Think about it.
The two non-traditional market teams that always choke in the playoffs are No. 7 seeds.
The two non-traditional market teams that are in cities with lots of (retired) people and are really, really warm and never win their division won their division this year and are No. 3 seeds.
Two division rivals are playing each other in the No. 4-No. 5 seed game (although the Nashville-Detroit rivalry is very one-way).
Also, there are a couple of other interesting trends.
St. Louis and San Jose, two teams that have traditionally always made the playoffs and never won the Cup (St. Louis before the lockout, San Jose after) are paired in the No. 2-No. 7 Western Conference matchup.
In 2000, the last time the Florida Panthers made the playoffs, they were swept by New Jersey in the first round. They’ll look to change that fate.
Oh yeah, and if the top seeds win out in the playoffs the Canucks will face the Rangers—a matchup of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are always great because, like March Madness, they are always unpredictable. (I pity the fool that is dumb enough to make his Stanley Cup pick available for everyone to see and comment on.)
In 2009 the Ducks upset the Presidents' Trophy-winning Sharks…in the first round.
The next year all three Eastern Conference division winners were sent home after one series.
Oh yeah, then last year the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5 seeds all won in the first round of each conference tournament, but the No. 3 and No. 5 seeds would advance in the East and the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds would advance in the West.
This is the best time of the year hockey fans. Enjoy!
The Canucks should win this matchup. They’re a well-rounded team that’s been there, done that when it comes to the playoffs. (Except when it comes to winning a Stanley Cup. Sorry Vancouver.)
Goals are tough to come by for the Kings, so even though Roberto Luongo will be on a short leash (backup Cory Schneider has played well) it is unlikely that L.A. will get to Luongo and force a change.
If the Kings are going to win, goaltender Jonathan Quick will have to stand on his head and Los Angeles’ forwards have to get pucks behind Luongo early in the series.
Prediction: Canucks in six
In a battle of two franchises that always make the playoffs (Or used to. San Jose has made the playoffs every year since 2003. The Blues made it every year from 1980 to 2004) but never win the Stanley Cup, the Sharks will face the Blues in the first round.
We all know the Sharks’ story: great regular season team that chokes in the playoffs. They’ve been to the Western Conference Finals twice in the last two years, but this year may have taken a step back. They’ve relinquished their hold over the Pacific Division and must start the series on the road.
While this generation’s Blues have little to no playoff experience, the people of St. Louis remember when this team was a perennial contender and will make the Scottrade Center a difficult place to play for the Sharks.
The Sharks roster is full of players with postseason experience, but the Blues are on the rise.
Prediction: Blues in six
The Blackhawks have to start on the road and the Coyotes have been to the playoffs in the past two seasons, but, like in the East, this looks like a favorable matchup for the No. 6 seed.
Chicago’s roster is full of players that remember the Hawks’ 2010 championship run and would much rather face the seasoned Sharks or even the Kings—arguably a more talented team.
Phoenix didn’t bring home their first division title in franchise history for nothing, however. Few teams have the benefit of leadership figures like head coach Dave Tippett and captain Shane Doan.
That will not be enough, however, to overcome a matchup with a team hungry to redeem itself after losing to the Canucks in the first round last season.
Prediction: Blackhawks in five
In eight of the past nine years, the Nashville Predators have been a playoff team.
The Detroit Red Wings have made the postseason 26 of the past 28 seasons, including the last 21 in a row.
The Preds played their first game in 1999.
The Wings? In 1926 they took the ice as the Detroit Cougars.
Detroit is Hockeytown. Nashville is a small, non-traditional market.
Will the old guard hold ground or is it time for a change in the hockey world?
Times they are a changin’ folks.
Prediction: Predators in seven
This is a battle between offense (Ottawa) and defense (New York).
And in the end, defense wins championships.
Ottawa is overmatched and certainly would have rather drawn the Bruins, a division rival they are more familiar with and has a few more holes than the Rangers.
Madison Square Garden is going to be a tough place to play in and hockey fans in New York are ready to get behind a bona fide contender.
Prediction: Rangers in five
The Capitals are a non-traditional market team we’ve become accustomed to seeing in the playoffs. They torch everyone in the regular season and then…well, choke (see: Sharks).
Boston, on the other hand, is used to seeing their teams win (took you long enough Bruins). The B’s looked like repeat champions until late in the season, when they faltered and almost lost their place atop the Northeast Division until Ottawa cooled off.
Both teams finished strong (Boston: 7-2-1, Washington: 6-2-2) and have playoff experience, making this an interesting matchup.
If Boston is going to win, their blue line must be stellar and Tim Thomas has to be on top of his game.
If Washington is going to win, their offensive firepower (Ovechkin, Semin) has to overcome their uncertainty in net (injury) and along the blue line (Green and Carlson are slumping).
Prediction: Bruins in six
New Jersey, an under-the-radar team that finished with 102 points (tied with Boston) has to be sharpening their pitchforks in hopes of spearing the lil’ Panthers while they are still hot.
It’s an easy pun, but the Devils are searing. They’ve unleashing hell on their opponents—six straight wins to end the season, 7-2-1 in their last 10.
The Cats, on the other hand, look more lethargic than Garfield.
The Panthers brought the South Beach their first division title in franchise history, but should not return to the finals for the first time since 1996.
In fact, expect a similar result to the Panthers’ last playoff appearance in 2000.
Prediction: Devils in four
In the past three years the Chicago Blackhawks have faced the Vancouver Canucks and have won the series twice. Last season, despite being the No. 8 seed, they gave Vancouver a scare in the first round.
The tides seem to be turning in favor of the Canucks, a team that has won the Presidents' Trophy in back-to-back years for a city that is hungry for a Stanley Cup Championship.
Expect this series to play out much like last year’s.
Prediction: Canucks in seven
Both are young teams. Both play in the same division.
Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt.
The Preds lead the season series 4-1-1 and have been to the playoffs more recently than the young Blues.
It was a season to build off of, but, as Bob Dylan once sang, it’s all over now baby Blue(s).
Prediction: Predators in six
New York took the season series 3-2-1 and the division, but the Devils cannot go overlooked. They are an 100-point team that has had plenty of time to find holes in the Rangers’ game.
Don’t mistake this for Pens-Flyers, but this will be an intense matchup. The Rangers, however, have an edge in talent and home-ice advantage.
Prediction: Rangers in seven
Boston Bruins: Defending champs.
Pittsburgh Penguins: 2009 champions.
This is another David and Goliath matchup. There’s no real bad blood between the two teams (at least not like Pens-Flyers or B’s-Habs), but both are big-time sports cities that are used to success and love their hockey teams. (All four Boston teams have won recently. The Steelers and Penguins have had their fair share of success too. The Pirates…they’re a team with rich history, nice park and cheap owners.)
Boston won their division, therefore got home-ice advantage, but Pittsburgh won two more games and had six more points (108) than the B’s.
Expect an upset here.
Prediction: Penguins in seven
Last season the Canucks took this series in Nashville. The Predators faithful gave the team a standing ovation knowing that their efforts had merited the franchise their first semifinal appearance in franchise history.
Vancouver looks like a better team on paper, but the Preds are all-in this year and played in a much more difficult division.
Adversity will help this team out. Expect a different result this year.
Prediction: Predators in six
I know it’s a No. 4-No. 1 matchup, but this is closer than it appears.
Pittsburgh took the season series 4-2-0 and had 108 points, one less than the division-leading Rangers, who also had more points than any other team in the East.
The Pens also did this without superstar Sidney Crosby and myriad other injuries.
Prediction: Penguins in six
Prediction: Predators in seven