In an ever-growing search for parity in the NHL, the excitement of the 2019 Playoffs has supported the authenticity of the “just get in” mentality, which has shredded postseason expectations.
Six of the NHL’s top ten teams of the regular season were eliminated in the opening round, proving once again that the postseason remains a different monster.
Moreover, of the nine teams that broke the 100-point plateau during the regular season, only three survived Round 1. The past three Stanley Cup winners, being Pittsburgh (2016 and 2017) and Washington (2018) were joined by the regular season record-tying Tampa Bay Lightning as notable first-round upsets.
The Columbus Blue Jackets came out hard against the heavily favored Lightning, which was overwhelmingly selected as the 2019 Stanley Cup champion in 48.62 percent of NHL.com playoff brackets—no other team cracked eight percent of the total.
Add in the Western Conference Regular Season Champions—pause for Nashville Predators banner jokes—the Calgary Flames echoed the Lightning’s woes, storming to the top of the West before the Colorado Avalanche prevailed.
The Blue Jackets and Avalanche, joined by fellow Wild Card teams Carolina and Dallas, led the way for upsets in Round 1. Given that all four teams earned a bid to the second round after finishing with the four lowest percentage totals of NHL.com bracket winners, it’s understandable why the NHL released its first-ever “Second Chance Bracket.”
The Second Chance Bracket was a simple acknowledgment to what many hockey fans had already realized; parity has arrived and it has made postseason expectations a thing of the past, at least for the 2019 Stanley Cup.
It’s even more evident with Carolina continuing its Stanley Cup push after earning a bid to the Eastern Conference Final against the new Cup favorite Boston Bruins. On the other side of the bracket, San Jose finished as the NHL’s sixth-best team of the regular season and will take on a surging St. Louis team that finished 12th overall after sitting in last place on Jan. 2.
The four finalists have certainly made for interesting storylines. A new team will hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in at least eight years.
Should Boston earn a spot in the final, it’ll be fighting for its first Cup since 2011 and was also the runner-up in 2013 to the Chicago Blackhawks. Taking on a San Jose means facing former Bruins captain, Joe Thornton, a future Hall of Fame player who shaped the future of the Sharks.
That future included years of production and a winning program that has included playoff berths in 13 of Thornton’s 14 seasons with the team, four trips to the Western Conference Final and a 2016 runner-up finish to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Sharks are still looking for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
The 'Joe Thornton wins the Cup in Boston' dream is still alive.— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) May 9, 2019
Boston could also face St. Louis, which would be up against former captain David Backes, who was let go in the summer of 2016 after losing to San Jose in the conference final. Management aimed for a slight rebuild around a younger core, ending Backes’ tenure after a decade with the franchise. The Blues have yet to earn a Stanley Cup for the franchise.
There’s also that Bunch of Jerks in Carolina, which could bring the Stanley Cup home for the first time since 2006. The attendance-riddled franchise is built on a strong defensive unit—see Slavin, Jaccob—and rising superstars that combine on a very young team, but two players form their 2006 Cup run remain.
Those players are first-year head coach Rod Brind’Amour and captain Justin Williams. Williams went on to win two more Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014, where he led the Los Angeles Kings as the Conn Smythe winner as the postseason MVP in 2014. The 37-year-old “Mr. Game 7” could be on the verge of his fourth Stanley Cup, which would lead all active players.
Even as just four teams remain, the quest for the Cup is only halfway over and as parity grows thicker, remember that there are no expectations and anything can happen.
Don’t miss any of the conference finals action, available nationally by the NHL and its broadcast partners. You can also satisfy your hockey urge by streaming the 2019 IIHF World Championship live, right here on FloHockey running from Friday, May 10 through Sunday, May 26.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.