The 2018 NHL postseason has been full of parity.
The defending back-to-back champion Pittsburgh Penguins are gone before the Conference Finals, the always scary Chicago Blackhawks didn’t even qualify for the playoffs, and the President Trophy winner Nashville Predators are set to hit the golf courses early.
All of this has resulted in an unforeseeable final four comprised of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets. Just one of the remaining squads have captured a Stanley Cup and only a handful of players have lifted the trophy with different organizations, including Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, and Lightning forward Chris Kunitz. In a little more than a month, a new group of players will hoist Lord Stanley’s mug for the first time. Here’s a look at five who hockey fans would love to see have the opportunity
1) ALEX OVECHKIN
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After finally knocking off Sidney Crosby and the Pens on their fourth attempt, there’s a feeling that Ovy might be on his way to capturing his first NHL title. Goals and points have defined the Russian over the years but championships haven’t. Seeing him lead the Capitals all the way would solidify his career as one of the greatest in NHL history.
2) STEVEN STAMKOS
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The Lightning captain has grown accustomed to coming up just short of winning the Cup. Stamkos has reached numerous Conference Finals and even represented the Eastern Conference against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. The two-time 50-goal-scorer has led one of the best organizations in hockey over the years and seems due for a bit of a break.
3) BLAKE WHEELER
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Wheeler has been with the Jets through some horrible, horrible times. Dating back to Atlanta, the 31-year-old is making just his second postseason appearance with the team since joining them in 2011. After enduring countless down seasons, Wheeler is arguably the most deserving of holding hockey’s prized trophy.
4) JAMES NEAL
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‘The Real Deal’ nearly earned a ring last season with the Nashville Predators before losing to the Penguins in six games. In the following months, he was exposed by Nashville in the expansion draft and is once again in the midst of a deep playoff run. What a story it would be if Neal were to leave the high-flying Predators and lift a cup with an expansion team in its first season.
You might get goosebumps just thinking about it.
5) VICTOR HEDMAN
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Hedman has been with the Lightning the whole way through since being selected second overall behind John Tavares in the 2009 NHL Draft. The Swede’s development was a process but today he’s a top-5 blue-liner in the league. A Stanley Cup would be a huge addition to Hedman’s trophy case as he continues his quest to becoming one of the greatest D-men in his country’s history.