Columbus and Colorado combined to make NHL history when they upset their respective conference’s top teams in the first round.
The Jackets’ sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Avalanche’s five-game victory over the Calgary Flames is the first time the No. 1 seeds in each conference were sent home that early.
So is there a Cinderella story in the making?
Since 1994, when the league began the one-through-eight playoff seeding format, a No. 1 team has lost 13 times. However, only twice before this season had those series ended in fewer than six games.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings dispatched of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in five games. In 2017, after the NHL switched to its current divisional-based format in 2014, the Nashville Predators swept away the Chicago Blackhawks, also the top team in the regular season.
The Kings and Predators both parlayed that into a trip to the Stanley Cup final, with the Kings winning it all to become the only eighth seed to be crowned champions.
So should we expect the Blue Jackets and Avalanche to meet in June?
Defence wins championships
Of the remaining No. 8 seeds to win Round 1, only one (Edmonton in 2006) made the Cup final, losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. The 2010 Canadiens made the conference final before being beaten by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. The seven other No. 8 seeds who managed upsets in the first round were eliminated in the second.
No surprise, great goaltending is the common denominator in each upset. For example, Montreal has twice played top-seed spoiler. In 2002, Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Jose Theodore stopped 77 of 79 shots in Games 5 and 6 combined to lead a pair of 2-1 victories over Joe Thornton’s Boston Bruins.
Eight years later, an unlikely hero in Jaroslav Halak relieved Carey Price and stopped 131 of 134 shots in Games 5, 6 and 7 combined — all Habs wins against the powerhouse Capitals.
The 1998 Senators limited the top-seeded Devils to 12 goals in six games during their upset. The 2006 Oilers rode Dwayne Roloson’s .927 save percentage to the final. The 2009 Ducks, led by Jonas Hiller, allowed two goals in consecutive road wins to open the series, and allowed 10 total over six games against Thornton’s San Jose Sharks.
The Cup-winning Kings, with Jonathan Quick in net, allowed just 30 goals over 20 games in their playoff run. Most recently, Pekka Rinne had two shutouts as the 2017 Predators held a Blackhawks squad led by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to just three goals in a four-game sweep.
This year, Avalanche netminder Philipp Grubauer shut the door against the Flames, allowing just seven goals in Colorado’s four victories.
Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was just as good, stonewalling the highest-scoring team of the season by limiting the Lightning to eight goals on the strength of a .932 save percentage.
Colorado and Columbus will each meet the survivor of a gruelling seven-game series in the second round. The Avalanche await the winner of San Jose-Las Vegas (Game 7, Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET), while Columbus will play either Boston or Toronto (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET).
The underdogs, meanwhile, are resting at home, with an eye on making some more playoff history.