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History shows Pens are Cup pick

by John Kreiser

The Penguins are the 11th team to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs 7-0. Watch Penguins-Rangers playoff highlight video
It’s too early to predict who’s going to win the Stanley Cup, but if history is any indicator, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a good choice.

The Penguins are the 11th team to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs by winning their first seven games. Of the first 10, eight have gone on to win it all, while the other two lost in the Stanley Cup Final. The last team to start 7-0 was the 1994 New York Rangers, who swept the Islanders in the opening round and won the first three games against Washington on the way to their first Cup in 54 years.

Surprisingly, only three of those 10 teams completed their back-to-back four-game sweeps, though the 1985 Edmonton Oilers and 1975 Philadelphia Flyers were the only teams that needed more than five games to finish off their opponents. The Oilers swept Los Angeles in three games and Winnipeg in four, then won the first two games of the Campbell Conference Final against Chicago, lost Games 3 and 4, but rebounded to win in six games. The Flyers swept Toronto in the quarterfinals and led the Islanders 3-0 in the semis, but lost the next three games before taking Game 7 at home on the way to their second straight Stanley Cup.

In contrast to this year, the Cup-winning Pittsburgh teams of 1991 and 1992 had their biggest problems in the first round. Both of those teams had to go to a seventh game to get past the first round, then didn’t need to go more than six games in any other series.

Fast starts – One reason for the Penguins’ success has been their ability to keep the opposition off the scoreboard in the first period. The Penguins held the New York Rangers scoreless in the first period Thursday, meaning they have allowed just two goals in eight first periods thus far in the playoffs. Of the remaining teams, Detroit is next with five.

Memorable – The Rangers did something in their series opener against Pittsburgh that they hadn’t done in more than 40 years: blow a three-goal lead in a playoff game. The Rangers were 93-1 in playoff games in which they led by three or more goals before wasting a 3-0 lead in a 5-4 loss to the Penguins in Game 1 of their  Eastern Conference Semifinal series. The only other time they were unable to hold a three-goal lead also was in a series opener – they blew a 4-1 third-period lead in the first-game of their semifinal series against Montreal in 1967, a game they wound up losing 6-4 on the way to being swept.

Pittsburgh’s comeback from a three-goal deficit was just the second in 48 games in franchise playoff history. The other came in Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final, when the Penguins trailed 3-0 and 4-1 before rallying for a 5-4 victory.

Shorting the Stars – San Jose captain Patrick Marleau didn’t have a shorthanded goal during the regular season – he had just 16:04 of shorthanded ice time in 82 games – or in the Sharks’ first-round victory against Calgary. But in the second round, he’s turned into a shorthanded menace to the Dallas Stars.

Marleau needed just 6:06 of ice time to score shorthanded goals in Games 3 and 4 in Dallas on Tuesday and Wednesday. He became the first player since Detroit’s Brett Hull in 2002 to score shorthanded goals in consecutive playoff games – and the first person ever to do it on consecutive days.

At last – It took Dallas defenseman Mattias Norstrom 43 playoff games to get his first postseason goal, but only five more to get his second. Norstrom, whose NHL career includes more than 900 regular-season games but just 18 goals, got his first overtime goal in the Stars’ 2-1 win against San Jose in Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinal series. The two playoff goals match his entire regular-season output, and his five points in 10 playoff games this year are three more than he’d put up in 38 games over six previous seasons.

The Philadelphia Flyers split the first two games at the Bell Centre and are 7-6 all-time in playoff games in Montreal.
Good omens – Montreal always has been a daunting place for visiting teams, especially at playoff time. But the Philadelphia Flyers have every reason to be confident when they take the ice Saturday night for Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

The Flyers split the first two games at the Bell Centre and are 7-6 all-time in playoff games at Montreal, making them the only visiting team to play more that 10 postseason games there and have a winning record.

Should the series go back to Philadelphia, the Flyers still have reason to be confident. They are 14-3 at home in the playoffs since 2004, the best winning percentage in the NHL over that span. Those 14 wins include victories against Montreal in Games 3 and 4 – one more home postseason win against the Canadiens than they had managed in their first four playoff series against Montreal. The Habs were 9-1 in Philadelphia before this year’s playoffs.

Get it over with – There have been plenty of overtime games in this year’s playoffs – 12 in 64 games through Thursday. But unlike recent years, the overtimes haven’t lasted long. Six of the 12 have been decided in the first five minutes of the extra period, and just one – Philadelphia’s Game 4 victory against Washington in the opening round, which took 26:40 of extra time – has lasted more than 12 minutes.

That bucks the trend of recent years, which have seen more long overtime games. There were seven multiple-OT games in the first two rounds last year, five in 2006, four in 2004 and eight in 2003. The last time there was just one in the first two rounds was 2002, when Toronto’s three-OT win over Ottawa was the only multiple-overtime game through the first three rounds.

Through Thursday night, the average overtime in this year’s playoffs was just 7:24; the last year in which it was that low at this stage was 1986, when none of the 11 games that went into overtime lasted more than 9:41 and the average was 4:19 – including Brian Skrudland’s record-setting winner nine seconds into Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final that gave Montreal a 3-2 win at Calgary and triggered the Canadiens’ five-game victory in the series.

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