Sidney Crosby leads the traditional handshake line after Pittsburgh's series loss to Philadelphia
For the second straight season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have lost in the first round of the playoffs as a No. 4 seed despite finishing in the top three in the NHL Eastern Conference in points during the regular season.
On Sunday, the Pens dropped a 5-1 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of a very heated series. It was a series that was fair to neither squad. Pittsburgh (108) ended the regular season with the second best point total in the Eastern Conference, while the cross-state Flyers (103) were third.
However, NHL rules require division champions to be seeded No. 1, 2 and 3 in the playoffs, with all non-division winners falling in place from No. 4 to 8. So, the Penguins, second best, were seeded fourth behind a pair of completely out-classed division winners in Boston (102) and Florida (94). Philadelphia fell in place just behind.
While the third-seeded Florida Panthers had home ice against sixth-seeded New Jersey (102, eight points better than their first-round foe), two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were doing battle.
It is now two seasons in a row the Penguins have suffered a first-round playoff loss when seeded fourth despite owning a regular-season point total inside the top three. Last year, Pittsburgh fell to a Tampa Bay squad that tallied 103 regular-season points. If done strictly by point total, the Pens would have faced the Montreal Canadiens, earners of 96 regular-season points.
What is preventing the NHL from adopting an NBA-type format for playoff seeding? In the NBA, the three division winners and the top wild-card team earn the No. 1 to 4 seeds, and are seeded by record. Under this system, this year, Pittsburgh would have been the No. 2 seed, and last year the No. 3 seed.
It surely wouldn't have guaranteed a run to the Stanley Cup Finals, but it sure would have made the road easier, and more fair for a team that deserved it.