Stanley Cup Playoffs: For Once, The Smart Money is On The Top Two Seeds

It's been over a decade since two No. 1 seeds met in the finals. Could this be the year? Bet on it.

It’s been two decades since two No. 1 seeds met in the finals. Could this be the year? Bet on it.

Considering the 2012-13 NHL lockout cost fans just over 40 percent of the season by the time it was resolved in January, the fact that we have any playoffs at all to look forward to is a blessing. Not to mention, a curse.

Because the entire season was very much in doubt, these may very well be the most eagerly anticipated playoffs in years—assuming you’re not on the outside looking in. Which means the potential for major disappointment is more serious than ever.

There are so many intriguing potential matchups and storylines after Round 1, assuming that all plays out as it should. And since the hockey gods seem to be smiling down upon us these days, let’s just go ahead and assume it will.

In this case, “playing out as it should” means eliminating all the duds in the first round, which actually includes a couple of higher seeded teams, so the rest of the playoffs have the opportunity to live up to the lofty expectations already set by both fans and the media alike.

No Way, No Chance, No How: Definitive Post Season Duds

Minnesota Wild: After making the biggest splash in free agency during the 2012 offseason, the Wild wildly disappointed and barely limped in as a No. 8 seed.

This face doesn't inspire confidence. It just doesn't.

This face doesn’t inspire confidence.
It just doesn’t.

San Jose Sharks: Consistently solid in the regular season and even more consistent choke artists in the post season, the Sharks are an anomaly of failure.

St. Louis Blues: Even if the Blues make it past the Kings in the first round, which they likely won’t, this team just doesn’t have what it takes—and it never does.

New York Islanders: The Isles knocked off a heavily favored No. 1 seeded Pens team in 1993, so it could happen. But if history does repeat itself, they’ll narrowly avoid a sweep in Round 2—losing in five.

Ottawa Senators: The Sens are often listed among the teams with one of the greatest stretches of success to never win a championship. Post season success just eludes them.

Washington Capitals: Everything stated above about the Sens goes double, if not triple, for the heavily favored Caps, who could very well lose to the Rangers in Round 1.

Maybe…What If…Who Knows: Post Season Long Shots 

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are a little under the radar for a No. 2 seed and have drawn a tough Round 1 match with their frequent playoff foe Detroit. On paper they’re the favorites, but paper is disposable.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks have earned a reputation as regular season warriors who just can’t get it done in the playoffs. Although, normally they’re coming in as a top seed—perhaps they’ll benefit from the less intense spotlight of a No. 3.

Detroit Red WingsThe Wings needed to win four straight just to make the playoffs and, of course, they did. Hockeytown USA may have scraped by as a No. 7 seed, but this team knows what playoff hockey is all about.

Los Angeles Kings: The No. 8 seeded Kings glided into a Stanley Cup Championship in 2012, barely losing a game in the process. Will it happen again? Probably not. But it shouldn’t have happened last year either.

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I’m not sure that Henrik Lundqvist is Superman.
But I’m not sure that he *isn’t* either.

New York Rangers: The Rangers were wildly inconsistent all season long and the No. 6 seed has a real problem scoring goals. If this team goes anywhere, goalie Henrik Lundqvist will be shouldering the load.

Toronto Maple Leafs: For once Leafs fans won’t be wearing bags on their heads. It’s been almost a decade since this historic franchise made the playoffs and 46 years since last won The Cup. As a No. 5 seed, they’re long shots at best, but this team is young and they can play.

So You’ve Got a Farm and You Want to Bet It: Post Season Studs

Pittsburgh Penguins: If the No. 1 seeded Pens can stay healthy, which is a big if, it’s hard to imagine their top tier talent won’t carry them into the finals. The chink in their armor is the sometimes inconsistent play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Chicago Blackhawks: The West’s No. 1 seeded Blackhawks have been battling the Penguins for NHL regular season supremacy all year. The ‘Hawks don’t have any glaring weaknesses, but they haven’t faced the level of talent they’re likely to see from the East.

Montreal Canadiens: The No. 2 seeded Habs have a rich history of playoff success—their 23 Stanley Cups more than double their closest competitors. They’ve had a solid season and any team that counts them out does so at their own peril.

Boston Bruins: The No. 3 seeded Bruins finished just one point behind the Habs in the regular season and have a pretty impressive history of their own, including their dramatic Stanley Cup win over the Canucks in 2011.

Round 1 And Beyond: Potential Upsets and Intriguing Matchups 

shit

  • The Red Wings have a very decent chance of upsetting the heavily favored Ducks in Round 1. These teams collide in the playoffs more often than nearly any other two teams in the NHL. Seeding means nothing in a rivalry series like these. 
  • If the Wings pull off the upset, that sets the stage for a potential rematch in Round 2 for the Kings and the Canucks. The No. 8 seeded Kings humiliated the Canucks in the 2012 playoffs, which means things could get very interesting.
  • Let’s assume for a second the Capitals finally make a splash in the playoffs and make it to the Conference Finals. If the Penguins happen to be sitting on the opposing bench, the obligatory Crosby/Ovechkin debate would heat up again. But the Caps have a long history of falling to them in the playoffs in dramatic fashion, so the Pens are the last team they’d want to meet.
  • The Habs and the Leafs have one of the most heated and longstanding rivalries in the NHL. There is a positively minuscule chance they’ll meet in the Conference Finals, but jeezus that would be an intense series.

And…wow…that’s pretty much it.

It’s been over a decade since the NHL’s two No. 1 seeds faced off in the Stanley Cup Finals, but this just feels like the year. Although the Pens could face forceful foes like the Bruins and Canadiens along the way, there’s no question they have the talent to come out on top.

And, considering the shockingly unimpressive talent in the West this year, there’s almost no question the Blackhawks will be waiting for them on the other side when they do.

There’s always a chance that everything we think we know could be turned on its ear, but it just seems inevitable that the ‘Hawks and Pens will be facing off in the end, finally giving Chicago the chance to avenge Pittsburgh’s sweep of them in the 1992 Finals.

Whether or not that’ll happen? That’s another blog post altogether.

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