The 2014-15 season was outstanding, especially for the Central Division. Five of the seven teams finished in the top-half of the league and we saw four teams secure 100 or more points. As the playoffs get underway Wednesday it is time to take a look at some of the best moments and surprises of the year.
Peter Laviolette’s Nashville Predators
The Predators haven’t been a playoff team since 2012. They faced adversity last year when goaltender Pekka Rinne missed three-fourths of the season with a hip infection. Despite barely missing out on the postseason, Barry Trotz was not re-signed and the Predators introduced their second head coach in franchise history along with making some big moves in the offseason.
Nashville and the Predator faithful were excited by the hire of Laviolette as he was expected to completely change the culture of how hockey would be played in Music City; and he did just that.
The Predators had a very legitimate chance at winning the Presidents Trophy before limping to the finish line of the regular season. Nashville ended the year with a record of 47-25-10 and 104 points to their name. They enter the postseason as the number two seed out of the Central and hold home-ice advantage against the Chicago Blackhawks; something that wouldn’t have been done with out their new bench boss.
The Winnipeg Jets and their Resiliency
Winnipeg has not been a part of the playoffs since relocating from Atlanta in 2011-12, but that all changed this season thanks to their play and coaching while facing more resiliency than perhaps any team outside of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Per mangameslost.com, the Jets reported 235 games lost this season, which stands as the seventh most in the NHL. Team leader and two-way blue liner Dustin Byfuglien played in 69 games, fellow defensemen Jacob Trouba and Tobias Enstrom played in 65 and 60 games respectively, along with Evander Kane going down with injury before being dealt to the Buffalo Sabres.
Each and every time the hockey world counted this team out they bounced back and hit even harder. Much of this is due to the fact that rooke netminder Michael Hutchinson had an exceptional year, going 21-10-5 with a save percentage of .914. He and Ondrej Pavelec battled for the No.1 netminding spot for most of the regular season before Pavelec has emerged as their go-to-guy after winning nine of his last 12 games played to end the regular season.
The Jets have been a surprise team and it’s hard not to be excited for fans in Winnipeg who get to watch some playoff hockey as they take on the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round.
The Dallas Stars’ Disappointing Year
The Stars were that ‘sexy pick’ this summer to make a massive splash as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn had one more year under their belt plus the addition of Jason Spezza to their forward corpse had them primed to make a legitimate run. They didn’t.
The Stars finished the year with a 41-31-10 record. Or seven points behind the final wild card spot held by the Jets. Their Achilles heel was their blue line play and goaltending. Dallas allowed 3.1 goals per night, which ranks as the 26th most in the NHL. They counteracted that by being the second-highest scoring team in the league, but they stand as yet another example that without at least average goalie play it’s nearly impossible to make the post season. Kari Lehtonen allowed 2.94 goals per game plus a poor .903 save percentage.
The biggest accomplishment for the Stars were ending the year with Benn taking home the Art Ross Trophy with 87 points and Seguin finishing the year seventh in league scoring with.
Vladimir Tarasenko scores a sickening goal against the New York Rangers (Nov. 2)
Nashville Predators put up nine goals against Toronto Maple Leafs (Nov. 18)
Jame Neal records hat trick against Blackhawks (Oct. 23)
Carter Hutton makes save of the year for second straight season (Apr. 3)
Jamie Benn closes the season with four-point game to claim first Art Ross Trophy in Stars’ franchise history (Apr. 11)