To me, the 1990-91 Minnesota North Stars are the most incredible team in NHL history.
Here’s a bit of a history lesson for our younger readers. Back in the golden ages of the early 1990s there were four divisions: the Adams and the Patrick Division were in the Prince of Wales Conference, and the two other divisions, the Norris and the Smythe, were in the Clarence Campbell Conference. Instead of having a system of conference standings, playoffs were played in-division among the top four, and the winners of that mini-tournament would play the winners of the other division in the Conference Finals, who would then move on to the Stanley Cup finals.
Minnesota finished fourth in the Norris Division that year with 68 points, at 27-39-14. Chicago won the division, and finished with 106 points (St. Louis finished right behind with 105 points), nearly 40 points higher than the Stars. Minnesota’s leading points-getter was Dave Gagner, with 82 points. Brett Hull had 86 goals that year for the Blues. Adam Oates finished with 90 assists. On paper, either of those teams should have wiped the floor with the Stars.
But here’s the thing — the Stars beat Chicago and St. Louis in six games. Then pummeled the defending Stanley Cup Champion Edmonton Oilers in five games before bowing out to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the finals (I mean, really there’s nothing you can do when the other team has a guy that can do this and has some other guy with bangs purloined right off my sister’s forehead).
It’s easy to overlook the Caps potential first round opponents. Buffalo’s best player is arguably Ryan Miller, and he’s hurt right now. The Sabres’ primary backup is Jhonas Enroth, who is um...not good (and behind him is the immortal Patrick Lalime). Ryan Callahan is one of the best players on the Rangers, and he looks to be pretty much done for the year after he decided it was a good idea to stop a Zdeno Chara slapshot with his leg. Carolina will need a small miracle just to make the playoffs. The Caps, on the other hand, are zooming towards the playoffs and peaking at just the right time.
This is the lesson the Caps must heed going into the Stanley Cup playoffs. There is no easy road to winning the Stanley Cup, because the very nature of the playoffs is chaos. Whenever you throw random teams together in a best-of-seven series, everything is not always going to end up the way it should. The roadsides are littered with the victims of the Miracle on Manchester, and the Detroit teams of the early 1990’s who lost to San Jose and were blown out spectacularly by the Devils, and you can hear the ghost of last year’s Caps team howling in the wind.
The Caps hold their destiny in their own hands. They can either become part of an incredible story, or they can become incredible themselves, and that starts with keeping the mindset of taking no nights off, because in the playoffs, there are none.