The Best Stanley Cup Champion This Decade Is…

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Before I reveal which team won the poll, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who participated in the poll conducted. Over 70 votes were cast, more than expected, and overall, it shows readers do love the content that’s published.

Time now for the choice for the best Stanley Cup Champion of the decade.

The winner is…

The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks!!

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While the NFL champion didn’t come as a true surprise, the 2010 Blackhawks winning the poll was in some ways compared to how well the Penguins, Capitals, Kings and Blues performed. This didn’t stop hockey fans from the atlantic to the west coast from taking the team which had the longest championship drought turning into this decade. The number two seeded Blackhawks had a fantastic 2009-2010 season in which they put up 112 points and won the Central Division, which at that time meant their 14th division title, and the first since the 1992-93 season, when they were in the Norris Division. They powered through Nashville and Vancouver before sweeping number one seeded San Jose to advance and take on the underdog Philadelphia Flyers. The Blackhawks won in six games against the Flyers, (who had an impressive season themselves tallying 88 points) beat the Bruins down three games to none in the second round, and uprooted both the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens.

Q: What made this team so special?

A: There are a lot of things that makes this team iconic, and not just because it was the first of three championships, although that may be a contributing factor. Let’s begin with goaltender Antti Niemi who came on in the later half of the season and went 26-7, recording seven shutouts and finished with a .912 save percentage. In his second NHL season, the Blackhawks made sure that their top defensemen, lead by Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson could keep the puck away from extra attackers and make sure the red-hot net minder did his best. Antti Niemi was even considered for the Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

The Blackhawks that season had one of the deepest rosters a hockey team could have had especially with the cap space. Players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Tomas Kopecky made up an excellent supporting cast. Marian Hossa and Kopecky came in that year to bulk up the first two lines. It looked like what was built the previous three years came together, and no team in the league possibly could have taken them out in a playoff series.

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Kris Versteeg scores on Michael Leighton in a high-scoring 6-5 win in Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.

As one of the voters commented under the poll, “Byfuglien, Ladd, Sharp, Hossa, Kane, Toews, Versteeg and Brouwer were either first line players or immediately became first line players the moment they got more playing time on other teams. Not to mention the third line of Ladd-Bolland-Versteeg, two of whom scored 50 points or more.” The Philadelphia Flyers found a way to beat great playoff teams and caught fire similar to how the 2007 New York Giants got hot during the post-season, but they couldn’t get past the enormous depth factor the Blackhawks possessed in a seven game series.

The author’s Stanley Cup pick: the 2015-2016 Pittsburgh Penguins

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Ah yes, the team that’s always a threat even if they don’t go to deep in the playoffs or to the Championship. With all due respect to the Blackhawks, who had a peak for a few years, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin have done it for most of this decade. Star Maple Leafs scorer Phil Kessel was brought in during the offseason, which gave the Pens the scoring advantage when it mattered most. Although the Pens only took second place in the Metropolitan with 104 points, there was no doubt during the season that they were the best team in their division, especially if it came from a best of seven matchup. What made the difference mid-season ironically was the head injury to Marc-Andre Fleury on April 2nd that brought in dazzling rookie Matt Murray, and made the defense even better, as he slammed the door on any scoring chances opponents might capitalize on.

Q: What made this team so special?

A: The roster is quite impressive especially with the additions of Kessel and Nick Bonino in the offseason, but what really stands out are the three teams they beat in the playoffs. Up first was the defensive stalwart that was the New York Rangers, headlined by elite goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Pittsburgh had struggled the past two years to beat the Rangers, and had even struggled against them in the regular season. The Pens dispatched the Rangers in five games, making life miserable for their defense. The President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals were next for round two, and Pittsburgh again proved how much better they were against Alex Ovechkin’s squad, winning the series in six games. Last but not least, their conference finals matchup was against the previous Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, led by Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop. It took seven games, but the Pens edged out the Lightning to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Three opponents that could give anyone in the East fits, had been subdued by a deep and focused club led by the future back-to-back Conn Smythe winner.

The Western Conference Champion San Jose Sharks finally peaked after choking a 3-0 series lead the year before to the Los Angeles Kings, pinning L.A.’s ears back handily in five games. The Sharks got into two physical series after against Nashville and St. Louis, both going to game sevens with San Jose prevailing. Pittsburgh had to face a team that was getting ugly to win series in seven games, and the Sharks made smart moves getting James Reimer and Roman Polak at the trade deadlines during the mid-season. While one might argue that Antti Niemi (mentioned above) was worthy of being Vezina Trophy finalist, rookie Matt Murray had to go through three complicated series, two of which he was under fire against some of the best offenses of the decade. Murray found ways to put out the Sharks’ fire time and again, and did his best work at San Jose’s SAP Centre, clinching the Cup on the road in game six.

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Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, left,  and Patric Hornqvist celebrate a goal by Conor Sheary against San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones during a 2-1 overtime win in Game 2. The Pens would take a two game lead over San Jose in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2016.

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