You can learn a lot about a team based on how it plays in the postseason. What did we figure out about this year's playoff squads?
Plenty, as is turns out. Every team revealed something about itself, from the way Chicago's run to the Cup unfolded to how fans in Western Canada reacted to their teams reaching the postseason.
Here's a look at the big takeaways for all 16 teams.
Time has been kind to the Red Wings' first-round exit at the hands of the Lightning. The Red Wings probably should have beaten the Lightning after putting themselves in great position to do so, but with every round the Tampa Bay won, that seven-game effort by Detroit looked more and more impressive.
We learned that Petr Mrazek is ready to be a bona fide No. 1 starting goalie in the NHL, responding under pressure by outplaying Ben Bishop for most of that series. Mrazek finished the playoffs with a .925 save percentage, and it was revealing that he got the work in goal over veteran Jimmy Howard. It was more good experience for Detroit's young core of skaters too, with Tomas Tatar showing he's capable of scoring in the postseason and Luke Glendening revealing the potential to be a high-end, shutdown checking center.
Since-departed coach Mike Babcock was certainly a big part of the Red Wings' near-elimination of the eventual Eastern Conference champions, so the challenge is to continue the growth under new coach Jeff Blashill. He's promising but unknown, though the success of his friend Jon Cooper of the Lightning is proof Blashill and other talented, young coaches can make quick adjustments. -- Craig Custance
Having spent two rounds with the Canadiens, there is an inescapable feeling that the club needs to find more natural scoring in order to give goalie Carey Price a fighting chance. The Hart and Vezina Trophy finalist can do many things, but scoring goals is not one of them. Montreal simply failed to finish on so many chances against Tampa Bay in the second round, that weakness was magnified in a matchup against the league's top-scoring team.
Somehow, some way, GM Marc Bergevin needs to find some goals. Having said that, kudos to Bergevin for retaining the services of defenseman Jeff Petry -- acquired at the trade deadline from the Edmonton Oilers -- who would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but instead chose to re-sign with the Canadiens at $5.5 million per year. He would have gotten north of $6 million on the open market.
Petry was the real revelation for me during the two playoff rounds I covered the Habs, his mistake-free, cool-under-pressure style on the back end making him one of the team's top performers when it mattered most. Andrei Markov wasn't very good in the playoffs, however, and the Habs must be concerned that that the aging blueliner is beginning to fade. Still, overall, with a core built around Price, P.K. Subban, Petry and Max Pacioretty, the Habs are set to continue to contend in the East. -- Pierre LeBrun
The Islanders gave the now-shuttered Nassau Coliseum one last playoff series this spring before moving to Brooklyn's Barclays Center to begin the 2015-16 season, but they could not give their fans as deep a run as they had hoped. Drawing a tough opponent in the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Isles proved to be one of the most exciting playoff teams to watch even though their spring lasted a mere seven games.
A hard-fought, tightly contested series against the Caps put their explosive offense on display, though it revealed some defensive shortcomings. October acquisition Johnny Boychuk proved he can be a premier shutdown defender with the way he matched up against Alex Ovechkin during the series, though the Islanders sorely missed young stud Travis Hamonic, who missed the series with a knee injury. The Isles have some promising prospects on defense, but for whatever reason, coach Jack Capuano does not seem too high on Calvin de Haan, who was scratched repeatedly for Brian Strait.
Though the Islanders could use another upgrade on D and another top-six winger in their lineup, forward depth was a strength for the team, as their fourth line was in many ways their most effective, consistent trio of the playoffs. This Isles team is still young, still learning, but there are a lot of good things ahead for captain John Tavares and his mates if they can build off the lessons learned against a big, punishing Capitals squad this spring. -- Katie Strang
After capturing the Presidents' Trophy following an impressive 113-point regular season, the Rangers were tabbed as one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference, and for good reason. In dispatching the Pittsburth Penguins in Round 1 and edging the Capitals in an epic seven-game battle during the conference semifinals, the Rangers showcased their speed, skill and depth.
