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First round has always provided history lesson

Stanley Cup Playoffs provide excitement right out of gate

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

For 30 NHL teams, on the eve of training camp each September, the mindset is the same: "Our first goal is to make the playoffs," management and players will say. "And then we'll see what we can do."

Sixteen teams have met the objective to qualify for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs; another 14 having fallen short.

The playoffs begin in eight cities Wednesday through Friday. The first team - in fact, the only team - to win 16 games will carry off the Stanley Cup.

It's a grind through the postseason. The importance of every shot, every save and every shift is magnified, with any one play perhaps a huge factor in a team's ultimate success or failure.

Of course, the road to every Stanley Cup championship begins with a first series. Some of them have been entirely predictable; others have seen excellent teams eliminated in huge upsets.

There has been some wonderfully memorable, fingernail-biting action in the first round, with some history made well before the presentation of hockey's Holy Grail. As the teams prepare to drop the puck in the 2016 playoffs, here are some first-round events that made headlines:

1928-29: The Boston Bruins swept the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 in their semifinal, the first time the teams met in the postseason. The old rivals would meet 33 more times in the playoffs through 2013-14, the Canadiens winning 25 of those series, including a staggering stretch of 18 in a row from 1946-87.

1935-36: The longest game in playoff history saw the Detroit Red Wings defeat the Montreal Maroons at 2:25 a.m. on March 25 in Game 1 of their semifinal series. In a nearly six-hour game at Montreal Forum, Detroit's Mud Bruneteau scored the winner in the sixth overtime, after 116:30 of extra time. Some fans feel asleep in the stands. The game eclipsed the previous longest, a 1-0 Toronto Maple Leafs victory against Boston on April 3, 1933, in a game decided by a Ken Doraty goal 104:46 into overtime.

1944-45: The Maple Leafs stunned the Canadiens 4-2 in a best-of-7 semifinal after having finished the regular season in third place, 28 points behind the League champion Canadiens.

1950-51: The Maple Leafs defeated the Bruins 4-1-1 in their semifinal, Game 2 declared a tie when a curfew in Toronto prevented it from advancing past a first overtime period.

1951-52: The Red Wings swept the Maple Leafs 4-0 in a semifinal, then swept the Canadiens 4-0 in the Final, becoming the first team to go undefeated through the NHL postseason.

1955-56: The Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers 4-1 in their semifinal. Montreal would win its next nine playoff series during its unprecedented streak of five Stanley Cup championships from 1956-60, the run ending in a six-game 1961 semifinal against the Chicago Blackhawks. And that loss was a huge upset - Chicago had finished the schedule in third place, 23 points behind Montreal.

1963-64: The Maple Leafs, who finished the season in third place, upset the League champion Canadiens in a seven-game semifinal. All three playoff series that season went to seven games, with Toronto defeating Detroit in the Final.

1966-67: Toronto, having finished 19 points behind Chicago, shocked the Blackhawks with a six-game, first-round upset, then defeated Montreal in six games to win the Stanley Cup in the final season before the NHL doubled in size to 12 teams.

1967-68: The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota North Stars each needed seven games to advance past the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings, respectively, in the first quarterfinal series in the post-expansion NHL. St. Louis would need seven games to get past Minnesota in their semifinal before being swept by Montreal in the Cup Final.

1968-69: Boston scored six power-play goals, an NHL single-game, one-team playoff record, in a 10-0 win against Toronto in a semifinal game.

1973-74: The Flyers began their march toward becoming the first 1967 expansion team to win the Stanley Cup with a 4-0 quarterfinal sweep of the Atlanta Flames.

1976-77: The Canadiens, having gone a stunning 60-8-12 in the regular season, swept the Blues 4-0 in the quarterfinals. Montreal needed 14 games to get the 12 victories required to win the Stanley Cup, the 20th of their NHL-record 24 championships.

1980-81: The Rangers and Kings scored 35 goals in their four-game, first-round series -- a then-NHL record for any first-round series -- 23 of them by New York. The Rangers were assessed 125 penalty minutes in one period -- also a playoff record -- in Game 2, which Los Angeles won 5-4.

1990-91: The Red Wings lost a seven-game division semifinal to the Blues. But in Detroit's return to the playoffs, the Red Wings began their run of 25 consecutive seasons, including 2015-16, of making it to the postseason.

1994-95: The Calgary Flames scored 35 goals in their quarterfinal against the San Jose Sharks, an NHL record for goals in a seven-game series in any round, while allowing 26. But Calgary lost the series.

1995-96: The Colorado Avalanche defeated the Vancouver Canucks in a six-game Western Conference Quarterfinal, beginning their run to a Stanley Cup championship the year after moving to Denver from Quebec.

2007-08: In one of the more bizarre moments in playoff history, the Rangers' Sean Avery stood in front of New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, with his back to the play, and waved his stick incessantly in Brodeur's face in a bid to distract him.

2010-11: Boston needed overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against Montreal to advance from the first round, with Bruins coach Claude Julien rumored to be one Canadiens overtime goal from being fired. Julien then led his team to a Stanley Cup championship.

2013-14: The Kings became the fourth team in NHL history to win a playoff series after losing the first three games when they defeated the Sharks in four straight, including a 5-1 victory in Game 7 in San Jose.

2013-14: The Rangers set an NHL record for most playoff losses in season with 12, beginning with three to the Flyers in the first round. Of course, New York needed to go to the Cup Final to achieve that standard, which is a measure of success, but once there they lost in five games to the Kings.

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