NHL Playoffs 2013: Ranking Chances of Teams Climbing out of Early Holes

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers makes a save in the first period against Mathieu Perreault #85 of the Washington Capitals in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on May 4, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The NHL playoffs are in full swing, which, after months of contract negotiations that made us doubt this day would come, is a welcome sight for hockey fans nationwide. 

For some teams, however, the start of hockey's postseason hasn't been so chipper.

At time of publication, four different teams—the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings—all find themselves in a dreaded 0-2 series hole. And come later this evening, the Toronto Maple Leafs might just follow suit.

Going down 0-2 is hardly a death sentence, but it's certainly a crippling blow. Is it impossible to come back and advance? Not even a little bit. But is it maddeningly difficult? You bet.

Here's a look at the three best bets to accomplish that feat, ranked from most to least likely.


1. New York Rangers

A heartbreaking overtime loss on Saturday afternoon put the Rangers in an 0-2 hole in their series against the Washington Capitals. And while the anemic state of the Rangers' offense (one goal in six-plus periods) is disconcerting, it's hard to count the Rangers out.

Not until they lose at the Garden.

Hockey fans, or at least all the Rangers fans I knew in high school, are often hostile when you compare their sport to basketball. Checking is allowed in their game, so they resent being likened to the soft, flopping, faint-hearted NBA. But a quick look at this year's NBA playoffs actually provides New York some inspiration.

The Memphis Grizzlies went down 0-2 in similar fashion, losing their first two games against the Los Angeles Clippers, once in convincing fashion, and once in buzzer-beating heartbreak. But they were rejuvenated upon returning home, took that momentum back on the road, and ended up winning the next four games in succession.

New York has the same kind of potential, in no small part because they're an NHL version of the Memphis Grizzlies. They pride themselves on defense, defense, defense—and that's typically a winning strategy come this time of year. And just like Memphis has the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol, New York just might have the NHL's top goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. 

The return to form of Alex Ovechkin might be trouble. But the strength of a superior defense, along with the momentum of the World's Most Famous Arena, could be enough to change this series' tide.

Besides: Do you really want to bet on Washington in the playoffs?


2. Los Angeles Kings

Has last season's magic run out? Maybe. Or maybe they've just regressed to their postseason mean. After all, it would have been unrealistic to expect a repeat of last year's unlikely Stanley Cup run—right?

But it's not yet time to bury the defending champs. I mean, they're the defending champs: a roster full of guys who lifted the Stanley Cup within the past 12 months. They know how it feels to excel at this time of year, and that experience is very much crucial to their success going forward.

They get to return to Los Angeles, too, which in any other year might not matter much. But on the heels of a Stanley Cup, the Staples Center mafia will surely show in force, hoping to recreate the ecstasy of last summer. A once-apathetic fanbase has been transformed, and they should create a serious advantage coming up.

Game 3 will be a hostile environment for the St. Louis Blues, and if the Kings can pull out a win, they're just one win away from evening the score.

Never bury champions until their pulse has officially stopped.


3. Vancouver Canucks

Oh, how the tables have turned. In the 2011 Western Conference Final, Vancouver used home ice to take a 2-0 lead before eventually wiping out the San Jose Sharks in five. They were given a chance to repeat history this season, but this time around, they're the ones leaving Canada in a massive hole.

So where do they go from here? They need to win four of the next five, and unlike the other teams on this list, three of those wins must come on road ice. They desperately needed that overtime win in Game 2, on their home ice no less, but a Raffi Torres goal might have sealed their fate.

It's not time to count Vancouver out. At least not yet. A team with Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin is hard to give up on so soon. I mean, they finished ahead of San Jose this year for a reason, right?

But it's hard to get too excited for a team down 0-2 and going on the road. One good home game from San Jose, and Vancouver could be sitting in a historic quandary.

The Canucks are a better bet than Minnesota, who shan't be coming back on Chicago, but that doesn't necessarily make them a good one.