NHL - US Sports: Review of the 2021/22 NHL season
The NHL season came to a thrilling conclusion with the Colorado Avalanche crowned Stanley Cup Champions for the third time in their history, but players elsewhere made a big impact.
Colorado's victory came at the expense of the Tampa Bay Lightning who were participating in their third straight Stanley Cup Final, ultimately falling short in their bid to three-peat as champions.
Relief for Avalanche
The Avalanche won the Cup Final in six games and amongst their celebrations on Tampa Bay's ice, there was a sense of relief to have finally achieved their goal following three straight second-round exits when expectations were much higher.
Dynamic defenceman Cale Makar was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player in the playoffs after amassing 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 20 games.
Oilers pair top points board
Despite the Cup Final going to six games, impressively it was Edmonton Oilers pair Connor McDavid (33 points) and Leon Draisaitl (32 points), who finished the play-offs ahead of Makar on the points board.
McDavid had 10 goals, 23 assists and Draisaitl seven goals, 25 assists, both in a 16-game run which saw the Oilers reach but ultimately get swept by the Avalanche in the Western Conference Final.
The pair are 17.00 to lead the Oilers to the Stanley Cup in 2022/23.
Several other teams also enjoyed successful seasons, although all shared the sting of disappointment in the play-offs.
Presidents' Trophy little consolation for Panthers
The Florida Panthers won their first ever Presidents' Trophy as the team with the best record in the regular season (58-16-6; 122 points), but they were swept in the play-offs by the Lightning in the second-round.
The play-off performance has led the Panthers to replace interim coach Andrew Brunette with former Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice.
Maurice resigned mid-season from the Jets, stating the team needed a new voice following nine seasons in charge and the Panthers are +800 to win the Stanley Cup in 2022/23.
Optimism remains high for Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs enjoyed their best-ever regular season (54-21-7; 115 points), finishing second to the Panthers in the Atlantic Division.
The Leafs again failed to advance past the first round of the play-offs - something they have not done since 2004 - but the defeat to the Lightning felt different this season and optimism remains high for the organisation, with Toronto 9.00 to claim the Stanley Cup in 2023.
Toronto went 3-2 up in the series before the perennial play-off performing Lightning managed to turn the series around winning Game 7 by a narrow 2-1 scoreline.
Leading the way for the Leafs' charge is 24-year-old Auston Matthews, who topped the goal-scoring charts in the regular season for a second season, becoming the first player in a decade to reach 60 goals.
Matthews was named the Hart Trophy winner as the regular season MVP.
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The aforementioned Makar of the Avalanche scooped the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenceman after registering a career high 86 points (28 goals, 58 assists) in 77 regular season games.
Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie after posting a dominant .935 save-percentage and 2.07 goals-against-average (GAA) in 53 regular season games.
The Rangers finished second in the Metropolitan Division (52-24-6) and were just three points short of matching their franchise best.
New York and Shesterkin performed well in the play-offs too, eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins and Metropolitan Division winners Carolina Hurricanes to make the Western Conference Final.
Despite taking a 2-0 lead in the series, the Rangers were eventually beaten by the Lightning in six games and are 19.00 to go all the way next season.
Sutter ignites Flames
Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter was awarded for his team's much improved season by being named the Jack Adams winner as Coach of the Year.
The Flames missed the play-offs in 2019/20 and replaced Geoff Ward with Sutter for his second stint in Calgary midway through that season.
With Sutter's methods established, the Flames ran away with the Pacific Division title with a 50-21-11 record for 111 points.
Calgary then beat the Dallas Stars in the first round of the play-offs, before losing to the Oilers in five games at the second-round stage.
Sutter is 19.00 to lead the Flames to Stanley Cup glory next season.
Golden Knights suffer disappointment
The Las Vegas Golden Knights' failure to even make it to the play-offs for the first time in their short history was a shock to many, particularly after they acquired superstar forward Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres mid-season.
Expected to be a contender for the cup, the Golden Knights finished fourth in the Pacific Division (43-31-8), behind one of the surprise packages of the season - the Los Angeles Kings (44-27-11) who qualified for the first time in four seasons.
Vegas are 15.00 to re-group and win the Stanley Cup next term under new coach Bruce Cassidy, who was fired by the Boston Bruins after a first-round play-off exit.
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