Then they ran into a Lightning team that was, in many ways, a mirror image of themselves. The Rangers got into a track meet with the Bolts on a few occasions throughout the series and paid the price. Facing the dynamic "Triplets" line and the Lightning's strong transition game, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist no longer seemed infallible in the playoffs. With stalwart defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal all hobbled by injury, the staunch, structured Blueshirts showed weaknesses.
The absence of dynamic winger Mats Zuccarello was absolutely crushing, and Rick Nash again came up painfully short, shrinking at the most inopportune times. As such, it would not be surprising if the Rangers explore trade options for the marquee winger -- would a reunion with Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis make sense? -- who has a limited no-trade clause.
Martin St. Louis' tenure with the team appears to be over; the only real question facing the 39-year-old is whether he will retire. And the Rangers must seek to replenish their prospect pipeline with backup netminder Cam Talbot their most enticing trade bait. Keeping all this in mind, it appears that longtime GM Glen Sather will step aside to make way for his likely successor Jeff Gorton to take the reins. -- Katie Strang
We learned a lot about the Senators not just in their first-round series with the rival Habs, but even more so in their unbelievable late-season run that netted them a playoff berth against all odds. The beauty of that run is that it's mostly the kids who did the heavy lifting.
Rookie Mark Stone, a Calder Trophy finalist, rocketed up the charts after his late-season surge. Mika Zibanejad played the best hockey of his career late in the season. And, of course, captain Erik Karlsson was out of this world. I actually thought they would beat Montreal in the opening round, and based on merit of play they didn't deserve to go down 3-0 in the series. The Sens made things interesting by winning two straight and then bringing it home for Game 6, but that's when Carey Price took over and slammed the door.
Still, some important steps taken by a young Sens team with a bright future. They still need more top-six scoring and that's a big offseason priority for GM Bryan Murray. The re-signing of the Hamburglar, goalie Andrew Hammond, has created a crowded crease and the Sens already have taken trade calls on both Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson. One of them will go. I like the future of this team. -- Pierre LeBrun
For once, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was not left to shoulder the brunt of the blame for Pittsburgh's early postseason exit. Fleury, 30, was the team's best player in the Pens' short-lived playoff run against the Rangers, but he could not make up for glaring deficiencies elsewhere on the ice.
The Pens' blue line was decimated by injury, forcing them to play without their most dynamic force on the back end in former Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang (veteran Christian Ehrhoff also did not play). That left them to rely on depth players Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin, both of whom spent the majority of the season playing in the American Hockey League.
Offensively, the Pens lacked depth as well. Beyond the top line of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist, they struggled to find contributors elsewhere. Brandon Sutter stepped up in Game 2, but could not sustain that production throughout the series. Evgeni Malkin, limited by injury, was held scoreless in all five games. The team's fourth line proved to be effective at times, but overall Pittsburgh just couldn't summon enough to topple the league's points leaders.
GM Jim Rutherford has some decisions to make this summer, including what to do with pending unrestricted free agents Paul Martin and Ehrhoff on defense, and how to upgrade on the wing. On the latter subject, ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun reported recently that the team was interested in Chicago's Brandon Saad. Although the Pens do not have a first-round draft pick this season -- thereby nullifying any offer-sheet scenario -- they could still try to land the top-six winger via trade. Beyond personnel needs, the team is also facing uncertainty at the very top, with reports surfacing that ownership is currently exploring options to sell the team. -- Katie Strang
If there's a moment the captures the spirit of this team, it came the morning of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was asked for the millionth time about New York's perfect record all-time at home in Game 7s, and in particular Henrik Lundqvist's perfect record in that situation. To which Stamkos boldly retorted that Lundqvist and the Rangers hadn't yet played the Tampa Bay Lighting in a Game 7.
I remember standing outside the media scrum in the visitors room at MSG loving what I had just heard. It underlined the healthy arrogance of a young and talented squad that beat three Original Six teams en route to the Stanley Cup finals. Yes, they fell short, losing to a more experienced Chicago team, but the lessons of this terrific playoff run will serve them well as they continue to knock at the door the next new years.
