-- What were the odds at the end of the regular season that the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers
would earn home ice advantage against the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens
in the Eastern Conference Final?
Probably slim to none, wouldn't you say?
But incredibly, it has happened. And for the first time since the League adopted the Conference-based playoff format in 1994, a seventh seed will be playing an eighth seed for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger
has been around long enough to understand the relevance of this unusual scenario.
"Some more history," he grinned. "There you go, you got your article. But, seriously, I think it shows a lot of things. One, the parity in the League, and two, anything can happen. We've seen No. 8's beat 1's, and 7's beat 2's. But now, a No. 8 to beat a No. 1 and a No. 7 to beat a No. 2 (New Jersey Devils
) and on and on and continue down the line until you get into the Conference Finals … I think it's a testament to both of the teams and the League."
The two lowest seeds in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers and Canadiens, will face off in Game 1 Sunday at 7 p.m. ET (VERSUS, CBC, RDS). Prior to this matchup, the previous lowest-seeded teams to square off in a playoff series occurred in the 2006 Western Conference Final when eighth-seeded Edmonton defeated sixth-seeded Anaheim in five games.
"You always say anything can happen when you get in the Playoffs, but I think in this case, anything has happened." Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill
said. "We've seen a lot of Game 7's and exciting hockey. I think it's a testament to the League and the way that the (salary) cap has worked. We've had some even teams. To get in the playoffs, you have to be a good team. There are some good teams that aren't in the playoffs and, you know, we just squeaked in. But we came in playing some pretty good hockey and we carried it over."
Ditto for the Flyers, who required a shootout victory on the final day of the regular season to even qualify for the postseason. The Flyers and Canadiens each finished with 88 points in the regular-season standings and split their four-game season series 2-2-0.
"When you look at the parity in the League now, it doesn't surprise me," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "Interestingly, before the season started, people would have probably put the Bruins as close to being No. 1 or No. 2 in our conference because of their success the previous year. You look at teams like the Flyers and ourselves that had several key injuries they had to deal with during the season, that's a factor in the final standings. So sometimes it's getting healthy at the right time."
Both clubs already have played a part in history-making postseason runs.
The Canadiens made history by becoming the first eight seed to win a playoff series in which it trailed, 3-1, and taking out the Presidents' Trophy-winner Washington Capitals
in the process. The Flyers joined the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs
(vs. Detroit) and the '75 New York Islanders
(vs. Pittsburgh) as the only teams in League history to rally from an 0-3 series deficit following a 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins
in Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals Friday.
"It's hard to believe, but we got it (home ice)," Flyers forward Simon Gagne
said. "It's playoffs, you never know what can happen. You just want to be in those eight spots, and then after that, it's up for grabs. We've seen it in the past and when we get home ice advantage, we have to use it (to our advantage)."
Flyers forward Danny Briere
is pleasantly surprised with the fact Philadelphia gets to host a playoff series of this magnitude, this late in the tournament.
"Yeah, out of 16 teams, there's only one team that we can play that we could have home ice advantage, and you know it happened," he said. "So this whole thing is unbelievable. But we're here now and I don't want it to end, so we have to try to keep it and try to take advantage of it while we're there."
"You always say anything can happen when you get in the Playoffs, but I think in this case, anything has happened." -- Hal Gill
For a team like Montreal, however, it would seem home ice advantage hasn't really meant a whole lot. Let's face it, the Habs knocked off top-seeded Washington before eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
"That's the whole idea -- getting that confidence and riding it," Gill said. "The problem is, when you sit back and enjoy it too much. We had a night where we could sit back and say wow, we did something pretty good there and then it's back to work."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette
is thrilled the fans of Philadelphia will have an opportunity to cheer their team on in the early stages of a playoff series.
"We're excited about it," Laviolette said. "When I first got the job, home ice was one of the things talked about. It's exciting here because the fans are so passionate, good or bad -- they want to win. They bring that energy to the building. I think it will be just a great place and great environment to play a hockey game (Sunday) night, and I know the players will be looking forward to it."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com