For years, fans of the upstart New York Islanders had a favorite way to taunt their counterparts from the crosstown rival Rangers.
"Nineteen-forty!" went the chant.
It was a painful reminder that one of the NHL’s "Original Six" franchises had not won the Stanley Cup since a time before the United States got involved in World War II. Meanwhile, the expansion Islanders won the Cup four times between 1980 and ’83.
As the playoffs commenced this week, no team has a drought quite as long as the Rangers’ was back then. In fact, the team that has gone the longest without winning the Cup, Toronto in 1967, is not even in the field.
Of the 16 teams that qualified, those who are most starved for a championship hail from St. Louis, which has never won the Cup since the Blues entered the league in 1967-68, and Philadelphia, which won the Cup back-to-back in 1974 and ’75, but has not done it since despite six trips to the finals.
Fans of 10 of the teams in this year’s field don’t have much to complain about at all, as each of them has won since 1999, starting with Dallas in that year. That leaves the other longest sufferers in field being San Jose, which entered the NHL in 1991-92 and has never won; incredibly, Montreal, which has won the Cup a record 23 times and is the most recent Canadian franchise to do so in 1993; the Rangers, yes, who have run dry for an even two decades now; and, lastly, Columbus, which is the newest entrant to the league at 13 years. (The Blue Jackets, however, are still working on winning their first playoff game; an ignominy that they share with Atlanta/Winnipeg.)
Fans of St. Louis and Philadelphia have endured a different kind of frustration than, say, fans of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs do, as the Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908 but have rarely fielded winning teams.
The Blues made the playoffs every year from 1980 to 2004. However, they have not made the Cup Final since the end of their third season, 1970.
One of the most painful episodes in Blues history came in 2000. That year they won the Presidents’ Trophy, which is given to the team with the NHL’s best regular season record, and Chris Pronger would go on to win both the Hart Trophy as league MVP and the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman. The year before, Al MacInnis, still in his prime, had won the Norris. Coach Joel Quenneville, who went on to win the Cup twice with Chicago, would win the Jack Adams Award as the league’s coach of the year.
In the first round, the Blues fell behind the West’s No. 8 seed San Jose in the series 3-1. They rallied to win Games 5 and 6 by a combined score of 11-5 and headed home for Game 7. With 10 seconds left in the second period, Blues goalie Roman Turek gave up a slap-shot goal to San Jose’s Owen Nolan that Nolan released just as he crossed the red line. The puck did not deflect, Turek was not screened. He was simply handcuffed by the shot as it sailed over his inept catching glove and into the net. An audible hush descended over the home fans. The goal made it 2-0. The Blues lost 3-1.
"The Presidents’ Trophy year would be the one that everyone looks back at with guys like MacInnis and Pronger," said Bernie Federko, whose association with the Blues dates to 1976, his rookie year as a player, and continues to the present day as a broadcaster. "That was a team that was very much stacked but, unfortunately, an inexperienced goaltender in Roman Turek may have cost the Blues a chance at getting a Cup."
With Philadelphia, the Flyers have often ranked among the better teams in the league over the past few decades but have not been able to get over the hump. They lost to a Canadiens team in ’76 that won the Cup four straight times; they lost once to the Islanders’ dynasty and twice to Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers — including a Game 7 that was decided late in the third period in 1987. Philly also lost to a stacked Detroit team in ’97 and Chicago in ’10 — on a painful, soft goal allowed by Michael Leighton in overtime of Game 6.
WHO IS THIRSTING FOR STANLEY CUP?
Never won in 46 seasons
3 Final app., last in 1970
Never won in 22 seasons
No Final appearances
Never won in 13 seasons
No Final appearances
Never won in 13 seasons
No Final appearances
1975 — 2 totals Cups
6 app. in Final since last win
1993 — 23 total Cups
Most Cup wins in NHL history
1994 — 4 total Cups
3 app. in Final since 1950
1999 — 1 total Cup
3 losses in Final, last app. in 2000
2001 — 2 total Cups
Haven’t won playoff series since ’08
2004 — 1 total Cup
Missed playoffs in 14 of 21 seasons
2007 — 1 total Cup
Lost other Final app. in 2003
2008 — 11 total Cups
Won 4 Cups since 1997
2009 — 3 total Cups
Won 3 of 4 Final app.
2011 — 6 total Cups
Lost previous 5 Final app. before 2011
2012 — 1 total Cup
Lost other Final app. in 1993
2013 — 5 total Cups
Won 2 of last 4 Stanley Cups
One of the few times that the Flyers were favored in those series provides a regrettable moment. In anticipation of the 1997 final vs. the Red Wings, the city draped the statue atop city hall — Billy Penn, as he’s known locally — in a Flyers jersey. The Flyers finished the regular season with 103 points, nine more than Detroit. Most hockey fans expected the coronation of Eric Lindros as "The Next One," as he and his Legion of Doom seemed poised to take the NHL’s mantle.
But the Flyers ended up getting swept. After they lost Game 3 at home, coach Terry Murray offered up this infamous quote: "Many teams have been through these problems before. Basically, it is a choking situation for our team right now."
Not surprisingly, Murray ended up getting fired after the series.
This season, the Flyers are not exactly favored to end their drought, as they finished sixth in the Eastern Conference. But, in the NHL, you never know.
St. Louis, on the other hand, had a chance to finish with the league’s top regular season record, but lost its last six games — three by shutout. Injuries were a factor. Instead of facing the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, Dallas, which limped into the playoffs, the Blues drew the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
But at least the Blues hold home-ice advantage.
Federko is a member of an active Blues alumni group, which happens to be one of the league’s largest. The team supplies the alumni with their own locker room and ice time for the ones who remain mobile enough to skate a few times a week. When the former Blues players gather, they, as all hockey people do, talk hockey.
The topic has come up as to whether St. Louis can end its drought. The hope is that the trade for goalie Ryan Miller, one of the game’s best, can help them pull it off.
"Obviously, with the success of the team this year, there’s been a lot more talk about it," Federko said. "We all recognize the fact that this is a team that is certainly poised to compete with any of the other teams in the league so we all feel there’s a chance and so because of that there’s a lot more conversation that goes on with it."