Having covered the Lightning for their last three rounds in the playoffs, I developed a deeper appreciation for Jon Cooper's style and methods. His hockey philosophy -- he quipped during the finals that he wants his team to play the whole game skating forward -- is what I want to see in the NHL. An elegant brand of hockey.
The Triplets were a thrill to watch up close this spring, with Tyler Johnson showing the heart of a lion playing alongside Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. It's the top defensive tandem of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, though, who impressed me most day in and day out. They were downright monsters for the entire playoffs.
GM Steve Yzerman has built a juggernaut here. The loss to Chicago stings, to be sure, because you can never guarantee more return visits to the championship stage, but odds are we'll see these guys here again. And next time, they'll be ready to win it all. -- Pierre LeBrun
From the outside, it might have seemed like déjà vu all over again for the Capitals. The team blew a 3-1 lead in the second round against the Rangers, losing Game 7 in overtime to their longtime playoff dance partners. And if it is strictly about the bottom line, then this playoff year has to rank as a significant disappointment.
That said, in their first season under coach Barry Trotz, the Caps were definitely a different beast than in the past. They played a hard-nosed, relentless style that saw them best the Islanders in a brutal seven-game series to start the playoffs, and then they had the Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers on the edge of elimination, and were it not for a more-than-questionable waved-off goal late in Game 5, they would have defeated the Rangers and moved on.
That's not how it went down, though, and despite moments of greatness from captain Alex Ovechkin -- his on-the-knees goal against Henrik Lundqvist will live on in highlight reels for years to come -- he once again couldn't get it done when it mattered. Then his decision to depart immediately to join Russia at the world championships also left a sour taste in some observers' mouths, fair or not.
Evgeny Kuznetsov emerged this spring as a bona fide No. 2 center for a team that has long been seeking one, and we're guessing second-year GM Brian MacLellan will likely look to add veteran scoring on the wings. The team's defense was as balanced as it has ever been and Braden Holtby was a rock for the Caps, turning in a brilliant .944 save percentage and 1.71 GAA. In short, the end result might have been same old thing for long-suffering Caps fans, but the future looks more promising. -- Scott Burnside
At the very heart of the Ducks' run to Game 7 of the Western Conference finals we learned this: They are a heck of a team and they have a heck of a future, but they simply aren't there yet.
This was a painful lesson for the team to endure. The Ducks charged through the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames in the first two rounds, going a combined 8-1, but could not put away the Blackhawks when it mattered most. They took a 3-2 lead in a series that was full of twists and turns and rollicking hockey, but then lost two straight and looked out of sorts in Game 7 at home, falling behind early and never really getting back in it. The loss was the third straight for the Ducks in a Game 7, and all three losses came at home.
The loss to the Blackhawks prompted speculation that coach Bruce Boudreau would pay with his job, but cooler heads prevailed and it's worth noting that Boudreau's teams have advanced a step further each playoff year since he arrived in Anaheim. Colleague Pierre LeBrun reported recently that GM Bob Murray has asked for permission to speak to former Ottawa coach Paul MacLean about joining Boudreau's staff. Last season, Trent Yawney was added to Boudreau's staff, and the young Ducks defensive corps flourished under Yawney and Boudreau.
That's why there should be continued optimism for this team's championship chances with Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen all taking big steps forward in their evolution this season, and with other talented young defenders in the system. If there is one question, it will be whether young goaltender Frederik Andersen continues to evolve after seeming to hit a wall late against the Hawks. How much pressure will John Gibson put on Andersen and which of the two will be the starter next spring? That question looms, because there is little doubt this will once again be a championship-caliber team. -- Scott Burnside
What did we learn about the Flames this season? Well, we learned there's still actually an NHL franchise in the Alberta, and what a story the Flames told this season. Projected by most to be in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes as one of the NHL's worst teams, the Flames not only qualified for the playoffs but did so without their captain and heart and soul, Mark Giordano, who missed the final third of the season with a torn biceps muscle.
