This is the first year that the Stanley Cup Playoffs return to a division-based format since 1993. But what if the Stanley Cup Playoffs continued under the old format of the top eight teams in the conference battling each other with the division winners earning the top two seeds? Not much would’ve changed if the playoffs ran under the old format.
1) Boston Bruins vs. 8) Detroit Red Wings*
2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 7) Columbus Blue Jackets*
3) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 6) Philadelphia Flyers
4) Montreal Canadiens vs. 5) New York Rangers
1) Anaheim Ducks vs. 8) Dallas Stars*
2) Colorado Avalanche vs. 7) Minnesota Wild*
3) St. Louis Blues vs. 6) Los Angeles Kings
4) San Jose Sharks vs. 5) Chicago Blackhawks
*actual playoff matchup under current format
As you can see, The top-two matchups in each conference wouldn’t change in the old format. However, the Lightning-Flyers matchup would’ve been the first playoff meeting between both teams since an epic seven-game Eastern Conference Final series that occurred ten years ago. The Rangers-Canadiens matchup would’ve been the first playoff meeting between both teams since 1996. In the Western Conference, The Blues and the Kings would have met in the first round for the second straight year, and the Sharks-Blackhawks matchup would’ve been their first playoff series since the Hawks swept the Sharks in the Western Conference Final four years ago.
But there’s a reason why the Stanley Cup Playoffs returned to a division-based format: rivalries are the lifeblood of the NHL. There’s no greater feeling than having bragging rights over the summer to say that we beat you in the playoffs. The Rangers-Flyers rivalry is one of the most intense in the NHL. So to is the Blues-Blackhawks rivalry. And for the Sharks-Kings series? Expect bad blood to rise akin to the Giants vs. the Dodgers. There WILL be teams that have a 100-point regular season that won’t make it past the first round. That’s just the nature of the beast. That’s what’s so great about the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can have the best season you can get, but everything doesn’t matter when the hardest trophy in sports to win is only 16 wins away.