Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Other 4v5 series and the laughable NHL Playoff Structure

This a guest post from a good friend and reader, Eric Pecuch. Enjoy guys!

A Bourque comes through in the playoffs
            The Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings put on a show for a sold out crowd at Bridgestone Arena.  In a game full of late 3rd period drama, Gabriel Bourque scored 2 goals, including the game winner, and put the Nashville Predators up 1-0 in the series.  The game also showcased two of the league’s better goaltenders in Jimmy Howard and Pekka Rinne, who made 26 and 35 saves respectively.  Paul Gaustad struck first for the Preds after netting a goal that neatly deflected past Jimmy Howard.  Henrik Zetterberg equalized in the second period putting the game back to the stalemate that it had been all game.  It was at that point that the game’s number 1 star came alive and scored his 2 goals to put the game out of reach for Detroit.  Thomas Holmstrom scored a consolation power play goal for Detroit with just over 2 minutes to go.  The Preds killed off a late 5 on 3 power play as well as a second power play as time expired to send the 17,000 fans at Bridgestone Arena home happy.

Special Teams dominated the game

            After the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL advertised itself as “The New NHL”, a league where the stars would shine and the game would be cleaned up.  The games that following season were officiated on a much finer line, and penalties were called more frequently.  Game 1 sure looked like a game in The New NHL; neither team appeared to be able to gain any momentum due to the constant stoppage of play.  Nashville and Detroit were the league’s two least penalized teams during the regular season, but neither team showed it tonight.  The teams combined for 17 penalties and a dreadful pace that put training wheels on a game that could have possibly stolen the show from the Flyers and Penguins.

Problems with the NHL playoff structure

            Both the NSH/DET and PHI/PIT games bring to the light the huge flaw in the NHL playoff structure.  In the last 5 years of the NHL playoffs, the 3 seed has had a lower point total than the 4 seed in 8 of the 10 conference finishes.  The Predators and Red Wings are rewarded with each other, while 6th place Chicago is rewarded with a series against the inferior Phoenix Coyotes.  Similarly in the Eastern Conference, The Flyers and Penguins are forced to square off, while New Jersey is rewarded for its inferior season with a laughable series with the Florida Panthers.  It is especially evident this season in which both the Atlantic and Central divisions have 4 teams that have eclipsed the 100 point plateau.   In the current playoff structure, the champions of the Southeast division (Florida) and Pacific division (Phoenix), neither of which reached 100 points, leapfrog 6 of the teams that did reach 100 points in the regular season. 

            Don’t expect the problem of the NHL playoff structure to change anytime soon, even if the league goes through with its proposed new conference realignment the Central and Atlantic divisions will be the victims yet again.  Even if the team executives vote to push through the new alignment, there will still be injustice.  In the new realignment the league would be broken down into 4 smaller conferences.  Each conference sends 4 teams to the playoffs and the first 2 rounds are exclusively in-conference.  One of the conferences would be:  Philadelphia, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Carolina and Washington.  Good luck getting out of that conference.  Similarly another conference would be:  Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, Minnesota, Dallas, and Winnipeg.  Good luck getting out of that division as well.  So years down the road when the Flyers are battling year in and year out with Pittsburgh, Washington, New Jersey and the Rangers just to get out of the conference, teams like Boston can cakewalk past under 100 point teams and find themselves deep in the playoffs on a consistent basis.  Moral of the story, it will be tougher for an Atlantic or a Central division team to win the Stanley Cup every year, no matter what the league playoff format looks like. 

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