The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs has been notable for its memorable upsets.
Having the top seed in the Eastern or Western Conferences does not guarantee the higher ranked team that it will cruise into the second round of the postseason. In the six seasons since the 2004-05 season was eliminated by a work stoppage, the No. 8 seed has beaten the No. 1 seed three times. There have been several other close calls.
It could happen again this year as the Vancouver Canucks, the top seed in the Western Conference, dropped a 4-2 decision to the eight-seeded Los Angeles Kings in the first game of the series on April 11. The Kings dominated the action throughout the game, outshooting the Canucks 39-26. The Kings broke a 2-2 tie on Dustin Penner's goal late in the third period and then salted the game away on Dustin Brown's empty net goal in the final seconds. The Kings have one of the top goalies in the league in Jonathan Quick and if they can get enough scoring from Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar, they have a chance to bring down the President's Trophy (most points in regular season) winner.
The top-seeded New York Rangers may also be vulnerable against the No. 8 seed Ottawa Senators. The Rangers are a gritty, tough team that specializes in shutting down teams with high-octane attacks like the Senators. However, the Rangers are not high-powered offensive team and if the Senators can jump off to a lead, head coach John Tortorella's Rangers may have a tough time coming back. Other than high-scoring Marian Gaborik (41 goals, 76 points) and opportunistic Brad Richards (25 goals, 66 points), the Rangers could struggle to put the puck in the net.
The Kings and Senators are trying to replicate what the 2006 Edmonton Oilers accomplished. That year, the Oilers beat the Red Wings in the first round of the playoff even though the Red Wings rolled through the regular season with a 58-16-8 record. It was a foregone conclusion that the Wings would dominate in the first round, but the gritty Oilers beat Detroit 4 games to 2. The Wings won the first game in double overtime, but the Oilers proved resilient and when they took a 3-2 series lead by winning the fifth game in Detroit, the upset was at hand. In the sixth game, they rallied from a two-goal deficit at home to take the series and shock the Red Wings.
The Boston Bruins nearly matched the Oilers' accomplishment in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins were the eighth seed in the East and they were facing the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens. Trailing 3 games to 2, the Bruins rallied to score a 5-4 victory in Game 6 on a late goal by Marco Sturm to force a seventh game in Montreal, but the Bruins dropped a 5-0 decision in the series finale.
The No. 8 seed Anaheim Ducks defeated the top-seeded San Jose Sharks in the 2009 playoffs. The Sharks were the President's Trophy winner and were considered one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. However, Anaheim came out on fire and took the first two games in San Jose before closing out Joe Thornton and the favored Sharks in six games.
The downward spiral of the Washington Capitals can be traced to their failure in the 2010 playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens. That year, the Caps won the President's Trophy (121 points) and were the top seed in the East. The Canadiens barely made the playoffs as the eighth seed and were expected to be brushed aside by Alex Ovechkin & Co. It didn't work out that way as the Canadiens pulled off a shocker. Washington actually led the series 3 games to 1 and were headed back to the nation's capital to close out the series in the fifth game. The Canadiens would have none of it and pulled off a 2-1 victory to stay alive and then tied the series with a dominating 4-1 in the Bell Centre in Montreal. Brimming with confidence, the Canadiens took game 7 by a 2-1 margin and went on to beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. Montreal's magical run ended in the Eastern Conference Finals when they were dispatched by the Philadelphia Flyers in 5 games.
In 2011, the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost in 7 games to the Boston Bruins. However, the Canucks barely made it out of the first round. They led the eighth-seeded Chicago Blackhawks 3 games to none before the Blackhawks reeled off three straight wins to tie the series. The seventh game went to overtime where Alex Burrows connected on a slap shot that allowed the Canucks to escape.
The Rangers and Canucks have every reason to be on high alert as they engage in their first-round playoff matchups. Beware the 1-8 postseason battle.
Steve Silverman is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the NHL for CBSChicago.com and WSCR-AM.
CBS Sports - New York Rangers scoring
Hockey Reference - Playoff History
HockeyWriters.com - Top 10 Greatest Stanley Cup Upsets
- Vancouver Canucks
- New York Rangers
- Montreal Canadiens
- The Kings