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First-round upsets? Look again

by Brian Duff
Remember this for next year -- the regular season does mean something when it comes to Stanley Cup Playoff matchups and who should be favored, especially in the first round.

While history may have taught us to believe otherwise, in a world where we speak of parity on a daily, if not hourly, basis, we should pay more attention to what teams did head-to-head between October and April.

Let's start in the East and the No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup.

Is it relevant now that the Capitals were 33 points better the Montreal over the 82-game season?


What was relevant is that Montreal went 2-1-1 against Washington, had a power play that was second only to the Caps, and a penalty-killing unit that was far superior.

An upset?


A surprise?

That's up to you to decide. But given that we've seen, a No. 8-seed defeat a No. 1-seed every other year for the past decade, and we've seen numerous Presidents' Trophy winners struggle to live up the hype, I can't say I'm shocked.

Now, it probably would have been less surprising for most if the eighth-seeded Avalanche had dumped the best in the West from San Jose given the Sharks' recent playoff history.

And we all know that if overtime in Game 4 turns out a little differently, it very well could have happened.

But the Sharks were 2-2 against Colorado this regular season and had vastly superior special teams. In fact, San Jose was the only team to rank in the top five in power play and penalty kill effectiveness. So while the series was close, it probably played out the way it should have.

The No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchup has been almost a 50/50 proposition dating back to 1994. The second seed now sports a record of 17-15 thanks to a Devils loss and a Blackhawks win.

Again, the Devils ouster shouldn’t come as a huge shock. Philadelphia was more of a favorite in October. The Flyers won five of six against New Jersey during the regular season, using three different goalies. And six years of postseason underachieving was a big monkey for the Devils, which they couldn't shake off their back.

As for the Hawks, they beat the Predators in four of six in the regular season, and duplicated the feat in the spring.

Ditto for Boston (4-2-0 in the regular season) against Buffalo as we look at the No. 6 vs. No. 3 matchup. Boston plays a more structured game, which is critical when seemingly (but perhaps not realistically) undermanned offensively.

The Sabres, like the Devils, basically were a .500 team from late January on. And Tuukka Rask posted better numbers than Ryan Miller all season, including in the last two weeks. It's not Rask's fault he didn't play more during the first half of the season. If he had, he'd be winning the Vezina and Calder on June 23 in Las Vegas. But people have to realize that he may be the best goalie still standing, and on a very well-coached team, this Bruins run may be a long ways from being done.

Vancouver won three of four against Los Angeles during the regular season and maintained that form as No. 3 defeated No. 6 in the West.

As for the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchups, both were played to thrilling levels and could have gone either way, especially in the East, where the Senators were undermanned but long on grit and determination.

The Pens and Sens split their four-game season series, and needed multiple overtimes in their third playoff series in four years before the defending Stanley Cup champs prevailed in six games.

The 2009 Cup finalists from Detroit also split the season series with fourth-seeded Phoenix. And if they had to play an eighth playoff game tonight, the Coyotes might have shown that season-long resilience and knotted this thing up at 4-4.

The moral of the story of this year's first round?

Based on head-to-head play during the regular season, there wasn't a single upset by any of the eight teams that are on to Round 2.

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