The Flames then knocked off the Canucks for their first series win since they advanced to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals, before dropping a five-game set to the Anaheim Ducks in the second round. Bob Hartley should be the runaway winner of the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, and his continued presence behind the Flames bench bodes well for the future.
What will the goaltending look like, though? Hartley deftly rotated Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo, and while Ramo ended up the starter, there might not be room for him in the Flames' future because he can become an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Flames have other options. There is a clutch of talented, hard-working forwards including Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Joe Colborne, Sam Bennett and Micheal Ferland that bodes well for the future. The defense might not be as solid but no one's perfect and the return of Giordano to the fold will obviously help the Flames as they try to take another step forward.
Already people are wondering if the Flames will follow the path of other up-and-coming teams such as the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets, who surged into the playoffs a year ago only to fall out of the top 16 this spring. Maybe. One thing is certain, however: The bond between the team and the community has never been stronger, as proved by the inspired play of this year's Flames squad. -- Scott Burnside
The Blackhawks overcame an adversity-filled season to win another Stanley Cup. They were impacted by the deaths of assistant equipment manager Clint Reif and former teammate Steve Montador; inconsistent play marred the second half of their season, going 23-18-5 after Jan. 1; their offense was shaky and finished 17th in the league with a 2.68 goals-per-game average. In addition, Patrick Kane fractured his clavicle while leading the league in points and missed the final 21 regular-season games; goalie Corey Crawford lost his starting position after struggling to begin the playoffs; and defenseman Michal Rozsival suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the second round that reduced the Blackhawks to basically four defensemen.
The Anaheim Ducks tried to wear them down in the Western Conference finals, and the Tampa Bay Lightning tried to bottle them up in the Stanley Cup finals. Despite all that, the Blackhawks pushed on and ultimately were the last team standing, winning their third Stanley Cup in six years. Duncan Keith put together one of the more memorable playoff campaigns for a defenseman and was awarded with the Conn Smythe Trophy. The Blackhawks' top four defensemen maintained their consistency despite playing major minutes. Crawford bounced back from his early woes and was rock solid late in the playoffs. Kane and Jonathan Toews combined for 21 goals and 44 points in the playoffs. The Blackhawks also got contributions throughout their lineup and trade-deadline acquisitions Antoine Vermette and Andrew Desjardins ultimately paid off.
The Blackhawks won't be able to return the same exact team next season because of salary-cap restraints, but they will return a bulk of their core and will undoubtedly be among the favorites to win the Cup again. -- Scott Powers
The Wild are on the verge of becoming a serious perennial threat in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The only thing they need to figure out is how to beat the powerful Blackhawks, who have eliminated them in three consecutive postseasons, including a four-game sweep in the second round this year. It also should help their chances for a deeper run that goaltender Devan Dubnyk has found a home with the Wild.
The team's season completely turned around after the Wild acquired Dubnyk via trade with the Arizona Coyotes in January. He went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average, along with a .936 save percentage and five shutouts, in 39 games for the Wild, including a franchise record 38 consecutive starts. With confidence in their goaltender, the Wild entered the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league, and dismissed the St. Louis Blues in the first round.
Minnesota seemed poised for a deep run this spring, but the Blackhawks rediscovered their game after some first-round wobbles and dispatched the Wild. Dubnyk, who made only $800,000 during 2014-15, is expected to earn a bigger payday as an unrestricted free agent this summer. He wants to stay in Minnesota and the sides have started discussions, but the Wild have salary-cap issues and will need to get creative in order to keep Dubnyk.
