The NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs always bring insanity. From the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals being eliminated in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010 despite having the best records in the league, to the Los Angeles Kings winning it all as an eight seed in 2012 — results shake out in unexpected ways every single year.
This year, however, has been even crazier than usual.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, who tied the NHL single-season record for wins and posted the best record in the league by a wide margin, entered the playoffs as the overwhelming favorite to win the Stanley Cup. They were promptly swept in a dominant four-game performance by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The other three division winners — the Capitals, Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators — also suffered first-round exits at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, respectively. This marks the first time ever that all four division winners have been eliminated in the first round.
This can, in a large part, be attributed to the fierce battles that the victorious teams had to endure to even get to the playoffs. While the Lightning clinched the best record in the league three weeks before the playoffs started, the Blue Jackets did not secure a playoff spot until their final game of the regular season. This meant that they needed to play at a playoff-level of intensity long before the actual playoffs started, allowing them to come in hot against the Lightning, who had nothing to play for in those final three weeks before the playoffs. The competitiveness of the playoff races for the Hurricanes, Avalanche and Stars were major factors in their similarly commanding series wins.
Because of this playoff-like intensity, bench players became a huge, unforeseen factor in most of these series. In preparation for the playoffs, the higher-seeded teams prepared by making sure that their top skaters were strong and ready to go. However, the depth players of the lower-seeded teams needed to step up their games in order to make the playoffs, meaning they were ready to outwork and outperform their opponents. Hurricanes left wing Warren Foegele, who had 15 points in 77 games during the regular season, posted six points in the seven-game series against the Capitals. Avalanche left wing Matt Nieto, who finished 13th on the team in regular season points, had the fourth-most points for the team in the first-round victory over the Flames.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are unpredictable. There’s no telling what will happen the rest of the way.
This is the opinion of Alex Hutton, a sophomore journalism major from Oakland, California and Parker Thomas, a senior entrepreneurship major from Rolling Hills Estates, California. Tweet comments to @LALoyolan or email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.