MONTREAL — This will come as little consolation to the Chicago Blackhawks, who were eliminated in Game 7 of their Western Conference First Round series against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. But they are not the first team to have won the Stanley Cup one season and then hastily been shown the door in the opening round the following year.
At least the Blackhawks qualified for the playoffs this spring, something not every defending champion has been able to say.
The first quick exit of a defending champion, in a very different NHL, came in 1928, when the Senators were eliminated by the Montreal Maroons in a Canadian Division quarterfinal.
There would be a handful of similar sayonaras in the NHL’s first four decades:
The New York Rangers won the 1933 Stanley Cup, then lost a 1934 quarterfinal to the Maroons, Chicago going on to win the championship.
But the Blackhawks fell to the Maroons in a quarterfinal the next season, losing a two-game, total-goals series 1-0, the deciding game in Chicago going to overtime.
Here is part of a wire-service dispatch about Game 2 that is quite different from the coverage you will read in the middle of a playoff series this season:
“Maroons went into battle in a very grim mood tonight. Two of the main reasons were the result of their activities yesterday. They visited the stock yards in the afternoon and saw the cattle slaughtered, and went to police headquarters in the evening and watched the parade of suspects file past. Several of the Maroons had their fingerprints taken. … (The Maroons’) Alex Connell has kept to the hotel since he arrived here except for a visit to the rink for yesterday’s practice. Alex still remembers his experience in New York when the gangsters threatened him.”
The Detroit Red Wings went from being crowned 1937 champions, winning their second straight title, to finishing last in the American Division in 1937-38, not even qualifying for the playoffs.
The Blackhawks rolled to a Stanley Cup victory that season, which led to Chicago’s similar failure to make the 1939 playoffs with their last-place American Division finish.
The Rangers and Red Wings had early-1940s Stanley Cup wins, then spiraled to first-round eliminations.
And then the 1944-45 Toronto Maple Leafs went from a championship to missing the playoffs.
The pain didn’t last long in Toronto, however. The Maple Leafs went from that disaster to three consecutive Stanley Cup wins from 1947-49.
The Montreal Canadiens had more than a little success, too. The Canadiens were champions from 1956-60, the team that arguably was hockey’s greatest dynasty winning an unprecedented five consecutive Stanley Cup titles with 10 straight series wins, dominating the semifinal and final rounds.
Indeed, the Canadiens won 40 games and lost just nine in that run, sweeping Chicago and Toronto in a combined eight games in 1960 en route to their fifth straight victory parade.
Fast-forward to the NHL’s first major expansion, the League doubling from six teams to 12 for the 1967-68 season. The Maple Leafs, who had stunned the heavily favored Canadiens to win the 1967 Stanley Cup, failed to make the 1968 playoffs, Montreal that year winning the 15th of its NHL-record 24 titles.
Then came a run of five consecutive seasons of first-to-farewell.
The Canadiens successfully defended their championship in 1969, then weren’t around for even one playoff round in 1970, the Bruins winning their first Stanley Cup in 29 years.
But so much for celebration: The Bruins were knocked out in a quarterfinal in the spring of 1971 by the Canadiens, who went all the way – only to lose a quarterfinal of their own in 1972 to the Rangers.
Boston won the 1972 Stanley Cup, then lost a quarterfinal to the Rangers in 1973, the Canadiens enjoying that season’s championship for less than a year when they were bounced by the Rangers in a 1974 quarterfinal.
More than a decade later, the 1993 champion Canadiens were losers in a 1994 Eastern Conference quarterfinal to the Bruins.
The New Jersey Devils went from celebrants to spectators, winning the Stanley Cup in 1995, then failing to make the playoffs the next season.
The Devils would win it all again in 2003, then lose a conference quarterfinal to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2004.
The Carolina Hurricanes would have a short taste of victory, winning the 2006 Stanley Cup, then failing to make the playoffs the next season.
Which brings us to this decade:
The 2009-10 Blackhawks celebrated their first Stanley Cup in 49 years for just a few heartbeats, beaten in a 2011 conference quarterfinal by the Canucks.
The Bruins would win that season’s championship, then fall in a quarterfinal the next season to the Washington Capitals.
The Los Angeles Kings bring us full circle on this unfortunate list, going from their Stanley Cup win in 2014, their second in three seasons, to watching the playoffs from the sidelines last spring.
From the first days of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, success in one season has been no guarantee of glory the next. The Blackhawks know that well, as do many others.