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.