With the 2014-15 season complete, NHL.com looks at some of the biggest storylines and award contenders.
Few if anyone outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, believed in the 2014-15 Calgary Flames.
The Flames were in their second full season without longtime franchise face Jarome Iginla, traded prior to the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline, and finished 27th in the League last season. A rebuilding project was in its infancy stage with a ways to go before they were to even sniff a chance at the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Or so it seemed.
Calgary responded to the skeptics by going 32-24-4 by Feb. 25, one point out of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. But they were declared finished after captain and Norris Trophy contender Mark Giordano sustained a torn biceps muscle in the final minute of a 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils.
Coach Bob Hartley refused to let anyone quit. Instead of being devoured by adversity, the Flames embraced it, going 12-6-2 in their next 20 games before clinching their first playoff berth since 2008-09 with a 3-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings on April 9 that knocked the defending champions out of postseason contention.
Steering the ship was Hartley, the pick to win the Jack Adams Award as the League's top coach.
Resilience and hard work are the Flames' calling cards. Calgary finished third with 10 wins when trailing after two periods, first with 99 third-period goals with a plus-31 in goal differential, and atop the League with 13 wins when trailing after the first. The Flames also won four of five against the Kings, playing a major role in Los Angeles becoming the fourth team since the Original Six era to miss the playoffs one season after winning the Stanley Cup.
Having squeezed every last drop out of a team many expected to compete in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes instead of the playoffs, Hartley, who won the Cup as Colorado Avalanche coach in 2001, has the Flames fighting and believing, and poised to defy the odds again this spring.
"Lots of times it's not the toughest army that's going to win, it's going to be the smartest one," Hartley said. "But you still have to be a soldier. You still have to be a warrior. That's what we've been cultivating from day one, the all-out effort, pressure, finish your checks, block shots. That has been about our DNA from day one."
Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets -- Maurice is 61-38-18 since taking over as Jets coach on Jan. 12, 2014, including an unexpected 43-26-13 this season to take them to their first playoff appearance since 2006-07 when the franchise played in Atlanta. The Jets survived injuries to key defensemen Tobias Enstrom and Jacob Trouba, and forwards Mathieu Perreault and Blake Wheeler. They also shook off injury and suspension to Dustin Byfuglien to go 9-3-0 in 12 games without the rugged All-Star defenseman. They fought back from potentially crippling late-season home losses to the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers to win four of their final five games.
Maurice deserves recognition for pulling the whole package together.
"We're talking about establishing hard things," Maurice told the Jets website. "Hard things to do with this team, like work ethic, the mental toughness that it takes to fight through injuries, to get over tough losses like Chicago and New York – and now you don't have to sell it the same way.
"That's the big benefit here now. They've done it all year, they've gotten that payoff and they get a chance to play in the really fun, meaningful games."
Dave Cameron, Ottawa Senators -- Ottawa fired coach Paul MacLean on Dec. 11 and was 14 points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 10. A 2-1 win at the Buffalo Sabres began a 23-4-4 run that concluded with the Senators' unlikely finish as the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Goalie Andrew Hammond received most of the press after going 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and three shutouts, but as a unit the Senators developed a never-say-die mentality under Cameron.
Ottawa was 7-7-5 in one-goal games under MacLean and 3-5-4 in its first 12 after Cameron took over. It finished 11-0-4 in its final 15 with seven wins coming in overtime or a shootout. None proved bigger than on April 7, when the Senators rallied from a 3-0 first-period deficit to stun the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime and place destiny in their hands.
"It's a bit of a Cinderella story," Cameron said. "You don't expect to come from as far back as we did. And you're not going to be able to do it too often; the odds are just stacked against you in the best League in the world. But once in a while you get to be involved with a team that's a special team, a team that plays for one another. We knew right from the get-go for our team to have success we have to be better than the sum of our parts. The way you do that is turn your skill over to the team. What we've done is get 25 guys to do that and that's why we've had success."
Also in the mix: Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators; Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers; Willie Desjardins, Vancouver Canucks