What does it say about the notion of parity in the NHL that the eighth-seeded team in the West is battling the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup trophy? We consider whether or not parity has truly come to hockey.
Gone are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who opened this tournament
as the fourth seed in the East, but Bovada’s odds-on-favorite at 4/1 to win it
all. Also gone is the No.1 seed from the West, the Vancouver Canucks, who not
only had the best record (51-22-9) and most points (111) in the NHL in the
regular season, but were a 9/5 favorite to win the conference and one of two
second-favorites to win this season’s Stanley Cup at 11/2. These two teams did
not even make it out of the first round with the Penguins falling to
Philadelphia in six games and Vancouver getting ousted by Los Angeles in five.
Both teams found themselves in a 0-3 hole before we could even settle into the
The New York Rangers secured the top seed in the East with 109
points and had an overall record of 51-24-7. They were opened as
second-favorites to win the East at 11/5 and were also 11/2 to win the Cup. They
escaped with Game 7 victories in the first-round against Ottawa and the
conference semifinals against Washington. New York went on to lose to the
Devils in six games in the conference finals.
The St. Louis Blues were the second-favorite to win the West
at 3/1 and the fourth-favorite at 15/2 to win it all, but lasted all of four
games against the Kings in a second-round sweep.
The two teams that are competing for this season’s title
were not the longest shots in the original field of 16 teams, but long enough.
The Kings opened at 12/1 to win the conference with the Phoenix Coyotes, having
longer odds at 18/1. It took LA five games to get past the Coyotes in the
The Devils were the fifth-favorite to win the East at 12/1
with Washington, Florida,
having longer odds. New Jersey had even longer
odds than Los Angeles
to win it all at 25/1, which helps to explain why it is a +150 underdog in the
Stanley Cup Finals’ series prices and LA is favored at -170.
The bottom line is that parity in the NHL is obviously alive
and well. The NHL is the only major sport that routinely watches its favorites
fall by the wayside in the early rounds of the playoffs as an unexpected
underdog gets hot at the right time. Part of the reason is the role of the
goalie in a team’s chances to win or lose. The other reason is that hockey is
the kind of sport that is hard to dominate over the course of an 82-game
regular season and four grueling best-of-seven playoff series.
It is a game of momentum, and if you happen to peak at the
wrong time, your stay in the postseason will be a short one. Los Angeles stumbled into the playoffs with
just three victories in its last eight regular season games, but hit the ground
running with back-to-back 4-2 wins in the first two games against the Canucks.
The Kings have gone on to win all nine of their playoff games on the road and
are now 13-2 in their last 15 games.
New Jersey, on the other hand, brought a six-game winning
streak into its first-round series against Florida but needed back-to-back 3-2
overtime victories in Game’s 6 and 7 to advance. The Devils started peaking in
their next series against Philadelphia.
They bounced back from a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1 with four straight
victories to take the series in five games. They needed six games to oust New
York in the conference finals but won their last three straight against the
Rangers and, before last night's loss, were 8-2 heading into the Finals.
This year’s Stanley
Cup Finals will be a test
of which team can maintain their current high level
of play at the expense of the other. The parity that exists between the two
teams dictates that this series will come down to first, which goalie, LA’s
Jonathan Quick or long-time New Jersey veteran Martin Brodeur, plays the best
and second, which team has four more wins left in the tank.