The Columbus Blue Jacket’s historic sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning will go down as one of the most stunning upsets in NHL history. First-round sweeps by underdog teams have become almost commonplace in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past few seasons. They’ve led to an interesting pattern.
In Game 1 of their first-round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning jumped to an early 3-0 lead in a series that looked like it was going to only last four games.
Well, the four games part was right. But after a stunning comeback in Game 1, the Blue Jackets never relented and were the ones victorious four games into the postseason. The Lightning and the rest of the hockey world were completely and utterly shock.
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In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, anything can happen. But even though Columbus’s overtaking of the Lightning was historic, first round sweeps by underdog teams have become almost commonplace in the last few seasons.
Both the teams that lose and win in their four game sets have begun to form an interesting pattern. It’s one the Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins may need to watch out for.
Let’s first start with the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The eighth seed Nashville Predators face up against the number one seed Chicago Blackhawks and the tail end of the Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews fueled dynasty.
It was P.K. Subban and the Predators who were victorious in four games that season. It had to have been a fluke, how could the most dominant team of the salary cap era fall to an eight seed? The following year, the Blackhawks who missed the postseason entirely.
Now, let’s go back to last season. Even though they were the higher seed, nobody saw the upstart Vegas Golden Knights winning a playoff series against multiple cup winner Los Angeles Kings in their inaugural season. In the foot-in-his-mouth comment of the year, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said it best after a regular season matchup with Vegas.
There’s no way they’re going to be a better team than us at the end of the season
The joke was on Doughty, as the Kings got swept by the Golden Knights. Look forward one year to this season and they missed the playoffs entirely and landed at the bottom of the Western Conference.
So here’s the first part of the pattern – the team that is favored, but gets swept in the first round of the playoffs misses the playoffs entirely the next season. Yes, the 2017-2018 Chicago team that didn’t make the cut spent most of the season dealing with an injury to their starting goaltender Corey Crawford. But the 2018-2019 Los Angeles Kings had a mostly healthy, yet aging and underperforming team.
The Anaheim Ducks could enter this discussion after they were swept by the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the 2018 playoffs and missed the 2019 playoffs. But that was less of an upset than what the Predators, Golden Knights and Blue Jackets pulled off.
And here’s the second part of that pattern – the team that was able to win in four games made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final, only to lose in the last round of the playoffs. Nashville made it all the way before falling to the Penguins in 2017, and Vegas had the run for the ages before the Washington Capitals won their first cup in franchise history in 2018.
Want to go a little deeper into this theory? Both of the teams that swept and went all the way to the finals were making their first-ever franchise appearance playing for the Stanley Cup.
So if history repeats itself, which it usually does, this means the Blue Jackets would be going all the way to the Stanley Cup finals this year after earning their first postseason series win in franchise history, where they will post a losing effort.
Meanwhile, and equally as surprising, the Lightning will miss out on next year’s playoffs entirely. Now that would be a stunning collapse for what people consider the greatest NHL team ever assembled. However, Tampa missing the 2017 playoffs after Steven Stamkos missed most of the season with an injury shows it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
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Whether or not the third time’s the charm with this theory remains to be seen, but us hockey fans are a superstitious bunch. We luge beer off catfish and throw octopi on the ice if we think it helps our team to victory. Saying Columbus will make the Stanley Cup final while Tampa Bay will miss out entirely is something few see happening, but then again so was Tampa Bay getting swept by the Blue Jackets.