The unsuspecting, the team that came out of nowhere, the underdog. Sports fans have witnessed miraculous runs by underdogs on so many occasions. A prime example is the NCAA March Madness, where brackets are busted (oh hey there Dayton) and game-winning three balls that you can only dream of come to fruition. The NHL is no different with its underdog stories.
Just two seasons ago, the Los Angeles Kings looked like a team that was in line to miss the playoffs, but a coaching switch and the acquisition of Jeff Carter helped them squeak into the postseason as the No.8 seed. The team got hot and rode the goaltending of Jonathan Quick to the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s history.
In 2006, the No.8 seed Edmonton Oilers squared off against a powerhouse from Detroit in the first round. The Oilers outplayed the Red Wings and managed to defeat them in miraculous fashion. They took the confidence from defeating the giant and stormed through the playoffs into the Stanley Cup finals, where they were eventually stopped in their tracks by a talented Carolina Hurricanes squad.
And who can forget the Anaheim Ducks squad from 2002-03 (they were still of the Mighty version at the time)? They strolled into the playoffs as the No.7 seed and surprisingly defeated the Red Wings, Stars and Wild before losing steam against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup finals. The Ducks would nab the Cup a few years down the road, but it was this team that really exemplified a true underdog.
The NHL playoff race is currently a tight one, especially in the Eastern Conference, where Columbus, Detroit, Toronto and Washington all sit with 80 points. It could potentially be one of these teams that could shock the world with an early round upset. Toronto had their chance last season against Boston, and nearly pulled it off. Maybe they’ll get their revenge this season?
Perhaps Columbus will thank the NHL for the move out of the Western Conference, make the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09 and rely on Nathan Horton to replicate some of his game-winning goal magic from his playoffs days with the Bruins?
On the Western side of things, Phoenix and Minnesota have underdog potential and those pesky Stars aren’t out of the playoff picture just yet. Imagine the Coyotes taking down the St. Louis Blues in the first round? The staff here at THN, who selected Ken Hitchcock’s squad to win it all, would be mind boggled.
There are so many different scenarios that can happen in the playoffs and that’s what makes them so appealing, but nothing is more exciting in this writer’s opinion than watching a team no one expects to make it past the first round ride a wave of developed confidence mixed with pure grit and desire all the way to a Stanley Cup final and these playoffs have the potential for one of these stories.
We’ll have to wait and see what stories grace the front page of THN.com and the cover of our trusty magazine as the playoffs evolve, but top seeds not keeping their eyes on the underdogs could experience a nasty bite, a bite that may sting for a long time.
Bryan’s underdog pick who will do some damage: Detroit.
Even though they’re minus some key players in the line-up, they have veterans who’ve been there before and their experience and playoff know-how give them a puncher’s chance against a heavyweight in the first round.