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Scoring on the rise in the '08 Playoffs

by John Kreiser

Through two rounds in this postseason, scoring is up slightly higher from the regular season. Franzen scores a hat trick in Game 4
Goal scoring usually declines during the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the regular season — not surprising when you consider that the League’s bottom 14 teams have been eliminated and there’s increased emphasis on preventing goals. But through two rounds this year, scoring is actually up slightly from the regular season.

There was an average of 5.44 goals (excluding shootouts) scored in the 1,230 regular-season games in 2007-08. Through 68 games in the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs, there were 373 goals scored, an average of 5.49 per contest.

That’s not a big jump, but it’s a significant change from recent years.

There were 5.76 non-shootout goals scored per game in the 2006-07 regular season, but that total dropped to 4.95 in the playoffs, a decline of more than 14 percent. In 2005-06, non-shootout scoring went from 6.05 goals per regular-season game to 5.65 in the playoffs, a 6.6 percent drop. In each of the previous four seasons, the decline from the regular season to the playoffs ranged from just over 9 percent to more than 14 percent, and in none of those four seasons, dating back to 2000-01, were there more than 4.80 goals scored per playoff game (the low was 4.40 in 2003-04).

Though scoring has dropped from its heyday in the early 1980s, the trend of fewer goals in the playoffs was true then, too. In 1981-82, the high point for goal production in that era with 8.03 per game in the regular season, the playoff average fell to 7.11, a decline of 11.5 percent; counting the first two rounds only, the decline was still 8.3 percent.
What advantage? — In theory, there’s an edge to having the home-ice advantage — you get to start the series at home, and if there’s a Game 7, it’s in your building. Sounds nice, but it hasn’t been the case in the conference finals.

Since the NHL went to the current playoff format (No. 1-through-8 in each conference qualify for the playoffs), just 13 of the 26 teams with the home-ice advantage in the League’s Final Four have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. Only three times (2001, 2002 and 2004) have both teams with home ice made it to the Final. Last year was the third time (along with 2003 and 1996) in which neither team did — Buffalo was eliminated by Ottawa in five games and Detroit lost in six to Anaheim, which went on to win the Stanley Cup.

The team with the home-ice edge in the Western Conference has had more trouble than its Eastern Conference counterpart: The higher-seeded team in the West has lost eight of the 13 series, including four in a row. Detroit, this year’s top seed in the West, was the last higher-seeded team to advance — in 2002, when the Wings won their last Cup. The higher-seeded club in the East is 8-5, and Ottawa’s loss in 2007 broke a five-year winning streak.

Quick — If it seems like the conference semifinals have been going faster than they used to, it’s largely because they have.

The four winners in this year’s second round needed just 20 of a possible 28 games to make it to the NHL’s Final Four, the second time in three years that’s happened. Last year’s second-round winners needed 22 games.

In contrast, the three previous years, beginning in 2001, saw 25, 25 and 24 games played; no season under the current format has had more than 25. The second round in 2001 was unique in that it had three series go to the full seven games — and the other end in a four-game sweep.

There were also 24 games played (an average of six per series) in 1999 and 1996. The 24 games in ’96 were seven more than the record low of 17 in 1995 (16 is the absolute minimum).

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist became only the fourth goalie in NHL history to face two penalty shots in one playoff year. VIDEO
Penalty-shot parade — One playoff record that’s already been set this year is for penalty shots. There were six in the first two rounds, more than in any full playoff year. The previous record was four, set in 1990. Of the 52 penalty shots before this year, 17 had been successful — a 32.6 percent success rate. But shooters have scored just once in their six tries this year (16.7 percent).

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist became only the fourth goalie in NHL history to face two penalty shots in one playoff year when he stopped Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. He stopped New Jersey’s John Madden in Game 5 of the opening round. Like Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek in 2001 and Edmonton’s Grant Fuhr in 1985, he stopped both. The other goalie to face two in one year, the Rangers’ John Vanbiesbrouck in 1992, was beaten by Pittsburgh’s Jaromir Jagr on May 11 but stopped Shawn McEachern two nights later.

Howe about that? — A couple of Gordie Howe’s records have been taking a beating in the playoffs.

Detroit’s Johan Franzen surpassed “Mr. Hockey’s” franchise record of eight goals in a playoff series when he got nine in the second round against Colorado (Franzen’s 11 through two rounds are already more than any Red Wing had amassed in one playoff year, and he broke Howe’s regular-season team record for game-winning goals in a month by getting six in March). Franzen also tied a Wings record held by Howe (1949 and 1964) and Ted Lindsay (1952) when he scored in Thursday night’s 4-1 win over Dallas — giving him goals in five consecutive playoff games.

Philadelphia’s R.J. Umberger also matched one of Howe’s accomplishments when he scored eight goals in the Flyers’ second-round takeout of Montreal. Umberger’s eight goals matched Howe’s eight in the 1949 semifinals as the most goals ever scored against the Canadiens in one series. Howe got his eight in seven games.

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