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How big a factor is luck in winning the Stanley Cup?

In the six years since the lockout, the NHL has had six very different Stanley Cup champions.

Three were Original Six teams; two were in the American Sun Belt. Another, the Pittsburgh Penguins, won with a cast of young talent after being a bottom feeder for years.

Ask the general manager of the first one on the list, however, and he'll tell you they all have at least one thing in common.

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"All the stars have to line up for you," Jim Rutherford, general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, said. "After you win a series or the Stanley Cup, in your quiet time, you sit there and think: 'Oh man, what about that time when the guy missed the open net in overtime?'

"You can probably look back at 10 different things and say: 'If that would have happened, we wouldn't have won.' "

Rutherford can do that even now, on a whim, with his team's only championship, in 2006.

He recalls the 'Canes being down two games to none in Round 1 to the Montreal Canadiens and then down 1-0 in Game 3, with thoughts of a sweep wiping out a 112-point regular season.

Eight weeks later, team captain Rod Brind'Amour was hoisting the Cup on home ice.

The stars that aligned in the Hurricanes' case were in large part due to their situation in the crease, as they went into the postseason with Martin Gerber as their starter and one of the worst team save percentages (.897) among playoff-bound teams.

Enter rookie Cam Ward, who had started only 25 games during the season but took over in Game 2 of the Montreal series and was stellar the rest of the way.

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Suddenly the 'Canes were a high scoring, high seeded team with vastly improved goaltending – a recipe that paid off in a Cup for Rutherford and Co. and a Conn Smythe Trophy for the then 22-year-old Ward.

That wasn't anything anyone could have predicted before the playoffs started, but it does fit with a pattern for championship teams since the lockout.

All six of those Cup winners had their save percentages rise in the postseason, with Carolina and the 2008 Detroit Red Wings receiving the biggest bump – a .014 higher save percentage – at their most important position.

It may not sound like much, but that's equivalent to three fewer goals against in a seven-game series.

It's an old cliché that goaltending wins championships, but statistically speaking, the numbers – with apologies to Ilya Bryzgalov – bear that out. On average, the six most recent teams to win haven't increased their goal production, been better on the power play or penalty kill, or kept shots on goal down.

They've simply had more saves than they did during the regular season.

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"That was a case where Cam was fresh," Rutherford said of his team's run. "He hadn't gone through the year and wasn't worn down. He played a couple of good games and then his confidence just skyrocketed from there."

As was the case with the Hurricanes (and the team they faced in that final, the Edmonton Oilers), it hasn't always been a team that had solid goaltending during the season, either. Only two of those recent Cup-winning teams had been better than average in goal going into the postseason: the 2007 Anaheim Ducks and last year's Boston Bruins.

All six teams did have some things in common during the season, however: They all finished among the top eight teams in the league in points (between 99 and 115), and they all were among the top eight in goals scored (between 2.98 and 3.49 a game) in the year they won.

Seven teams fit into both categories this year – a group that includes the four most recent winners as well as the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators and Philadelphia Flyers.

But with the way parity has increased in the league since the lockout and how unpredictable goaltending can be, Rutherford still cautions that anything can happen.

"With goaltending and getting on a run at the right point, I think any team that's in this year has a chance to win that Cup," he said. "A legitimate chance. With the parity in the league now, anybody can win.

"You have to have exceptional goaltending. You also have to have a team that really believes in each other. But the key factors are the coach, the goalie and being very strong down the middle."

What does a Cup winner look like? *

Team

Record

Goals

GAA

PP%

PK%

SV%

2006

Carolina

4th

3rd

19th

17th

17th

15th

2007

Anaheim

4th

8th

7th

2nd

5th

6th

2008

Detroit

1st

3rd

1st

3rd

8th

13th

2009

Pittsburgh

8th

6th

17th

20th

8th

14th

2010

Chicago

3rd

3rd

5th

16th

4th

23rd

2011

Boston

7th

5th

2nd

20th

16th

1st

*- all ranks from regular season of championship year

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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