2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Are Columbus Blue Jackets This Year's Cinderella?

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2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Are Columbus Blue Jackets This Year's Cinderella?
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Almost every year, there is at least one team that makes a deep and surprising run during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The 2012 Los Angeles Kings won it all as a No. 8 seed, defeating the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils in the Final; in 2010, the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers reached the Cup Final, and in 2007, 2009 and 2013, a No. 4 seed got all the way to the Cup Final.

In 2006, the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

It's nothing new for top seeds to fall short in the NHL playoffs, although it is quite rare for a No. 7 or No. 8 seed to get to the Final, never mind win it.

Which team could that be this year? Which squad has the best chance of being a Cinderella in the 2014 postseason?

It's the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

It's a strong year for wild-card teams, who are the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the altered playoff format for 2014. The Detroit Red Wings finished the season strong while the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars have somewhat favorable matchups in their first-round series.

The Blue Jackets enter the playoffs as the hottest wild-card team. They are 6-2-1 in their past nine games, have won the 5-on-5 Fenwick battle in seven of their past 10 games and may have the most winnable opening-round series, despite losing to their opponent in all five meetings this season. 

The Pittsburgh Penguins flamed out of the first round in 2012 thanks to Marc-Andre Fleury being unable to stop a sentence with a period against the Philadelphia Flyers. There would have been a repeat in 2013 if not for Tomas Vokoun replacing Fleury during the first-round series with the New York Islanders.

There's no guarantee Fleury shatters in the first round again this year, but if he does, the safety net of Vokoun is not available. The ship will sink with Fleury at the helm, allowing the Blue Jackets a path to Round 2.

The Blue Jackets' second-round opponent will be either the Flyers or New York Rangers, which wouldn't be a daunting matchup either way.

Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

It's impossible to forecast what will happen with the injured Steve Mason between now and Round 2, but a goaltending matchup between the Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky and the Flyers' Ray Emery skews heavily in favor of Columbus. Throw in the fact that the Blue Jackets were the 13th-ranked possession team in score close Fenwick differential and the Flyers finished 23rd, it's a very winnable series for the Jackets.

Should the Jackets get the Rangers, that's a tougher task, but still one the Jackets could rise up to conquer. The Rangers were the fifth-best team in terms of score close Fenwick differential, but the Jackets and Rangers split their four-game season series. In those four games, the possession numbers were almost a dead heat, which indicates the Jackets could give the Rangers a run for their money.

The conference finals could be where the Jackets' run ends, as the Boston Bruins are the favorite to emerge from the Atlantic Division. They are superior in every way: forward depth, defense depth, goaltending, experience, goal scoring and goal denying. The Blue Jackets would have a real difficult time getting past that in the conference finals.

Which wild-card team has the best chance of making a deep run in this year's playoffs?

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Three of the four possible opponents for the Blue Jackets in Round 3 all finished higher in score close Fenwick differential this season, so it's not as though fancy stats can offer much hope.

But this is a story about a Cinderella run, and those runs tend to feature lucky breaks and freak plays that benefit the underdog. Perhaps Bobrovsky will dominate whoever shows up for the conference finals. Maybe Ryan Johansen will continue his breakout season by destroying Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask during a seven-game series. 

As Daniel Alfredsson once said, probably not. But hey, you never know.

It would take the most miraculous miracle in the history of miracles for the Blue Jackets to beat the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks or any team that emerges from the West in the Final.

But if one wild-card team has the best chance of at least reaching the conference finals, it's the Blue Jackets.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com or ExtraSkater.com.

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