Overall, the Wild have a strong core of veterans, solid goaltending, a talented group of younger players and a knowledgeable coach in Mike Yeo. The future looks extremely bright in Minnesota. -- Joe McDonald
The Predators were the team to beat in the NHL from November until late February. There was a 51-game span in those months during which Nashville went 35-11-5. The Predators were atop the NHL with 89 points, six better than any other team, as of Feb. 25. But from there, they began to slip and never were able to fully recover. They went 6-12-3 down the stretch and closed the regular season on a six-game losing streak. Where goaltender Pekka Rinne and the team's defense once seemed nearly invincible, the Predators just couldn't keep the puck out of their net late in the season. They allowed three or more goals in 13 of their last 19 regular-season games.
The Predators began the playoffs with home-ice advantage, but that quickly slipped from their grasp with a Game 1 loss to the Blackhawks. The Predators actually outplayed the Blackhawks at times in the series and fell on the unlucky losing side in two overtime games, but the goals against eventually did them in. The Blackhawks scored four goals in three of their victories in the six-game series.
The Predators took a step forward by getting back to the playoffs and showed promise under first-year coach Peter Laviolette. They have a lot of reasons -- including the quick rise of Filip Forsberg, the continued emergence of Roman Josi, the development of Seth Jones -- to be optimistic for the future. If the Predators can figure out how to put their stellar play together throughout an entire season, they'll be a team to watch for years to come. -- Scott Powers
Another first-round exit for the Blues this season amplified concerns about this group, from whether coach Ken Hitchcock had ground the team down too far, to whether this core group of players is capable of winning the big games.
Captain David Backes, Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie were all held to just one goal each in the six games against Minnesota, especially concerning because Stastny was brought in as a solution to the Blues' playoff scoring issues. Only two players -- Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrik Berglund -- managed more than one goal for the Blues in the series. The big, physical Blues were exposed at times by the speed of the Wild, a concern that GM Doug Armstrong needs to address in the offseason.
St. Louis is built in the image of the Los Angeles Kings, and with the game getting faster every season, the Blues can't get left behind. Hitchcock opted to go with the inexperienced Jake Allen in goal over Brian Elliott after Allen finished the regular season strong, but with a .904 save percentage against the Wild, he wasn't the answer either. The positive is that Allen picked up playoff hockey experience.
The biggest positive for the Blues? Tarasenko showed on the big stage that he is a bona fide superstar. He had six goals in six games and is the offensive star the team should be built around moving forward. As a restricted free agent, he's due a huge raise and he earned it with his breakout season. -- Craig Custance
The favored Canucks lost to the cardiac Flames in six games in a series that suggested there's still plenty of work to be done for GM Jim Benning. Vancouver did well to rebound this season with 101 points and a second-place finish in the Pacific, but their playoff performance shows this team is still a ways away from returning to the level they were at while challenging for the Stanley Cup in 2011.
We learned that it's probably time to move on from a warrior such as Kevin Bieksa and continue to get younger, especially on defense. And after being one of the main reasons they made the playoffs in the first place, goalie Eddie Lack struggled in the playoffs to the tune of an .886 save percentage. With Ryan Miller signed through 2016-17 and Jacob Markstrom pushing from the AHL, it opens questions about Lack's future with Vancouver. Lack has one more season on his deal that comes with a cap hit of $1.15 million.
The play of 20-year-old forward Bo Horvat was a positive, with four points in six games. They just need to find more young players like Horvat. -- Craig Custance
The Jets are a much better team than their four-game sweep at the hands of the Ducks in the first round would suggest. It was Winnipeg's first taste of the postseason after the franchise missed out on the playoffs for the seven previous seasons, after the Jets proved to be a gutsy team the entire season and clawed their way into the playoffs. Despite the first-round exit, the Jets aren't too far off from becoming a true playoff contender.
Since Paul Maurice took over as coach midway through the 2013-14 season, the Jets have made strides and it showed this season. As disappointing as it was to lose in the first round, the Jets can take solace in the fact they earned a postseason berth, and it was an amazing scene when playoff hockey returned to Winnipeg for the first time in 19 seasons. The fans were desperate for it and the team provided it. Winnipeg's progress is a positive sign. The organization does it the right way, and along with a talented mix of veterans and youth, the Jets should be a team to pay attention to for the foreseeable future. -- Joe McDonald