The Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings have positioned themselves best for the heavy lifting that will come, largely because they’ve managed to avoid a lot of heavy lifting through the first half of the playoffs.
And because of that, if history is any indicator, the Penguins and Red Wings will meet in the Stanley Cup final with the Penguins emerging as slight favorites at this point.
The fact Pittsburgh played three fewer games than the Philadelphia Flyers through the first two rounds and the Red Wings two fewer than the Dallas Stars might not seem like much, but history tells a different story.
There have been 20 playoffs since the league went to the four-round, best-of-seven format in 1987 and it has been proven time and again teams that get through the first two rounds quickly stand the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup.
Over the past 20 playoffs, the average number of games the Stanley Cup champion played over the first two rounds was 10.5. This year, the Penguins were one loss away from running the table in the first two rounds and the Red Wings advanced in 10 games. The Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars, on the other hand, each needed 12 games to make it halfway through the playoffs.
In 15 of past 20 playoffs, the eventual Stanley Cup winner played the fewest numbers of games among conference finalists. The big anomaly came in 1998, when the Cup-champion Red Wings needed 12 games to get through the first two rounds, while the Stars and Washington Capitals each played 11 and the Buffalo Sabres played nine.
Recently, one of the major keys to winning the Cup seems to be getting out of the first two rounds in 10 or fewer games, although 11 isn’t too bad, provided the other teams involved in the conference finals have played at least that many themselves.
Only four times in the past 20 years has the Stanley Cup winner played more than 11 games through the first two rounds and it hasn’t happened since the Red Wings played 12 in 1998.
No Cup winner has swept the first two series since 1987, but winning in nine games certainly helps. Both the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and the New York Rangers in 1994 did that and their easy paths served them well when they needed to go the distance in both the Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup finals.
As an aside, THN picked the Stars to defeat Detroit in this round over my vehement objections. And the reason we chose Dallas is the same reason why I’m choosing Detroit – Stars goalie Marty Turco.
Yes, Turco has been the star of the playoffs so far, but for some reason he has a serious mental block when playing at Joe Louis Arena. He comes into these playoffs with a 0-7-2 record as an NHLer at the Joe, which is odd considering the fact he was spectacular in the building as a college goalie with the University of Michigan.
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
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