The First Round Playoffs in the NHL Have Been an Upsetting Experience


Some thrilling game-7 series have already shaken up the NHL postseason, including one historic loss.

One game remains in the NHL’s opening round of the playoffs as the New Jersey Devils host a stocked New York Rangers squad, but the other matchups seen to this point have many fans shaking their heads. It’s a case with one historic victory and one historic loss, and as a result, many of the thought-to-be powerhouse teams have already exited from contention for the Stanley Cup.


In Denver, the champion Colorado Avalanche gave way to the literal upstarts, the Seattle Kraken, a 2-1 victory for the franchise in just its second year on the ice. Seattle improved its season total by 40 points to qualify for the playoffs and they were the challenging equals to Colorado all series. Scoring first in all seven games the Kraken were up to the task every game, becoming the first team to defeat a Stanley Cup champ in its first-ever playoff series.

And that was not even the most shocking result Sunday night.

Canucks Kraken Hockey
AP Photo/Jason Redmond

In another thrilling series, the Boston Bruins hosted the Florida Panthers in a game-7, and the Bruins fell prey to the famed President’s Trophy Curse. Given to the team with the best regular season record, only half a dozen teams have won the Stanley Cup the year they were the recipients of the President’s Trophy since it was created in 1986. For the past ten years – after the Chicago Blackhawks last managed that feat – not one team has even made it to the championship, with eight teams exiting by the second round. 

The Bruins join that list, as the Florida Panthers upset them in thrilling fashion after Boston recorded the most dominating season in league history. The team set new marks for wins and points in a season, losing only 12 games in regulation, and they faced a Florida team that was closer to the worst team in the league for total points than to Boston. But there were also reasons for this upset, the first being one team was on cruise control while the other has been in playoff mode for a month prior.


With weeks remaining in the season, as Boston was amassing wins with ease, Florida was just outside the playoff bubble, needing to pass teams which is a difficult task late in a year. Despite battling injuries all year – including having both starting goalies go down at two different times – Florida, last year’s President Trophy team, healed and began to reel off a six-game win streak last month, and then with just two games remaining, managed to get into the final playoff slot with an overtime loss. But they were uniquely matched for Boston.

Only one team all season beat Boston twice: the Panthers. They showed up to win three times in Boston in the series. No team scored five goals on the Bruins at home all year and yet the Panthers netted half a dozen in game-2. There was also another historical marker in favor of the Cats. The last 60-game winning franchise to collapse in the playoffs was the 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning, stunned by a Columbus Blue Jackets team that relied on goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. He is the same goalie who pulled off sterling saves to preserve victories for Florida after they trailed 3-1 in this series.

One of the hallmarks of the Panthers in the second half of the season has been their ability to have amnesia within games. If they fell behind or had mistakes that hurt their chances they frequently showed the tendency to shake off those rattling moments and find ways to compete. Against the best team in league history, they fell behind but never wavered. After a game-5 win in Boston, forward Matthew Tkachuk told his team to get used to the locker room because they would be back there.


The final was a game of extremes, with a two-goal lead by Florida erased in the third period as the Bruins went ahead, but the amnesia Cats struck again, with a tying goal made in literally the last minute. Then in overtime, the team’s leading goal scorer, Carter Verhaeghe, ripped off a bar-down wrist shot, and the Boston Garden fell silent, except for the yells from the visiting team that mobbed each other by the boards as they accomplished what no one expected.

As it stands now, this opening playoff round we have seen defeats for the best (and historically so) team in the league, the defending champions, and also the prior Stanley Cup champs, as the Lightning lost to the Maple Leafs. With this wide open field, anything might happen. It is possible now for Toronto or even the high-octane Edmonton Oilers to become the first Canadian team to win the Cup in 30 years, or even the unthinkable – an all-Canadian finals, something not seen since 1989. 

After the ouster of the best team ever seen, nothing can be counted on going forward.


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