's first NHL title in 49 years. A ravaged roster, due to the salary cap as well as injuries, was to blame. The Blackhawks limped into the play-offs on the last day of the season and scared Vancouver before bowing out in overtime of Game 7. Still, with a core that includes Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks will fly again.
• Around the league, the New Jersey Devils, after a prolonged pursuit of US$100 million (Dh367m) man Ilya Kovalchuk last summer, failed to make the play-offs despite a spectacular second half ... the Philadelphia Flyers, always just a good goaltender away from the cup, made a pre-emptive strike for former Coyotes star stopper Ilya Bryzgalov ... after 11 years and losing buckets of money, the Atlanta Thrashers suddenly relocated to Winnipeg ... and the Coyotes will play in Phoenix for at least one more year.
Player of the year
Tim Thomas, Boston. The Bruins’ goalie, below, was the best stopper in the regular season and deserves to be the MVP of the play-offs. No player was more dominant for 100-plus games, making Thomas an easy choice for this honour. Coach of the year
Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay. The first-year NHL bench boss took the Lightning – and the league – by storm, first with a 1-3-1 system that was tailor-made for Tampa’s speed and skill, and then with his singular passion, which could be witnessed during any time out as he stared down his players, gesturing wildly and exploding with instructions.
Best defensive player
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit. The Red Wings’ star was in the running for best offensive player, too. Datsyuk, a superb skater with sublime stick skills, uses his speed, mobility and soft hands to relieve opponents of the puck time after time. And he has shown a gritty side to his game as he gets older, especially in meaningful play-off contests.
Biggest surprise: Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was just a few short years ago that the Bolts were so bad, they had the No 1 draft pick. Wisely, they selected Steven Stamkos. Just as wisely, they hired Steve Yzerman as general manager and Guy Boucher as coach, and a lightning-fast turnaround was underway. They made it to Game 7 of the East final.
New Jersey Devils. The Devils spent US$100 million (Dh367m) on Ilya Kovalchuk. But he could not score and they could not win under their rookie coach John MacLean. The team stabilised under Jacques Lemaire, but he will not be back next season.