When it comes to the Stanley Cup Finals, the journey for wild card teams has been a challenging one. The wild card system in the NHL is of modern origin and was implemented in 2013. Currently, no wild card team has managed to capture the ultimate prize in the NHL.
The Stanley Cup remains the only North American sports championship that has never been won by an NHL wild card team. Let's take a closer look at some notable wild card teams that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals but fell short of claiming the coveted trophy.
One of the closest brushes with glory for a wild card team occurred in 2017 when the Nashville Predators made a historic run. After defeating the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 in the Western Conference final, the Predators earned their first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Despite their impressive performance, they faced a tough challenge against the experienced Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins were making their sixth Finals appearance and seeking back-to-back championships. Ultimately, the Predators came up short, losing the series 4-2.
The 2019 NHL playoffs witnessed a remarkable turn of events. For the first time in league history, all division winners were eliminated in the first round. But the wild card teams defied expectations and advanced to the second round. However, none of the four wild cards that year won the cup.
It was the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, and Colorado Avalanche who failed as wild card entries. Now, the stage was set for a showdown between the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins. In a thrilling series that went the distance, the Blues emerged victorious, clinching their first-ever Stanley Cup with a 4-3 series win.
How does the NHL wild card work in the Stanley Cup championship?
The introduction of the wild card format in the 2013-2014 NHL season marked a significant change in the playoff structure. Under this format, the first, second, and third-place teams in each division earn automatic playoff berths.
In addition to these divisional qualifiers, two more teams from each conference are selected based on their overall record, regardless of divisional alignment. These additional teams are known as the wild cards. In essence, a wild card team is one that secures a playoff spot based on its total points, despite not qualifying through divisional standings.
During the initial round of the playoffs, the division champions face off against the wild card teams, while the teams that finished second and third in each division compete against one another.