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What We Learned: Do mediocre divisions produce better Stanley Cup Playoff teams?

By Ryan Lambert

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Occasionally you will hear that playing top teams several times a season, like those in the Atlantic and Central Divisions did this season, is a great way to prepare yourself for the postseason.

They say it makes you ready to face the tougher competition in the playoffs, and by extension, those teams playing in softer divisions must logically be ill-prepared for similar rigors once the postseason rolls around. Both of the Atlantic and Central divisions were littered with 100-point teams, boasting eight of the league's 10 to eclipse the century mark between them (the other two being Boston and Vancouver), and it therefore stood to reason that they would likely send the lion's share of competitors to the conference finals.

The better teams in the regular season tend to do about as well in the postseason, because they are, after all, very good teams. That makes sense.

It turns out, though, that having a bunch of teams even in the neighborhood of 100 points in your division at the end of the regular season actually may be more of a detriment to a squad's postseason success. Since the lockout, only two teams have played in a Stanley Cup Final after playing in a division with three teams that managed 100 points. However, both those teams (Anaheim in 2007 and Chicago in 2010) won the Cup. If you expand that number out to even 97 points — which typically assures you a playoff berth but not home ice — only two more teams are added to the mix, the 2008 and 2009 Penguins.

Conversely, teams coming out of divisions with two or fewer 97-point teams got into the Cup Finals with far greater frequency, doing so eight times since the lockout (including both Boston and Vancouver last year).

But now we've seen the Los Angeles Kings advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 1993, and the Phoenix Coyotes stand on the precipice of doing the same for the first time since ever. Phoenix won the Pacific Division with 97 points, and is only a home ice team by virtue of its division title. Had seeding been based on points, they'd have slotted into the sixth spot. Los Angeles, meanwhile, finished with 95. The now-eliminated Sharks were sandwiched between them with 96.

Three teams from one division in the playoffs, yes, but one terribly underwhelming division from which not much was expected.

(Coming Up: America is a hockey superpower, thanks to Jack Johnson; Barry Trotz is wrong; Dustin Brown is awesome; Jordan Staal of Carolina; Thomas Vanek makes bank; Luongo to the Blackhawks?; Rick Dudley to the Habs; Jonathan Quick vs. Terry Sawchuck; trading Sidney Crosby; Todd McLellan-to-Calgary rumors; and the best and worst of the Capitals.)

Compare that to things out East: The Rangers, Flyers, and Devils all still remain and at least one of them must advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, but one thing everyone can agree on is that it's been a tougher slog than anyone expected. The Rangers going seven with Ottawa and now knotted at 2-all with No. 8 Washington? The Devils needing several overtimes to dispatch the Panthers? The Flyers having this much trouble with anyone after what their offense did to Pittsburgh? None of it makes a whole lot of sense.

These teams are supposed to be dominant. They're the ones that are supposed to be going 8-1 or 7-3 in the first two rounds, not the Kings and Coyotes. The only thing they've got on their side is the numbers.

Barring a major comeback on the part of the Predators, the trend of teams from so-so divisions is going to continue this season, and might yet be upheld on the other side of the continent by the obstinate Capitals.

Perhaps it has something to do with the rigors of playing almost 20 games against 100-point juggernauts every year (both in-division and out of it) that takes a lot out of you, or perhaps not doing so leaves you more mentally rested. We heard a lot of talk out of the Bruins after they were bounced a few weeks ago that the team wasn't able to get up for their series with the Caps after doing so all last summer, and then being the biggest game on teams' calendars 82 times in a row this season as well. The same must be true, to some extent, for the other top teams in the league.

The mental grind, apparently, can be just as tough to overcome as the physical one.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Canadians had Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The Americans had Bobby Ryan. Bobby Ryan's team came out on top. Because America is great!

Boston Bruins: Owner Jeremy Jacobs all but guaranteed another Stanley Cup in the next year or two. Good luck with that.

Buffalo Sabres: No Austrian athlete makes more money than Thomas Vanek, and somewhere Thomas Pock is crying.

Calgary Flames: Leland Irving hadn't started for the Abbotsford Heat since April 15, and lost his first game back, giving up four goals on just 26 shots from Toronto. The Heat now trail 2-1 in their best-of-seven series, and coach Troy Ward might not give Irving another chance to prove himself. But hey it's not like this guy is expected to be Calgary's backup next season. Oh he is? Well then.

Carolina Hurricanes: Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes? If that happens, brother Eric might get shuffled away from the middle of the ice. "What we're working on now is whatever it takes to get a top player, whether it's a center or a wing," GM Jim Rutherford said. "Eric can play the wing." Hey, if paying two Staals isn't working, you might as well try two.

Chicago Blackhawks: Somehow, the rumors of Roberto Luongo to the Blackhawks are still floating around out there, so guess what: It's not gonna happen.

Colorado Avalanche: Steve Downie had shoulder surgery recently but should be ready for the start of training camp. Tough to say whether the injury affected him down the stretch, but he was goalless in the last 14 games of the season so you tell me.

Columbus Blue Jackets: If Jack Johnson is good enough to be the captain for Team USA, he's good enough to be the captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets three times over. Two goals in Saturday's game against the pitiful Canadians, and one more against France. I mean, I know it's just Canada he scored the overtime game-winner against, but hey, he did it, right? (Stay tuned through 1:16 of this video for an hilarious reaction shot.)

