And so the bar has been set for the Blackhawks. And 28 other teams.
The Los Angeles Kings became the third straight Stanley Cup winner to end a long drought (in their case, their first in their 44-year existence), and the first to win at home since their crosstown rivals won it five years ago.
Since the Blackhawks won two years ago, the trends have changed to dominant goaltending (Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick) and lesser importance towards home ice. Depth and toughness mean more than speed and open ice once the post-season begins, since top defensive pairs are glued to the superstars. Recent history shows that happens through four rounds more times than not. Matchups matter. So does momentum, even if you sneak in as an eighth seed.
The Hawks actually had pretty decent momentum heading into the playoffs. But they got a bad matchup. And as humiliating as a first-round exit was, it was still a very close series.
But sometimes things just "line up," as the timing did for these new champs who were a mystery and a disappointment for most of the season. Two moves were made - and their impact really didn't kick in until the perfect time. Darryl Sutter and Jeff Carter. Personally, I wasn't sure Sutter was the right fit at the time he was hired. Turns out the general manager had a history with, and faith in, the head coach he brought aboard. He could press the right buttons and stir the ingredients he had on his roster.
Sutter finally smiled Monday night. REALLY smiled. Finally. In his fourth head coaching stint. Colin Fraser smiled a lot, too, being on the ice at the end of the game, when he officially became a Cup winner for the second time in three years. And now with the team's makeup, expectations will be high, having as many as the returning parts that made Boston a favorite to repeat this year. So what happened? The Bruins got knocked out in the first round, just like the Hawks. The magic and the mojo is tough to maintain these days. So the Kings had better enjoy it.
So now that this bar has been set, we'll be watching how things develop in our own backyard. How much Stan Bowman is influenced by what made the Kings (and Devils) successful. Does the defensive corps and goaltending he has now have the makeup or the upside to play at that kind of level? Is the depth and toughness he has - or will assemble - capable of making a night-in, night-out impact through four rounds if the stars are bottled-up? And is his belief in this 'core' as steadfast - and if not, can sentimentality be set aside to make the right moves that'll get his team playing in June once again?
Whenever next season commences after labor issues are worked out, the pressure to run deep in the playoffs after two straight first-round eliminations will be extremely high at 1901 West Madison. The fans' belief in the organization that gave them so much joy two years ago will be tested. Players will feel it. So will coaches and management. Because, after all, it's about that catch-phrase from awhile back that still applies: One Goal.