By Michael Felger
Should we care where the Bruins finish in the Eastern Conference? I mean, really. It's hockey, right? What's the difference? The playoffs are the ultimate crap shoot. It's about momentum and hot goalies. Seedings don't matter. Home ice doesn't matter. Regular season records don't matter.
Well, not exactly.
Take a look at the last decade of Stanley Cup Finals.
2010 -- No. 2 Chicago over No. 7 Philadelphia
2009 -- No. 4 Pittsburgh over No. 2 Detroit
2008 -- No. 1 Detroit over No. 2 Pittsburgh
2007 -- No. 2 Anaheim over No. 4 Ottawa
2006 -- No. 2 Carolina over No. 8 Edmonton
2005 -- Lockout.
2004 -- No. 1 Tampa Bay over No. 6 Calgary
2003 -- No. 2 New Jersey over No. 7 Anaheim
2002 -- No. 1 Detroit over No. 3 Carolina
2001 -- No. 1 Colorado over No. 1 New Jersey
Nine seasons, eight different champions, eight years where either a first or second seed won the Cup. Surprising, right?
The list shows that the NHL may be a little more like the NBA than us hockey snobs care to admit.
Yes, unlike in basketball, you can emerge from the bottom of the NHL playoff seedings and actually do something. You can knock on the door of a championship -- as the 2010 Flyers, 2006 Oilers and 2003 Ducks would attest. And there's certainly a better variety of teams in the Finals from year to year. It's what makes the NHL playoffs infinitely more entertaining than the NBA version, where upsets rarely happen.
But, eventually, the result usually ends up the same in both sports. In the end, a team that established itself as one of the best during the regular season will prevail in the Finals.
Over the past decade, only one NHL team has emerged from "the pack" to win a Stanley Cup championship -- the 2008-09 Penguins, who featured Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Marc-Andre Fleury. Hardly the little engine that could.
Obviously, seedings don't guarantee you a thing. Recent history is littered with failed No. 1s and 2s (hello, Washington and San Jose . . . and Boston, for that matter). If the B's finish this season with 105 points to earn the No. 2 seed as opposed to finishing with 103 points to earn a three seed -- does it really matter? It's hard to imagine it would.
Yet, for whatever it's worth, history says otherwise. It's interesting to note that over the last decade, no No. 3 seed has won a Cup. Only once did a No. 3 even make the finals (the 2002 Hurricanes). Again, that may be a statistical oddity. Or it may be an indication that winning a crappy division gets you nothing.
If I were the Bruins I'd want to avoid the No. 3 seed because it could very well mean a first-round date with the Canadiens. Call me a scaredy cat, but I'd just as soon avoid them. Too much baggage. Too much hate. Even in victory, a series with the Habs would take a chunk out of the B's.
Besides, it's just a bad matchup. The B's bloody, 8-6 win over them last month was just their second victory over Montreal in 10 tries. Tim Thomas, for some reason, has problems with them. He's 9-18 with a 3.16 goals-against average lifetime against Montreal, the highest GAA he has against any opponent. It's even worse this year, as Thomas' 4.28 GAA against the Habs is over two goals higher than his GAA against everyone else. It will be interesting to see how he looks in the final regular-season matchup Tuesday night in Montreal.
As dawn breaks Monday morning, the Bruins find themselves sitting at the No. 2 position in the Eastern Conference with 84 points. They're two behind Philadelphia for the No. 1 seed and two points ahead of third-seed Washington with a game in hand against the Caps. The B's have 17 games left to play. The Habs appear destined to finish no lower than sixth.
You may not think that two points here or there could make a difference, and that's certainly the conventional wisdom. After all, it's just hockey, where the playoffs are supposed to be nothing more than a roll of the dice.
But call me crazy. I'll be watching the standings the rest of the way.
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