Dallas Stars: If the Stars move to Fort Worth, they'll be more successful, says some guy.

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: This was Gustav Nyquist's first full season as a professional hockey player, and so I guess scoring 23-42-65 across 74 games (and another four in the Stanley Cup playoffs) in both the AHL and NHL isn't too bad at all.

Edmonton Oilers: Money is the sticking point in negotiations between Ryan Smyth and the Oilers. Smyth probably wants about $3 million, as he had 19-27-46 this season. The Oilers probably want to pay him considerably less because after going 12-12-24 in 25 to start the season, he went 7-15-22 in the final 57.

Florida Panthers: Who's the odd man out in the Panthers' nets next season: Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen? I omit Jacob Markstrom because only an idiot wouldn't give him an NHL job next season. Oh and hey look at that, Clemmensen is a UFA this offseason. Guess that decision just got a lot easier to make, eh?

Related Links

Los Angeles Kings: Everyone loves Jonathan Quick, as well they should, given his Americanness. Comparing him to Terry Sawchuck, though, might not be totally fair to him.

Minnesota Wild: Okay why does Megan Nyberg of the Hockey Writers not have a GM job somewhere? I mean, making the Minnesota Wild roster up of nothing but Minnesotans is the perfect way to construct a winning team: Build from the net out with Jeff Frazee, Alex Stalock, and Mark Guggenberger. They have a combined one game of NHL experience. Guggenberger currently plays in the Central Hockey League.

Montreal Canadiens: The Habs may soon swoop in and hire Rick Dudley as their assistant GM. You'll recall that Dudley, currently with the Maple Leafs, was the guy who got a bunch of former Blackhawks on the Thrashers a few years back.

Nashville Predators: The Preds could be playing their final game of the season tonight but need to kickstart their offense if they want to survive. Wonder who can do that for them. Hmm. Could be anyone.

New Jersey Devils: The Devs are seriously running Philadelphia's game front-to-back in this series, which exactly 0.0 percent of people outside of New Jersey expected. The Devils are a win away from a Conference Final. Who'd have guessed?

New York Islanders: Could the Islanders move to Albany? Ah yes, the 58th-largest television market in the U.S., playing in a building that seats 14,000. What could go wrong?

New York Rangers: Not sure what, exactly, Stan Fischler saw in Saturday's game to make him think the Rangers will advance out of this round, let alone win the Stanley Cup, but hey, at least he's not writing letters to his Congressmen about the high cost of stamps.

Ottawa Senators: Peter Regin took a pay cut to stay with the Senators, which was probably a smart move because he's injured all the time and looking at having his job stolen from him by one of Ottawa's many good young prospects. At least this way he still keep pulling a paycheck.

Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux didn't have a single point between Games 2 and 3 against the Devils, which led many to wonder if he was all scored out after putting up an absurd 14 points in six games against Pittsburgh. He got that goal and an assist in Game 4 but also got flattened 5-on-5 and his team lost. Could be the letdown of not playing your rival any more, eh?

Phoenix Coyotes: I still kind of can't believe the Coyotes are thisclose to going to a Western Conference Final. With Mike Smith in goal. It doesn't make any sense.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Very shocking what-if in Eric Duhatschek's column this week: Might it be Sid Crosby, and not Jordan Staal, moved out of town? Unlikely but possible?

San Jose Sharks: The Todd McLellan-to-Calgary rumors just keep swirling. Who knows how true they are, but it's looking more and more likely that the coach's time with the Sharks is done (witness ownership giving Doug Wilson a vote of confidence, and not McLellan), and Calgary is certainly in the market.

St. Louis Blues: Here's something I think kind of got lost in the shuffle for why the Blues had so much trouble with the Kings in the first three games: "Andy McDonald, Alex Steen, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, T. J. Oshie and David Perron have combined for 2 goals and 5 assists and are a collective minus-12." Simply not good enough.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning are getting a new, gigantic scoreboard for next season, but if you have end zone seats, sucks for you.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs might sign 25-year-old Finnish forward and 2006 sixth-rounder Leo Komarov this offseason, but he has another year left on his KHL deal. Komarov had 11-13-24 for Moscow Dynamo this past season.

Vancouver Canucks: Alex Burrows' first game ever for Team Canada came on Friday, and he promptly picked up what may be a serious head injury. No word yet on whether it's a concussion. That really sucks.

Washington Capitals: Dennis Wideman Defense -- The Movie.

Winnipeg Jets: Maybe the loudest thing you can do in Winnipeg is go to a Jets game, because it gets awful loud in MTS Centre. Luckily, you won't have to worry about that all summer.

Gold Star Award

The amount of heat Dustin Brown brought to his team's Game 4 win was unreal. Hitting everyone, two goals. He finished with 2-4-6 in the series. America.

Minus of the Weekend

Attention Barry Trotz just so you know if you leave your two best offensive players out of the lineup two games in a row you're probably not going to score a lot of goals. Just trying to help.

Play of the Weekend

Everything Washington did on this goal was awesome. Great work by Semin to get it back to the point, great one-time backhand feed from Wideman, vintage shot from Mike Green. That's how it should be.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "Alberta_OReilly_Fan" has a good idea to get the Bruins the first overall pick:

To Edmonton:

Thomas
Krejci
Boychuk
2012 first

To Boston:
Khabibulin
Horcoff
Gagner
2012 first

Sure thing!

Signoff

This makes you my competitor.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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