Eight is a magic number in Baltimore-area sports. There’s Cal Ripken, Jr., Baltimore’s greatest to wear the number. Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin is rewriting the post-lockout NHL record books with the ocho on his sweater. Trent Dilfer led the Ravens to the Promised Land in Super Bowl XXXV wearing a big purple eight on his back. Hometown hero Michael Phelps, in the 2008 Olympics (Which began on 8/8), won eight gold medals.
So, with no. 8 Ovechkin captaining the high-flying Capitals into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, why worry? Well, in the NHL, the number 1 seed overturning the number 8 seed is far from a given.
Since the lockout 25% of the no. 1 seeds have been eliminated by their opponents who barely made the playoffs. Parity may not exist in the regular season, but in the playoffs, hot goaltending, a shutdown penalty killing unit, or a line combination that gets into a rhythm can beat long-term success in four out of seven times.
To be more specific, since the lockout, top seeds are 28-17 (60.7%) versus eight seeds. Now, to be fair, this method of thinking completely ignores the talent gaps between the teams. For example, last year’s Anaheim team that upset San Jose featured five legit world-class forwards (Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne) and two of the most experienced and talented D-men in the league (Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer). The 2007 Islanders, another eighth seed, had…well…not those guys. So clearly we are not comparing apples to apples. Still, if you take a lineup like that of the ’09 Ducks, add it to the hot goaltending of Jonas Hiller, all of a sudden the Sharks are once again fishing before the end of April. It could happen to anyone.
But will it happen to the Caps? My heart, and my brain, tell me a very strong no. As Game 1 begins tonight against Montreal at Verizon Center, the Capitals have high expectations, while the Canadiens are playing with nothing to lose. Here’s a look at all of the 1-8 pairings since the 2004-05 lockout. You make the call.
Post-Lockout 1 vs. 8 pairings
(#1 seeds upset in bold)
#1 seed Washington vs. #8 seed Montreal
#1 seed San Jose vs. #8 seed Colorado
#1 seed Boston 4-0 #8 seed Montreal
#1 seed San Jose 2-4 #8 seed Anaheim
#1 seed Montreal 4-3 #8 seed Boston
#1 seed Detroit 4-2 #8 seed Nashville
#1 seed Buffalo 4-1 #8 seed New York Islanders
#1 seed Detroit 4-2 #8 seed Calgary
#1 seed Ottawa 4-1 #8 seed Tampa
#1 seed Detroit 2-4 #8 seed Edmonton
Dave Gilmore can be reached at BaltimoreCaps@gmail.com and on Twitter @BaltimoreCaps.