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Second seeds could benefit most from format change

by John Kreiser

This is the final season of the current format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- realignment next season will separate the 30 teams into four groupings instead of six, and some teams will switch conferences. Teams that have been seeded second in the opening round of the playoffs under the current format probably won't mind the changes.

Realignment means a change to the format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting next season.

Since the current setup was adopted for the 1994 playoffs, only 20 of the 36 No. 2 seeds have managed to beat the No. 7 seed and advance to the second round. That's the fewest of any of the four pairings -- even though the 3-6 and 4-5 matchups involve teams closer to each other in the standings.

However, the 36 matchups between teams seeded No. 3 and No. 6 have seen the third-seeded team go 23-13 -- the same record No. 4 seeds have against No. 5 seeds.

And how dangerous is it to be a No. 1 seed? Probably more than you'd think. Teams seeded No. 8 have won 10 of 36 series since 1994 -- a total that includes last year's Los Angeles Kings, who beat the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks on the way to becoming the lowest-seeded team in playoff history to win the Stanley Cup.

Familiarity breeds contempt -- The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals must be tired of seeing each other every spring. This year's Eastern Conference Quarterfinals marks the third year in a row and fourth in five that the two teams have seen each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But for sheer familiarity, no two teams can top the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

Should they meet again later this spring, it will be the 34th time they've squared off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs are next with 23.

The Bruins have won the last two series, in 2009 and 2011, and seven of 11 in the past 25 years. But that came after a stretch from 1946-87 in which the Canadiens won 17 consecutive series from their longtime rival. Montreal was so dominant that only four of those series went to the limit, while six of them were sweeps.

Alexander Steen
Left Wing - STL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 2
SOG: 6 | +/-: 0
And then there were seven -- Overtime isn't a rarity in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but games decided by a shorthanded goal in overtime are another matter. Alexander Steen became just the seventh player to score one when he got the winner for the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their series against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. Steen was the first player to score a shorthanded goal in overtime since Fernando Pisani of the Edmonton Oilers got one against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

Of the seven playoff overtime shorthanded goals, only one was scored before 1988, when Brent Sutter and Wayne Gretzky did it in a span of 12 days. Before Pisani's shorthanded goal in the 2006 Final, Jason Pominville of the Buffalo Sabres had scored one a month earlier, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Ottawa Senators.

Ready, aim, fire -- The Montreal Canadiens bombarded Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson with 27 shots in the second period of Game 1 in their opening-round series Thursday. Not only was Montreal's shot total a franchise playoff record, it was more shots than any team took in a single period during the regular season (and more than four teams managed in their playoff openers). It also was the most in any period since the Los Angeles Kings had 27 against Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 7, 2010. Like the Canadiens on Thursday, the Kings lost that game as well.

At long last -- No one was happier to see the start of this year's playoffs than St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester -- after all, he'd never been there before.

Bouwmeester entered Game 1 of the Blues' series against Los Angeles after playing 764 regular-season games without playing even once in the postseason. He's second on the all-time list to Olli Jokinen, who played in 799 before taking part in the 2009 playoffs with the Calgary Flames.

But both of them are more fortunate than 1970s forward Guy Charron, whose 734 regular-season games without ever playing in a postseason game represent a record no player wants to break.

A little revenge? -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders are meeting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth time, but the first since 1993. Pittsburgh's 5-0 victory in Game 1 moved the Penguins closer to avenging three of the most painful playoff losses in franchise history. In 1975, the Islanders became the second team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to win. Seven years later, the Penguins led the fifth and deciding game 3-2 with less than seven minutes left, only to lose in overtime. Then there's the 1993 Patrick Division Finals, in which the Penguins blew a 3-2 series lead, overcame a 3-1 deficit late in regulation in Game 6, but lost in overtime.

Marc-Andre Fleury
Goalie - PIT
RECORD: 1-0-0 | SO: 1
GAA: 0.00 | SV%: 1.000
The Penguins are one of only 10 teams that has played an opponent three or more times in the playoffs without winning a series. The Edmonton Oilers hold the record with a 6-0 mark against the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes franchise. The Toronto Maple Leafs (against the Ottawa Senators), Detroit Red Wings (against the Dallas Stars) and Penguins (against the New York Rangers) are 4-0 in the postseason. The Islanders-Penguins pairing is one of six in which one team has won all three series.

Turnabout -- It would be hard to imagine a more enormous turnaround than the one Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made from his team's playoff opener last year to Game 1 this year. One year ago, Fleury and the Penguins blew a 3-0 second-period lead against the Philadelphia Flyers and lost in overtime; the Penguins went on to lose the series in six games, during which Fleury surrendered 26 goals. In Game 1 against the Islanders, Fleury was perfect on 26 shots as the Penguins won 5-0. It was Fleury's sixth career playoff shutout; three have come in playoff openers -- he made 32 saves to beat the Ottawa Senators to open the 2008 playoffs and stopped 26 shots when he blanked the Tampa Bay Lightning in Pittsburgh's first playoff game in 2011.

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