Anything can happen. It’s true. Two years ago, the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers and eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens met in the Eastern Conference final. In 2006, the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers came within a win of the Stanley Cup.
Just get in. You can win.
But that doesn’t mean your odds are good if you’re a low seed. Despite the salary cap and the parity in the NHL, the playoffs are still a world of favorites and underdogs. There are no flip-a-coin shootouts to pad win totals. There are no loser points to keep things close. There are marathon overtimes and seven-game wars of attrition to separate the best from the rest. Though David can take down Goliath, make no mistake: David better aim his rock just right.
Forget going all the way. Only one bottom-four seed has won the Cup since the league started seeding one through eight in each conference in 1993-94, and that was a fifth seed, the 1995 New Jersey Devils.
It’s hard enough to get out of the first round. Despite the tremendous runs by those Flyers, Habs and Oilers that stick in our memory, seventh and eighth seeds still rarely survive their opening series. The NHL has staged six Stanley Cup tournaments since the salary cap was introduced in 2005-06, so there have been 12 examples of each seed – six of each in the East, six of each in the West. Only three No. 8 seeds (25 percent) have won in the first round. Only two No. 7 seeds (16 percent) have.
The wild cards are the fifth and sixth seeds. Seven fifth seeds (55 percent) have won in the first round. Six sixth seeds (50 percent) have. But the middle matchups are always the most competitive in a seeding system, and the NHL awards division winners the top three seeds in each conference, pushing superior teams down in the order. Both third seeds had fewer points than the sixth seeds this season. Who’s the underdog?
“The parity is so close in the game,” said Nashville Predators general manager David Poile. “The cliche is, anybody can beat anybody on a given night. Well, I think that’s true for the playoffs also. The season is one thing. But in terms of saying the eighth-place team can beat the first-place team this year, absolutely. I think there’s a lot of teams that have a chance to win the Stanley Cup this year.”
A chance, yes. But how big of a chance? The games will be tight and the series will be exciting, but in the end the cream will rise.